Inspiring Leadership

Every Wednesday, Ariel (Fortune ’08) Dalton pushes pause on her projects as senior director of trade marketing at DanoneWave to focus on a task she sees as equally integral to the role: penning handwritten messages of encouragement or gratitude to members of her team and those who support her. An analog ritual in a digital age, the weekly effort takes dedication for a businesswoman always on the move. Since adopting the practice years ago, Dalton has moved through a number of important roles of increasing responsibility, most recently managing the plant-based categories at the global food company.

“I’m fascinated by the art of choice and the motivations behind why consumers make decisions,” said Dalton. “Once you’ve worked in the consumer packaged goods industry, you never look at a grocery store in the same way.” Dalton’s work helps position DanoneWave ahead of shifting consumer tastes and needs, keeping new and established products in front of shoppers and shaping the experience they have with the company’s offerings. The multinational food giant’s portfolio includes such recognizable brands as Dannon yogurt, Evian water, International Delight coffee creamer, and Silk dairy alternatives. Most appealing to Dalton is the company’s mission-driven platform, evident in Danone’s April acquisition of WhiteWave Foods, which created the largest public benefit company in the United States. The corporate structure prioritizes social responsibility and sustainability, balancing financial interests with a top-line goal of creating positive impact for people and the planet. “DanoneWave’s focus on bringing health through food to as many people as possible sparks an inner conviction that makes me want to do more with the time I have,” said Dalton, who also graduated from the University of Southern California’s prestigious food industry executive program.

“My faith forms the foundation for my internal drive,” said the Denver resident. “It is my responsibility to maximize the opportunities God has given me, and, as a leader, that means every single interaction matters.”

Allan Goldberg, vice president of sales at DanoneWave, recalled when Dalton was promoted in the middle of the year to a new role, inheriting a department with lagging morale. “Ariel set to work listening to her team’s needs,” said Goldberg. “She deeply values people and knows how to motivate them by discovering their unique strengths. Ariel was instrumental in shaping a positive environment where people became excited to come to work.” The next year, the team rose from the bottom to the top in their sales performance rankings. “Ariel has out-of-this-world determination to bring her best, and she helps everyone around her aspire to do the same,” said Goldberg.

As Dalton continues to climb the executive ladder, she notes a thinning of the ranks: fewer female leaders to look toward in the higher strata of the business world. Like every challenge she has faced, Dalton addresses it head-on. “Investing in female leaders is a passion project for me. I see it as inherent to my job and another way I can design the future of my company,” said Dalton, who was recognized as a game-changing female leader at the 2016 Makers Conference.

Empowering the next generation of female leaders also requires reaching young women who are just beginning to find their voices. Former APU communication studies professor Karen Sorensen-Lang, Ph.D., tapped Dalton to serve on the board of SparkVoice, her nonprofit teen mentoring program that helps girls nurture their talents. “Ariel’s leadership style is effortless, and she makes people believe they can do whatever it takes to meet their goal,” said Sorensen-Lang, who witnessed Dalton’s growth as an APU journalism major—skills she now applies investigating consumer behavior for DanoneWave. “Ariel is undaunted and the perfect person to help open doors for others.”

At a recent SparkVoice celebration, Dalton stood before the gathering with a message of encouragement. “Keep raising your hand—for the job, the internship, the promotion, or the volunteer opportunity—whatever the opening may be. Don’t discount your potential,” said Dalton. “I want to live in a world where women never stop raising their hands.” She plans to continue doing the same, lifting others with her in the process.