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A few weeks into the job, he meets Sprout’s board and is greeted by a lawyer, investment bankers, and other hard-charging executives. In his corporate restructuring career, he has been through this scenario many times. These are the suits who talk profit margins and earnings and demand results in a hurry. They aren’t here to give him a hug.
At the meeting, he finally meets Florence, who greets him with a broad smile. “So glad you’re finally here,” the chef says to him. “We finally have a professional coming in to help us run this business and make it the success that we all know it’s capable of being.” Florence’s words reassure him that he has made the right career choice. So does the fact that Florence puts the photos of his youngest two children, Hayden, 4, and Dorothy, 3, on the labels. “Tyler has a passion for this business like no one else,” Davis says. “I mean, c’mon, his babies are on the package!” At public events, Davis gets a kick out of watching Florence work crowds of new moms who swoon over him as he trots out his newest flavors, including butternut squash, mac ’n cheese, and curried red lentils with ginger.
The admiration goes both ways. “Ron is such a class act,” Florence says. “He gets the marketplace on so many levels. He is a diplomat. He is a salesman. He is a controller. He is a hawk and a dove. He is a super-level guy. You never see him up or down.”
Davis makes some bold moves. Within six months, he moves the headquarters from New York to suburban Atlanta, decreasing the monthly rent from $22,000 to less than $4,000. He also finishes assembling his new management team, tapping many of the people who helped him restructure his previous companies. In 2011, his first year at the helm, he overcomes a sluggish economy to more than triple sales to $13 million and increase Sprout’s presence from 4,500 to 12,500 grocery stores. The brand also gets cache as models and actresses eat the baby foods as nutritious, low-calorie meals.
For this year, he has helped the company gear up for several big moves—expanding to Asia and Europe and introducing new toddler meals, “the first all-natural, organic foods for children 18 months to three years.” The idea is to keep parents coming back for more organic goodness after their kids outgrow baby food, and he is confident they will. “When you taste the quality of Sprout baby food, it’s far above anything else you see in the marketplace.”
It may sound like hype, but the other day, Davis forgot his lunch. So he ate a pouch of beef and vegetable lasagna, a new flavor developed for the toddler line. He gives the cuisine a “four-star” rating. “I put a touch of salt on it,” admits the CEO, who works out at the gym regularly. “Salt isn’t good for babies, which is why it’s not there. It’s probably not good for me either, but I sweat mine out.”
Cristina Rouvalis is an award-winning freelance writer. Her last story in this magazine, “British Accent,” appeared in the July 2011 issue.
Photograph by Brad Newton Photography
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