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EXCLUSIVE: Pushing the Right Levers of Company Culture at Advantage Solutions

Progressive Grocer talks with CEO Dave Peacock about moving businesses forward with integrity and heart
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Dave Peacock
Dave Peacock is CEO of sales at marketing firm Advantage Solutions.

At last month’s Food Marketing Conference at Western Michigan University, the CEO of Advantage Solutions took part in a panel on leadership. “I would say everyone has the capacity to be a leader, but it requires courage, and you have to have a very clear vision,” Dave Peacock told the audience, adding, "Your actions have to inspire people and they also need to understand that there is an intention that we are going to accomplish things together.”

Following that event, Progressive Grocer caught up with Peacock to get more insights from the 30-year CPG and retail veteran, whose background includes four years as president and COO of Schnuck Markets, Inc. and three years as president of Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc. Creating a strong company culture has been a priority for Peacock in the year and a half that he has led Advantage Solutions.

Progressive Grocer: Give us a quick update on Advantage Solutions as an organization. 

Dave Peacock: We are a service business – we are people. Our output is the time people commit to serving customers. As we transition from what was a holding company to an enterprise, we are re-segmenting the business. It was sales and marketing and a number of different businesses within that. Now, we are branded services, with everything we do for CPGs; we are retail services, with everything we do for retailers; and we are experiential services, where it’s a bit of both. It’s really bringing brands to life at retail and it’s part of our effort to simplify what we do and focus on what our core strengths are.  

[RELATED: Advantage Solutions Sells Foodservice Businesses]

Progressive Grocer: In your opinion, why is culture a critical lever inside an organization?

DP: I think culture is something you experience in a company or in any organization, and you can see it whether it’s in sports on winning teams or in companies that prevail in their specific industry.

We have five very simple pillars that underpin our culture, which is people first. First, we actually try to see through our clients and customers to the shopper. We say, look, people are walking past 60,000 items in an average grocery store and they will buy 12 and half. Given their busy days, you have to make it easier for them to find what they need. That’s what our team does. 

Second, we need to put our people first in a company that is 78,000 strong. Serving with heart is another one of our pillars – it’s really putting your heart into it and being thoughtful around anticipating needs, whether it’s a shopper, client or customer. Then there is leading with insights, as an insights-driven business. I’m not a fan of the term "data driven" – data is what you need to develop the insights that lead to better decision making. Executing relentlessly is our fourth pillar, and that’s what we owe our customer. Finally, winning together has been a part of the Advantage culture dating back decades, working as a team. 

PG: Who were some of your role models in terms of how to create an effective culture?

DP: I don’t have just one, I have multiple mentors. I’ve been blessed to work pretty closely with dynamic leaders like August Busch III, who built Anheuser-Busch from the late 1960s through the early 2000s. Todd Schnuck is another great example.

I also did as much learning from one of our deli department heads who was putting five kids through school as a single parent. You can get more leadership skills and lessons from frontline teammates and leaders than you might from the biggest names in corporate America, because they are dealing with obstacles and challenges that none of us can imagine but are still delivering and making the lives of their children and the people they work with better. 

PG: What are you most looking forward to this year in terms of what Advantage Solutions is able to offer its partners in this industry?

DP: We are simplifying our business and breaking into three business units, we have built shared service capabilities that are first class. Before that, it was much more decentralized. 

We are endeavoring to be easier to work with, and by transitioning from a holding company to an enterprise, being able to solve problems across a spectrum of issues that any client or customer faces. 

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I can’t tell you how many times I hear, “I didn’t know you did that.” I say that is an opportunity for us – we have to break through and make sure to make sure that everyone in a client-facing role understands our capabilities and can convey them well enough to let customers know there is something we can do to help. 

PG: What are some other key things you’ve learned over the past few years?

DP: Frankly, working in retail during COVID was an incredible experience, in helping lead teams through that, watching teams come up with incredibly great ideas and seeing leaders emerge. We spent an enormous amount of time in-store, because we realized that what we did in the office often didn’t matter at a time like that. 

I tell people all the time “Don’t forget COVID.” Don’t forget the lessons we learned, the kindness and gratitude that was shared. Don’t forget the appreciation for frontline workers and first responders. And I tell young people who were in high school and college at the time, “You have been through something that others have not, and that will make you stronger.” Let’s tap into that ingenuity and still leverage this muscle we built four years ago. 

PG: Are you seeing it play out now at the store level and openness to new ways of thinking?

DP:  No one really launched innovations in that year 2020 and in early 2021, but R&D departments didn’t stand still. There was an explosion of innovation on shelf after that. Also, today, in our experiential business, we see that people want more of an experience when they are shopping. We have to be adaptive and recognize that change will always be occurring in the marketplace, and we need to evolve to meet it. That mindset, that curiosity, is really, really critical.

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