Preserving the Legacy
By Marie Mischel
July 10, 2009
Three men have guided O.C. Tanner since it started 80 years ago to the international company it is today. The first was Obert C. Tanner, who began the company by selling jewelry from the back of his car. Don Ostler and Kent Murdock were to later follow him.
The fourth man to take the CEO mantle is David Petersen. He replaces Murdock, who was called to be a mission president in Geneva, Switzerland for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Certainly there are huge shoes to fill,” Petersen says of all three former CEOs. “It’s really quite an honor to follow in their footsteps. The company is a legacy in the community, it’s a legacy to our people and it’s a legacy for our clients. It’s Utah’s treasure, I think.”
Petersen was named CEO on March 27, after serving at O.C. Tanner for 26 years. His first position was in marketing, but he also worked in the information systems, purchasing, manufacturing and client relations departments, and most recently served as president and COO. His experience throughout the company helps him understand how all the pieces of O.C. Tanner fit together, he says.
Those years also infused him with the company’s culture, which stems from Obert Tanner’s philosophical view, Petersen says. “He was a humanist and a philanthropist. If you want to know what our culture’s about, it’s all about people. Everything goes back to the fundamental notion that people count. People matter. People make things happen. Successful companies are full of people that are engaged, moving things forward, contributing ideas.”
His own leadership philosophy comes from mentors including his own father and local leaders such as Rick Nelson, Keith Rattie and Scott Anderson. His father taught him to stand for something, to make decisions with integrity and treat others honorably, he says, while the other CEOs are models because they “think of work as a service and a stewardship, which is how I look at it. They understand the role they should play in the purpose of their organization. There’s no room for selfishness, there’s no room for self-aggrandizement; there’s a lot of room for stewardship and vision and giving people the opportunity to understand and move forward.”
Looking forward to the next opportunity is important to being a leader, Petersen says, but he doesn’t consider increased sales the sole benchmark for improvement. “We’re not about selling stuff,” he says. ”The real purpose of this company is to help our clients recognize and appreciate their people for doing good work and moving forward.”
In the meantime, O.C. Tanner is moving forward by renovating the old Salt Lake City library, which last housed the Hansen Planetarium. The historic mansion will serve as O.C. Tanner’s new retail store when it opens in September. Petersen is looking forward to that occasion, and beyond. “As I think about the future and going forward, as I think about the role of the CEO, I think a lot about what Obert intended. I think a lot about what Don and Kent did to ensure that what Obert intended lasted. I think about Caroline’s [Tanner Irish, the company chairman] expectations as she furthers the legacy, and mostly I look forward,” he says. “I do think our best years are ahead of us. We have a terrific team of people at O.C. Tanner.”