I remember the very first Premier lake house party at Cottonwood Lodge. It had only been a few months ago that I was newly married and looking for a place to start my career. I was trying to unravel the technical complexities of my project, learning to manage my newfound finances, and moving into an apartment when the lake house party – at Jim and Dune Hempleman’s own home – was announced. My expectation was another round of interviews, carried out in Hawaiian shirts, with just enough beer to make me less articulate but not enough to make me more confident. I was scared.

When the swarms of bugs grew large and the tiki torches grew dim, we headed inside Jim and Dune’s lake house. Over the course of the day I was able to shake off the nervousness I felt as Premier’s newest employee. Now, almost midnight, seeing everyone migrate indoors I knew that I passed the test and started to feel relief. 

My relief was cut short as Jim dragged a 48 inch leather wrapped foot locker between me and him. Kneeling down, he unlatches the case and reveals rhythm eggs, tambourines, triangles, cymbals,maracas, triangles, blocks, and even a rainstick. I am not certain what was said next, I do not know who distributed the instruments, and do not know who struck that first beat. But I do know that by the third beat I was all-in. As my smile grew, I could see Jim’s grow even bigger. Seeing such joy from our founder gave me confidence. My apprehension and preconceptions about a corporate picnic vanished as I realized the adventure that this place had in store for me. The only thing left for me to do was to keep playing, knowing that the folks around me will be there to back me up.

Not every one of Jim and Dune’s lake house parties has drum circles. But they always include something that pushes us to do things we never did before. Have you ever sung karaoke? Have you raced in a tricycle? Have you ever made beef tenderloin and your own Caesar salad dressing? If the answer is ‘No’, then great. If the answer is, ‘No, and I’m terrified of doing so at a company party,’ then even better!

Jim, Dune, and all the principals and managers at Premier pushed me to do things I did not realize I could do – face a tough client, learn a totally new scripting language, meet an aggressive deadline. At the lake house, sitting cross legged on the floor wildly shaking a tambourine, I learned that Premier is a place where I will be encouraged and pushed to succeed while having an entire company behind me, making sure to catch me when I fall.

This year Dune is welcoming not only me and my wife, but also my two sons into her home. The kids are eager for the tangibles – the boat ride, the bounce house, and the fireworks. But I am grateful they get to see the cultural center of a company like this, so that as they grow up they understand what a truly great company feels like.

Dune is the spiritual center of Premier International and the driving force behind Premier’s culture. From the boundlessness of her hugs to the leadership she showed when Jim passed, Dune has guided us with dedication and complete selflessness. She also knew how to foster growth of the entire individual, asking me about career aspirations one minute and the next minute reminding me how lucky I am to have Tuyet as a wife.

Dune went out of her way to make sure she spent time with me during the first lake house party. I’ve seen Dune do the same thing with every new round of hires, getting to know who they are and what they aspire to and making them feel included. I’m looking forward to this year’s lake house party, where this warmth and encouragement will inspire new friends to do something beautiful and hilarious like race tricycles. Weeks from now, when they realize that this not only makes them better consultants, but also better people I’ll say, ‘I told you so.’

Then I’ll email Dune and thank her for creating a place where people have the freedom to do incredible things.

Part of the Premier family, gathering at the end of the annual lake party