Understanding employees

Dustin Snyder, EMBA ’15, says self-awareness is one of the keys to a successful professional life.

Dustin Snyder, EMBA '15.

So, after beginning his career in labor relations at health care and manufacturing firms around Western New York, it didn’t take him long to figure out he’d soon become a serial entrepreneur.

“The very thing that makes me valuable to an organization is precisely what makes me a poor choice for long-term corporate employment,” he says. “I’m restless. I work quickly. And when I’ve put the architecture in place to exceed expectations, I’m immediately looking for the next thing.”

In 2015, Snyder’s ‘next thing’ was co-founding Hatchets & Hops, a club in downtown Buffalo that—as the name implies—marries ax throwing with craft beer. That was a passion project that he operated in addition to his role as senior manager of labor relations at Kaleida Health.

In 2018, he switched day jobs to join a Buffalo-based manufacturing company with 600 employees as its director of people operations, while continuing to maintain his role at Hatchets & Hops.

A few years later, the company’s board of directors asked Snyder to take the reins as president.

He says it was a monumental challenge that tested him and his family in ways he didn’t expect.

“I very much had two full-time jobs—one in corporate America, and one that I owned,” Snyder says “That wasn’t sustainable, and I had to sell the business.”

Snyder’s choice was a boon for the company. The Buffalo plant was on the brink of closure when Snyder took over, but he was able to turn it around and the parent company kept it in their portfolio.

True to form, after setting that company up for success, Snyder set off for his next challenge and his next startup, Wayforward Associates, which he founded in 2021. Wayforward is an organizational development firm that assesses the culture of a business and how it affects the performance of its employees.

“We help the leadership team understand their employee experience and how it’s intimately connected to the problems the company is experiencing,” he says. “And we’re generally the tip of the spear in executing on the action plan that comes out of that to turn things around for them really quickly.”

Snyder says his experience in the School of Management’s Executive MBA program gave him the confidence to be true to himself.

“Prior to the EMBA program, I felt like a bit of a misfit in what I didn’t realize was a really unhealthy corporate environment,” he says. “I felt a lot of pressure from my boss and my peers to just give up and blend in and accept mediocrity. Everything about the EMBA program gave me the tools and self-trust to resist that and become a leader in my field.”

One of the biggest takeaways from his career so far? If you treat your employees like the enemy, you’ve already lost.

“I had this epiphany not long ago that labor relations is all based on the assumption that your employee is your adversary—grievances, arbitrations, negotiating contracts, and so on,” he says. “If you treat them that way you can’t and won’t be successful. As soon as that hit me and I embraced a new philosophy of listening to employees and removing obstacles so they can succeed, there’s been incredible momentum ever since.”

Written by Kevin Manne