Vital Proteins’ collagen-based health and beauty products have rocketed to the top of the marketplace in less than a decade. And according to Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer Shawn Bushouse, it’s because of one thing: culture.
“I have never seen a business achieve so much in so little time, repeatedly,” remarks Bushouse, who came to Vital in April 2018 after leading the James Skinner Baking Company as both executive vice president and CFO. “In my Fortune 500 days, some of the product we launched would’ve had a twelve- to eighteen-month launch target. At Vital, we’ve gone from concept to shelf inside of sixty days—it’s truly amazing what can happen when you rewrite the norms, move with speed, and assume nothing is impossible.”
Vital has worked to cultivate a “hyperentrepreneurial” culture, Bushouse explains, a culture that complements the fast-paced, innovative demands of the market by ensuring that everyone is doing what they truly enjoy.
“People here have found what they’re really good at, what comes naturally to them,” Bushouse says. “When everyone has that mind-set and genuinely rallies around the Vital mission, the workplace becomes very effective.”
Promoting this kind of culture is a constant effort, Bushouse explains, and starts even before a new employee’s first day at the company. “While the tangible experience is vetted in our upfront filtering processes, in later rounds we are looking to see if the employee has the entrepreneurial mind-set,” he says. “Do they view their career as a set of jobs, or do they view it as an opportunity do something truly meaningful?”
Every employee, regardless of level or department, goes through an immersive orientation program once they join the team, Bushouse says. “Each functional lead in the company comes in and meets the new employees and presents on what their department does, and on the third day the employees go into the manufacturing facility and warehouse to truly understand what we do as a company,” he says.
This approach not only helps new employees hit the ground running but also strengthens the bridge between the commercial and operational sides of the Vital business. That bridge is particularly important to Bushouse, who, as the son of trade workers, grew up surrounded by people working in construction, plumbing, and electrical roles.
“Vital is a commercially oriented company—we have world-class sales, marketing, PR, and design—and I’ve driven us to view the operational and support areas in the same way,” he says. “It’s very important to make sure that both components of the business are working together.”
As COO, Bushouse has worked to champion the success of the operations and supply chain teams, bringing “elevated life to the operations environment” and celebrating the wins of both commercial and operational teams. In fact, he says, even people who aren’t part of the Vital team would be able to see how committed the company is to both sides of the business, just from walking in the door.
“Our headquarters is an absolutely beautiful building. The aesthetics are just amazing, and it has been meticulously designed to promote openness and collaboration,” Bushouse says of Vital’s new Chicago base. “But if you walked in our manufacturing facility, you would see the exact same décor, right down to the carpet choices. And that sets a certain atmosphere—if you walk in as an hourly employee, you feel just like the CEO does when he walks in in the morning.”
As Told By Shawn Bushouse
“Mentoring is how we ensure that we are unlocking the best from each employee. It’s easy to say mentoring is for slower growth, for more mature companies. I couldn’t disagree more. I’d argue it’s even more important to dig in and directly mentor employees in high-growth, fast-moving environments so that you can help keep everyone focused and not slide into a ‘normal’ pace.”
But it doesn’t stop at décor. Since 2018, Bushouse has worked to foster an unparalleled working experience for all Vital employees—because company culture, he explains, is all about the collective employee experience.
According to Bushouse, Vital Proteins employees are able to take advantage of a wide range of programs, including a quarterly performance bonus plan that “makes all employees part of our success,” group fitness classes hosted on the rooftop by fitness influencers, and access to complimentary coffee and smoothies prepared by an in-house barista at the Vital Café.
The culture created by those types of programs has helped propel Vital to its current level of success, but maintaining that type of culture, especially during periods of hyper-growth, is another undertaking altogether, Bushouse notes.
“As the business moves lightning quick, it’s very easy to put your head down, push forward on your own agenda and tasks, and let that broader culture-building element drop a bit,” the COO says. “We absolutely sprint through the day, focusing on very tangible, short-interval goals. It’s initiatives like the employee orientation program that help us keep our focus on the cultural element.”
Now, Bushouse says, Vital plans to bring that business style to the rest of the world. “We’ve seen such wild success in the US, and now we are bringing Vital to the EU and Asia,” he says. “What a great opportunity to bring fantastic products to the rest of the globe and extend the Vital employee base.”