Congratulations to David A. Petersen, President & Chief Executive Officer at O.C. Tanner on being honored at the 2017 Utah Business CEO of the Year honorees.
Read more about all of the 2017 CEO of the Year honorees.
When David A. Petersen started at O.C. Tanner in 1983, he was far from a green hire papering the town with his résumé. No, Petersen took a much more targeted approach.
A California native who married a Utah girl anxious to get back to her roots, Petersen looked for companies with reputations as good places to work and succeed, and O.C. Tanner was at the top of a short list. And when he did get the job, he found out almost immediately that the reputation and advice that had led him there was spot on.
“It was the first day or the first week or the first month—very early on—when I realized I was surrounded by crazy competent, talented people, good leaders and a boss who demanded a lot of me and expected me to work hard—and I loved it,” he says.
Although financial metrics of success are necessary for any thriving business, Petersen says O.C. Tanner’s philosophy is more targeted with client satisfaction and making sure the company is delivering on the job they are hired to do. Beyond the culture the company helps to cultivate for clients who hire them specifically to improve their company atmosphere and processes, the culture it fosters within its own organization is also important for success and cohesion, he says.
A few years ago, O.C. Tanner made an acquisition overseas. “We thought it would be smart to leave [the acquired office] alone—provide resources, but not smother it with O.C. Tanner culture, O.C. Tanner processes and systems, ways of doing the work. We thought we’d let it operate. We thought, ‘Maybe we’ll learn something from this small enterprise,’” he says, but after a few years, the office was failing and one employee asked when headquarters was going to implement changes. “So we did, and we did it quickly, and that enterprise just started thriving, and it’s one of the fastest-growing parts of the business today. That was a real lesson to me—that you need to be careful in realizing where your strengths are, and I think that’s a lesson for all of us.”
Petersen finds he’s still learning lessons every day, and with every new challenge comes a new opportunity for growth and learning. “I’m sure there are lessons we all learn early on in our career, but I think the lessons we learn later on in our careers are the biggest and the better ones. I think we’re always learning lessons, and if we stop, or we think we’re above learning lessons, we’re probably going to find ourselves in trouble.”
O.C. Tanner has grown throughout Petersen’s career, and that growth has only sped up since he was named as CEO in March 2009. Petersen has helped grow the company’s global reach, expanding to locations in Australia, Singapore, India and the U.K. Petersen has also helped implement technological innovations that have spurred the company to further growth, and he says the future looks bright.
“I love looking forward and trying to anticipate,” he says. “No matter where we go or what we do or what we try, I just have an overwhelming sense of confidence that our people are up to the task, and it’ll be exciting. We might make a mistake or two along the way, but we’ll be successful. That’s a very exhilarating part of the role, and I love it.”