It’s a sunny day in Southern California. The Drybar Headquarters lobby doesn’t feel like a corporate lobby, with its cheerful yellow and white walls, blow dryers hanging from the ceiling and pervasive laughter. It feels welcoming, relaxing and fun—an environment reflective of the company’s leadership.
We arrive early and wait in the lobby for John Heffner’s executive assistant to take us up to the interview. A few minutes later, Heffner comes around the corner with a smile on his face. He introduces himself and we’re surprised to find he looks just as excited about the interview as we are. This, however, should not have been a surprise. This is who Heffner is: he respects people; he recognizes the value of all individuals; he is humble; and most importantly, he puts others before himself.
Values, humility and respect are core elements of leadership
Heffner is the type of CEO whose door is always open, everyone has his phone number, and he is an open book. He makes himself so available to employees that he’s sometimes accused of not fully recognizing the weight of being a CEO. Even with 3,400 employees, he feels he can sustain this philosophy successfully.
Values, humility and respect are at the core of Heffner’s character and leadership style. He realizes that it takes a strong ego to break through obstacles, and that having two such leadership personalities in a company can be counterproductive. So he doesn’t hesitate in ceding the limelight to other leaders as the situation warrants.
“Leadership manifests itself in many ways, and it’s interesting to study,” says Heffner. “But there’s no real secret to my leadership style. I try doing right by others, treat people with respect, and think clearly and articulate accordingly. I just follow the values taught by my mom and dad years ago, and my wife keeps me honest.”
Heffner, along with his six siblings, was born in San Jose and raised in Idaho, where he pursued his bachelor’s degree in communications and advertising. Unsatisfied with job offers in advertising, he applied to Procter & Gamble upon a recommendation from a friend, and was hired as a sales representative in the beauty care division. Over his career he’s worked for companies like Unilever and OPI before eventually becoming the CEO of Drybar.
Heffner’s memories of Drybar’s early days are of an enthusiastic, entrepreneurial environment in need of additional guidance and stability. It was clear he fit right in with the company: within five minutes of his first encounter with Drybar co-founders—siblings Alli Webb and Michael Landau—he was offered the position of CEO. The company embodies 10 core values and beliefs, of which being a family is the most important. The internal Drybar family strives to be unconditionally loyal to each other and even argues like a family—constructively and professionally—to promote growth and improve the client experience.
Maintaining a consistent and enjoyable experience for its clients across all of Drybar’s 110 locations is the one thing that keeps Heffner up at night. He seeks to retain brand integrity by avoiding distractions and religiously sticking to blowouts—no cuts or color. As he points out another core value—“We don’t just sell blowouts, we sell confidence”—Heffner mentions that consistency is maintained through an objective of the company that everybody needs to adhere to during brainstorming sessions. He calls it the playbook for the whole year.
A team is made up of individuals
“Human capital is the most important asset in a company,” says Heffner. “Understanding the needs and wants of your people is important, [and so is] arranging time and efforts to understand and manage them.”
Heffner’s focus on individuals is reflected in his communication style. He prefers “looking people straight in the eye, face to face.” Heffner is a self-described “big picture” person who doesn’t like getting tangled up in the smaller details. He hires people with a strong sense of self and confidence and enjoys helping them move forward. During interviews to hire new team members, he spends more of the conversation on the individual than on the candidate’s resume. He wants to know how they perceive teamwork, what they’ll add to the ecosystem and the culture, what would others say about them, and who mentored them. He appreciates a qualitative, learning attitude over rigidness in personality.
True to the spirit of Let Go & Lead, Heffner is an anti-micromanager. He allows his employees and executives to own and act on their individual judgment. He trusts them and wants his people to feel safe and stress-free coming to work. Delegation is key, and empowerment and autonomy among employees is the result. “I try to hire people that are lot smarter than me,” says Heffner. “Why should I question them?”
As we conclude the interview, he hands us his personal business card and, like an old friend, says to call him at any time we want. This CEO of a business with over $100 million in annual revenue wears humility on his sleeve.