Jeffrey Davis | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jeffrey Davis


Sheffield Pharmaceuticals traces its history back to 1850 when Dr. Washington Wentworth Sheffield, a dental surgeon who is said to have invented toothpaste, moved to New London. His son, Dr. Lucius T. Sheffield, is credited with the idea of putting toothpaste in tubes and registered a trademark for it in 1881. Toothpaste was produced at the Sheffield dentistry office in New London and later at a manufacturing building behind the office.

Today, Sheffield Pharmaceuticals has 175 employees. It is a contract manufacturer and supplier of over-the-counter products to the largest retailers and drug store chains in the U.S. Its cosmetics and healthcare offerings include toothpaste, cream, ointments, and nasal and first-aid products. They are distributed to more than 70,000 stores globally.

Jeffrey Davis has been with Sheffield for about 20 years. A Canterbury native and 1988 Norwich Free Academy graduate, Davis also has a bachelor's of science degree in environmental science from Eastern Connecticut State University and a master’s degree in management from Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute. He worked at his family’s company, Davis Pharmaceuticals, and as an analytic chemist before joining Sheffield. He became chief operating officer in 2014 and president and CEO in March of this year.

The Mistake:

Not knowing when to let go.

I thought that success was based on technical knowledge and on getting things done. To some degree that’s true but as you move up in a company it becomes less about technical knowledge and more about building a team around you.

It’s tempting to just solve a problem without addressing the underlying trend. This way you end up with a stream of people coming to you and asking you to solve every problem. It may work in a smaller shop when you’re looking to move product out the door but that’s not an effective team environment.

I have struggled with this idea and still do.

It is very important for a CEO to cultivate the next generation of leaders.

The Lesson:

Train people to be analytical leaders and problem solvers.

You have to create a style of leadership that is attractive to people; that motivates people to follow you and makes them want to learn from you. I try to be there to give counsel but I’ve learned when to back off.

It’s really about creating a balance that includes coaching and holding people accountable. Sitting there and having that conversation is often bypassed. It’s usually forgotten about in favor of solving immediate problems.

Balanced leadership doesn’t come naturally to most people, including me. There’s a natural desire to want to control things. I’ve met a lot of people like that. But you get to a point where you can no longer do that, especially when the company is in a rapid growth phase as we are now.

Everybody likes to solve problems but if you’re taking your eyes off the ball then you’re failing in some ways and these failures add up.

It is very important for a CEO to cultivate the next generation of leaders. That can’t be done through an autocratic process. It happens by encouraging entrepreneurship and people taking ownership of their part of the business. That ends up being more satisfying and successful for everyone.

Sheffield Pharmaceuticals is on Twitter at @SheffieldPharma.

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