PROFILE YVONNE COWSER YANCY
ot many kids know who Peter Drucker is. But
growing up in Atlanta with a dad who had a Ph.D. in
organizational behavior and a mom who taught labor
management made the business guru a household
name for the young Yvonne Cowser Yancy.
“My father loves Peter Drucker,” she says. “We
would have discussions about why a certain process
at our favorite soul food restaurant wasn’t working
after noticing that they would run out of bacon every
week during peak hours. There was no talking down
to children in our house,” recalls Yancy, an only child.
Despite her early exposure to business management, arbitration and employee relations, her parents were less than
pleased when she told them she wanted to work in human
“They were horrifed,” Yancy says. “They wanted me to
be a lawyer or a Ph.D. They didn’t see a career path in HR.”
Yancy, who holds an MBA in employee relations and a
bachelor’s degree in economics, joined The Fresh Market
Inc., a Greensboro, N.C.-based specialty grocery retailer, in
January as senior vice president and chief human resources
ofcer. She leads a 35-person team responsible for HR and
beneft functions, including talent acquisition, organizational design and development, training, compensation, and
health and wellness. Her team supports 12,000 Fresh Market employees who work in 176 stores in 24 states.
She recently spoke with HR Magazine about her career
I grew up in Atlanta in the 1970s and ’80s during the emergence of African-American leadership and a celebration of
the achievements of the civil rights movement. Atlanta is
steeped in a rich history of African-American achievement
and has a strong commitment to civic engagement. My parents were always informed and involved, and they expected
the same from me.
My mother taught political science and history and, later, labor management at Georgia Tech. She was also a labor arbitrator. She would take me along with her when she had cases.
Listening to both sides present their positions taught me a
lot about union contracts, dispute resolution and employee
rights. My mother paid me to type up the case summaries.
I found those documents fascinating. Early on, I thought I
wanted to become a lead negotiator. I initially went into HR
by studying employee relations, which I think was a direct
result of my exposure to arbitration.
I had my frst job in middle school working for my father at
an industrial paint factory he founded called Zebra Corp. I
flled in for the receptionist in the summer. I got to see how
the business ran—the importance of work ethic, making payroll and being driven for success. I also learned the building
blocks of HR: what a business environment looks like, how
to treat employees, and the efects of employee engagement
on productivity and the bottom line.
LEARNING ON THE JOB
My first corporate job was as an HR generalist at GE
Capital-Retail Financial Services in Atlanta in 1996. Since
then, I’ve worked for several other Fortune 500 companies,
including Ashland Inc., Lincoln Financial Group, Turner
Broadcasting and Sun Trust Bank. Prior to assuming my
position at Fresh Market, I served as commissioner of human resources for the city of Atlanta. There, I oversaw all
HR functions that impacted 8,500 employees and 5,000
retirees. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve encountered dedicated
employees who wanted to be in a welcoming environment
where they could do their best work.
You must meet people from where they are in order to get
them where you want them to go. So often, we jump right