Lessons in Leadership

As the director of real estate for High’s of Baltimore and a member of the Darnell family, which owns the Hanover, Md., chain of 69 stores in Maryland and Delaware, Briana Darnell knows first hand the importance of being a strong leader and how it can impact a company’s success.  

In her current role, she draws on her major in business and minors in economics and leadership from the College of Charleston, as she handles all the construction of new facilities, renovations, facilities management and maintenance, as well as the entire development process including zoning—all areas where leadership skills come in handy.

As part of the next generation, Briana also brings a fresh perspective, including in the realm of leadership, which has evolved significantly since decades past.

“Positive and proactive leadership means incorporating everyone into a team approach where team members are praised and provided with constructive feedback,” Darnell said. “Employees want to know what is expected of them and then receive praise and feedback accordingly so they can improve. The leaders of our company understand that we need to treat our associates as we expect them to treat our customers. This means making them feel appreciated and rewarded for a job well done, just as loyal customers are rewarded for their patronage.”

Darnell also represents part of an underserved demographic for most c-stores, a gap she hopes to bridge going forward. “One of my goals is to better serve my demographic—the young female consumer—a customer often overlooked in our industry. I want people my age—and women in general—to be able to go into our stores and be pleased with what they see: a clean, safe store with a product offering that interests them. I think this is a huge area of growth for us, and one we should focus on going forward.”

Family Matters
Despite growing up in the family business where her father Brian Darnell is the executive vice president and chief financial officer, and her uncle Bill Darnell is the president and chief operating officer, Darnell never assumed she’d one day hold a position within the company.

As a kid, she would often ride around with her dad who handled the real estate aspects of the business in those days, but never imagined she might one day hold that role herself until she embarked on a summer internship in real estate with the company during the summer of 2007. “One of the great things about a family business is that often you’re given a lot more responsibility than you otherwise would have directly out of college. No one knows you better than your family, so they know what to expect of you and what you can handle,” Darnell said.   

Into the Future
Currently, Darnell finds herself tackling more responsibility everyday and the changing real estate landscape keeps her on her toes. “As more players enter the arena it becomes ever challenging to gain good real estate at a good price in a good area when other competition is not just c-stores, but pharmacies and grocery stores that are entering the c-store arena,” she said.

One of her goals is to take High’s current footprint and make it more environmentally friendly by adding new technologies. She also aims to help the company grow organically, first increasing the chain’s overall efficiency by removing underperforming assets and growing the profitability of current stores.

“Incorporating new styles of leadership techniques has been a huge opportunity. I’ve been here two years and it’s interesting to see how a young mindset can change things quickly,” Darnell said.

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