The 2021 Recipients of Pet Age’s Women of Influence Awards

Only wicked pet

2021 Lifetime Achievement Award: NINA LEIGH KRUEGER Nina Leigh Krueger has spent the majority of her career in the animal and pet care industry, culminating on January 1, when she became the CEO and President of Nestlé Purina PetCare for the Americas. Krueger is not only the eighth CEO in […]

2021 Lifetime Achievement Award: NINA LEIGH KRUEGER

Nina Leigh Krueger has spent the majority of her career in the animal and pet care industry, culminating on January 1, when she became the CEO and President of Nestlé Purina PetCare for the Americas. Krueger is not only the eighth CEO in company history, she is also Purina’s first female CEO.

“She has a proven track record of bringing innovation to market and leading key global brands and initiatives,” said Joseph R. Sivewright, Krueger’s predecessor as Nestlé Purina for the Americas CEO. “In addition, Nina Leigh has an established history of leadership, getting the very best from our associates while keeping our Purina culture top of mind.”

A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Krueger was a 1983 graduate of Miami (Ohio) University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing. She earned a Master of Business Administration from Washington University’s Olin School of Business in 1994.

Krueger started her career at Ralston Purina in 1993 as a brand management intern before moving to the cat food marketing team the following year.

“My initial attraction to Purina was the opportunity to merge my love of business and marketing with my love of pets, and it led to me taking root and building a deep foundation that can only come from time and experience,” Krueger recalled. “Staying with one company is increasingly rare, but doing so has enabled me to learn the business from every angle and galvanize my understanding of the category and opportunities for Purina to win.”

After Nestlé purchased the company in 2001, she led the marketing integration for the Nestlé Purina team.

Following several more successful years in pet food marketing, Krueger moved to the Cat Litter division and was promoted to Vice President of Marketing in 2010.  There she led several noteworthy innovations that drove growth in the business, particularly Tidy Cats LightWeight Litter.

“Standing still is safe, but it won’t get you any farther than where you are right now,” Krueger said of a leadership value that has guided her career. “Progress comes from a variety of perspectives, taking calculated risks and trusting the ideas of others and yourself. One of my favorite personal examples of this is when our litter innovation team shared the initial idea for lightweight cat litter. They’d identified a consumer frustration of wrestling with heavy cat litter and saw an opportunity to create something better. At the time, the innovation in litter had been fairly limited to packaging and scent. It was a great idea with the potential to change the category, and I trusted their research and our ability to solve the problem. We went for it, and today, the Tidy Cats LightWeight line remains a key growth driver for our cat litter business.”

In 2015, Krueger was named Chief Marketing Officer, Nestlé Purina U.S., and became president, Nestlé Purina U.S., in 2016 before her move to CEO and President of Nestlé Purina PetCare this year.

“I began my Purina career following grad school as a marketing intern, and to now be leading this amazing organization as CEO and president is an incredible opportunity and a thrill,” Krueger explained. “I’ve been fortunate to have many mentors and colleagues throughout the years who have supported, encouraged and enabled my growth and success, and I continue to be inspired every day by the passion of our people. There is no substitute for surrounding yourself with people who care about your success as much as their own, personally and professionally.”

 

2021 Women of Influence Award Recipients

The 2021 WOI recipients are ambitious, hardworking women who hold leadership positions throughout the sector with titles that include veterinarian, senior buyer, sales director and CEO. In the profiles that follow, this year’s WOI honorees share their success stories. Read on as they reveal to Pet Age their inspiration for entering the industry, what they consider their biggest contribution and their views on the current issues that need the attention from their colleagues for the betterment of companion animals. Pet Age is proud to celebrate the incredible role models who comprise this year’s Women of Influence Awards.

 

Berger, Jessica and WinstonJessica Berger, Owner

Accelerate Retail Partners

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

With an economic downturn on the horizon, I set my eyes on a career at PetSmart, convinced that the pet industry had to be recession-proof. I found a home at PetSmart working as a finance manager, but I was probably most excited about being able to bring my Great Dane Tank to work each day! Early in my career I had the amazing opportunity to attend various leadership meetings where I intently listened to, and learned from, words spoken by great leaders like Phil Francis and Bob Moran. The company culture and people of PetSmart were top-notch and it inspired me to always pursue a career alongside a company that I could believe in.

While managing investor relations at PetSmart, I became acutely aware of the importance of a company’s commitment to company culture, fiscally responsible leadership and always keeping the customer at the center of all you do. In many ways, PetSmart inspired me to dream of a retail landscape that could deliver all of those things, while also enhancing the lives of pets and Pet Parents for a better tomorrow. The pet industry became the perfect place for me to pursue my passions with purpose.

My daily inspiration comes from the love of our Great Dane, Winston. Winston is at the core of our family, and continually centers my focus on pursuing what’s best for our pets, not just best for business.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

Today, I have the amazing opportunity to partner alongside emerging pet brands that are ready to accelerate into their next level. My career has afforded me the unique opportunity to serve as a buyer for an industry retailer, and to also sell to those buyers on the brand side of the table. Because of this, I bring a unique lens and authentic understanding of their business objectives and the best way to support them and their product category.

More than ever, humans are craving elements of personal connection. Relationship is powerful. It truly differentiates a product, creates loyalty, and sets you apart from competitors not willing to invest in building relationships. I’m proud of my contributions to the pet industry in regards to all of the relationships built over the last 14 years. This industry has always felt like family, and it is the people that make it so special. My goal is to always put people and pets first, before ever discussing things like profit or promotion. I would argue that the strength of relationships built will always be the biggest testament to the contribution I have made to the industry.

Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

I’m actively pursuing my doctorate in marketing, so I spend a lot of time in research! According to NRF, 94% of consumers are now doing online shopping every week, with 49% of those shoppers spending over 3 hours each week online shopping. Factors like speed and digital accessibility took a leading role of importance to the consumer in 2020, while factors like price and quality took a temporary backseat. Today’s pet industry leaders have to find new ways to reach Pet Parents where they are, and how they uniquely want to engage with brands they believe in. The revolution of retail is here, and I am excited to be a part of the next generation of thought-leaders bringing these capabilities to Pet Parents across the industry. I’m also highly passionate about the role we collectively play in the empowerment of small, female and minority-owned business leaders in retail. The pet industry has an emergent opportunity to help empower and elevate women in leadership, and I am proud to be a part of this movement in action.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

Humility. 100%. Jim Collins says that “the difference between a good leader and a great leader is humility.” At the heart of servant leadership, a strong leader puts others before themselves. It’s sometimes viewed as weakness in leadership, but I would argue that it is instead a strength to be able to lead with your team in mind. Elevating those that work for you, and alongside you, is the gift of leadership that so many take lose sight of! Leadership is an amazing opportunity to serve your team, your customer and your stakeholders in a way that results in humility, clarity and courage. Who I am today is absolutely a testament to the great leaders that have been a part of my journey thus far, and members of my team present and past, which I am most proud of!

 

 

Brooks, DanaDana Brooks, President and Chief Executive Officer

Pet Food Institute

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

My mother and her beloved Chihuahuas were my inspiration to pursue the CEO position at Pet Food Institute (PFI). My father died in a tragic farm accident in 1996. My mother’s motivation for living was to care for her pets. On the night before my final interview with PFI, my mom called me to tell me a story about her Chihuahua Lucy. Lucy’s loyalty, comfort, and companionship to my mom was the encouragement my mom needed daily to care for herself and her fur friend. Without Lucy, my mom would have been lost for years.

This unconditional love and devotion, the human-animal bond, is why I take our mission at PFI very seriously and know I am leading an association where I am meant to serve. The Pet Food Institute and our members are committed to helping dogs and cats live long and healthy lives.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

First and foremost, I have a heart for all animals, fish, and mammals. I’m fascinated with all of God’s creatures, big and small. Second, I have a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from University of Arkansas, Monticello and a Master of Agribusiness from Kansas

State University. My studies helped me further understand the value of good animal nutrition and the ingredient supply chain for pet food manufacturing. Third, I recognize the importance of companion animals in our lives which is why I serve on the Pet Partners

Board of Directors. Lastly, I’ve built a successful 20-year career for myself in government relations. Therefore, I can navigate government bureaucracy as an “insider” advocating on behalf of the pet food industry.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

Product safety and business transparency. Consumers are demanding these two issues be satisfied and assured that they are buying the best products for their four-legged family members. I cannot count the number of times people ask me which food would I recommend for their pets. Why do they ask? Because, they trust me to keep their dog or cat safe and healthy. It’s a reality check for me and very humbling. Of course, I don’t tell them what to feed their pets but I do recommend they go to the PFI website to learn more about the nutritional needs of dogs and cats.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

One word; grace. Grace-filled leadership is being humble yet confident, authentic and bold, compassionate yet firm, and focused but with a sense of humor. A CEO of a Fortune 500 company, that a deeply admire, once told me that she likes working with women who are humble, hardworking, smart and have a sense of humor. That’s who and what I want to be.

 

 

Busch-Heisserer, StacyStacy Busch-Heisserer, Owner

Busch Pet Products, Deer Creek Doggie Day Camp and Busch’s Kennel

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

My parents shaped my love for pets. They were longtime beagle breeders and professional dog handlers, so I spent the majority of my childhood and teenage years traveling to dog shows all over the country. I learned so much about everything from breeding and conditioning to dog behavior and training and I even showed some dogs myself for a short time. I worked with dogs and cats every day at our boarding kennel as well. There was no way I wasn’t going to find a place in the pet industry with my upbringing!

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

When I opened my store in 2010, I had no idea I would be so immersed in the nutrition side of the industry. My store was just an extension of my online store, which was mostly cute stuff like collars and clothing. It wasn’t until I dipped my toe into the food side of things that I really felt like I found my calling. I had two wonderful female mentors who owned stores who helped me with nutrition training and I began sharing my learned knowledge with my customers. When they started seeing changes in their pets’ health, that’s when I truly felt like I was making significant contributions to the pet care industry and pet parents in my area. My store is now known for our nutrition advise, and while it’s still an uphill battle some days to get customers to try our food and supplements, at the end of the day, I am happy with what my staff and what we have accomplished.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

From a nutritional standpoint, there will always need to be more education. It’s still such a divided community and with the influence of big business and money, I’m afraid we will always have that. I wish we could all work together for the greater good.

I would also like to see more companies take a stand on supporting small business. I applaud companies that have stuck with guns and supported small stores like mine. It’s important that we have mom and pop stores that can educate consumers on products and elevate the customer service experience. There’s a lot out there and the average consumer doesn’t have time to do the research. That’s where businesses like mine hopefully shine.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

I have always prided myself on being fair to my customers and to my employees. I am upfront with my customers that while I am trying to sell them a product, it is something that I would use myself or it would not be in my store. I don’t sell anything I don’t believe in. My employees are like family to me and I bend over backwards to help them succeed. If they succeed, then my businesses succeed. It’s that simple.

 

 

Catena, Laura - 3Dr. Laura Catena, Founder and President

The ArmOR Hand Protector Animal Handling Gloves

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

An injury while working emergency medicine was my inspiration to developing The ArmOR Hand Animal Handling Gloves. My injury was a bite wound to my left hand, that resulted in emergency surgery and 7 months of painful physical therapy in order to regain the use of my hand. Despite not knowing if I would be able to practice veterinary medicine again, I started working on ArmOR Hand prototypes. I envisioned a glove that would protect other animal caregivers from the pain and expense that I endured with my animal injury. I wanted to develop a product that would offer superior flexibilty and dexterity, made of all synthetic materials, machine washable, and that would be so functional that animal caregivers would choose to wear it. I had not been wearing gloves when I was injured because the gloves available to us were bulky welder gloves that did not allow for proper or safe restraint technique, or the ability to wash or disinfect them. Despite the pain and trauma of my injury, it inspired me to solve a serious problem in my field – the complete lack of necessary and functional personal protective equipment.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

My biggest contribution to the pet care industry as well as pet parents is the development of The ArmOR Hand Animal Handling Gloves. I am incredibly grateful that I can recommend these gloves to pet owners who were previously contemplating declawing their cats (I do not perform that surgery and advise against it). The gloves allow certain pet owners to get their cat in the carrier and to the veterinarian for care. Additionally, pet owners who are immunocompromised, pregnant, elderly, or have underlying health conditions and who have to medicate or provide treatment for their pets at home, are offered a level of protection with ArmOR Hand. The gloves allow for the pet parent-pet bond to remain intact. These owners who are elderly or immunocompromised do not have to rehome their pet, but instead can continue to live with their loving pet companion and provide the care they need. The gloves have

additonally received praise from veterinarians, groomers, and wildlife rehabbilitators all over the world. ArmOR Hand has been used extensively with wildlife and zoos to care for bears, deer, racoons, bald eagles, hawks, skunks, and a variety of other wildlife. Lastly, I am proud that ArmOR Hand supports the One Health Mission. The gloves are machine washable and so they decrease the risk of infectious disease transmission. It is vital to use a machine washable product when working with animals and ArmOR Hand accomplishes that goal.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

An issue in the pet industry that I am very passionate about is ending declawing of cats in the United States. This surgery is unnecessary and cruel and it results in life-long complications for the cat. In the pet industry, I would like to see more focus on the importance of ending this surgery, educating pet owners why the surgery is inhumane, as well as providing alternatives. A few alternatives that do not harm cats would be using the Procedure-Palpation Style of ArmOR Hand Gloves to trim cat’s nails (if you are an anxious pet owner or new to trimming nails), providing environmental enrichment, scratching posts, as well as materials that deter where you do not want the cat to scratch. Nail caps are also an option, but it is possible to get into a routine of regular nail trimming for your cat. I do believe that education is key and that we can make this surgery illegal in the US, as it is in some other countries.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

I feel that sincere enthusiasm, empathy, and self-awareness are essential to being a strong leader. When leaders are genuinely enthusiastic, others sense that contagious energy and passion. Empathy is a key quality that allows the ability to listen attentively and fully focus on another. Self-awareness is necessary because in knowing yourself, what your values are, your strengths and weaknesses, you are then able to better manage stresses and make better decisions.

 

Giannini, BereniceBerenice Giannini, Founder and CEO

eTailPet

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

I’ve always had a connection with and love for animals, so it’s no surprise that I was drawn to the pet industry. In the early 2000s, one of my best friends from business school (who’s now my husband!) started Dogswell, a pet treat company. I joined in 2007 after the tech startup where I served as CFO, was sold. And the rest is history!

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

The biggest contribution I have made to the pet industry is breaking down the barriers of technology for independent pet stores and providing tools to level the playing field for indie pet versus big box and versus online giants. Our technology enables traditional brick and mortar retailers to transform into state-of-the-art omnichannel players. We have provided the digital tools that indie pet retailers need to thrive in today’s ever changing retail environment. I am proud to have made these tools accessible to all indie pet retailers and I look forward to continuing to help bridge the gap between physical and digital retail.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

I’d like to shine a light on promoting the value of service animals and making service animals accessible to all. During this pandemic, service dogs are more important than ever. Who does social distancing not apply to? Service animals. They’re helping in a way humans simply can’t right now. Dogs are also being trained to sniff out COVID-19, which aids in the detection and mitigation of spread in airports and other densely populated venues. I’d like to bring the power of these pet heroes to more people and to help share awareness of all that service animals do.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

A strong leader must value diversity and inclusion. Diversity drives perspective, creativity and innovation. Inclusion, fostered through open dialogue and active listening, brings more people to the table and more voices into the conversation. Together, these traits create an atmosphere of trust, growth and possibility. It’s good for business. And it’s good for the world.

 

 

Golon, CarolineCaroline Golon, Vice President, Marketing

Nature’s Logic

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

In 2008, I was working in healthcare and education PR. I was fascinated by social media and blogging as a new, exciting part of the marketing mix. In my free time, I explored different elements of this digital “wild west” by launching my own philanthropic effort online to support animal rescues. Through this work, I discovered a dynamic community of pet owners, media and pet brands and I loved the energy and passion! This inspired me to leave my current job and dive headfirst into the pet industry. I’ve never regretted it!

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

All of my work in pet has had a philanthropic element to it, whether I’ve been marketing pet products or non-profits. Pet parents have big hearts and, if given the opportunity to donate or support an important cause simply by supporting a particular brand, they will go out of their way to do it. Nature’s Logic is a mission-driven company and I’m happy to be able to continue this work, with a focus on sustainability and supporting groups and individuals that are making a positive impact on our planet. I love inspiring people to do what they can to make a difference.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

Sustainability, absolutely. As an industry, our impact on the environment is significant. I’m so proud that Nature’s Logic is committed to changing this. In fact, our mission is “to apply the logic of nature to everything we touch,” which means creating 100% natural food with no synthetics and being a voice for sustainability. The good news is that we have a terrific organization helping the pet industry make great strides in this area – the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC). From packaging to renewable energy to protein sourcing and more, PSC is helping pet businesses shift their operations to become more sustainable. And I’m very proud to say that Nature’s Logic is one of PSC’s top 20 most sustainable brands in the pet industry. We are excited for others to join this effort!

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

Strong leaders have a clear vision and the flexibility to be able to adjust the path to get there as needed along the way. Good leaders make sure everyone understands the vision and their role in achieving it. The best leaders put their people in a position to succeed – by giving them the tools, teams and motivation they need to meet their goals. Fostering a culture of respect and support is imperative in moving projects, teams and organizations forward. And, leaders never stop learning.

 

 

Corporate Headshot Business Portrait in Studio I Kansas City and Overland Park Headshot Portrait Wedding and Commercial Photographer | Kevin Ashley PhotographyHeather Govea, Chief Commercial Officer

Alphia

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

I fell in love with animals at an early age, rescuing animals and bringing them home. I drove my mom crazy. But when I started working as a tech in a veterinary hospital, I was able to see the difference great nutrition made in a pet’s life and how it improves the bond between the pet and pet parent. I learned a lot from the vet I worked for, who understood the connection between nutrition and health. He worked to solve the source of a pet’s problem. That’s when I fell in love with pet nutrition.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet care industry and/or pet parents?

Being a mentor and helping other people get ahead in their career has probably been my greatest contribution to the pet care industry. Helping people identify and achieve their ambitions has been incredibly satisfying, and I’ve watched many people grow into very successful careers throughout the industry.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

Fair, science-based regulation is probably the most pressing issue our industry faces right now. For example, trends have started based solely on external agencies deciding to connect health issues with food before having scientific results. There should be more thought and thorough investigations before this happens. Actions like this devastate retailers, brands and leave a mark on the industry – and often without founding data or support. You can’t undo that.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

Strong leaders not only sets clear direction, but they empower their employees to make decisions and trust them to make the right ones. Strong leaders listen first and lead by example, through their actions, and are never above doing what they would ask of their employees.

 

 

 

Hazzah, TrinaDr. Trina Hazzah, Veterinary Oncologist (DVM, DACVIM [Oncology], CVCH), Cannabis Educator, Consultant

Green Nile, Inc.

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

Animals were always an important part of Egyptian culture, so naturally, as a first-generation Egyptian, I come from a long line of animal lovers. My grandmother taught me to love and appreciate all animals from tortoises to dogs. I was 15 when I got my first dog, and I started cleaning cages at the vet hospital to cover the financial fees of being a dog-owner. Next thing I know, the veterinarian asked me if I could step in to help with a surgery, and the rest is history.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

I had been practicing oncology for about five years when I started to search for remedies outside of traditional medicine. I’m constantly thinking about ways to improve the quantity and quality of our pet’s lives, which eventually led me to integrate herbs into my practice, including cannabis, and I became certified in Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine. Now, I’m able to provide the holistic approach that my patients deserve. Plus, as an educator and consultant for other veterinarians who are exploring alternative medicine, I’ve had a chance to expand my knowledge and reach to help all of their patients as well.

Additionally, I have had the honor to become a Founder & President of the Veterinary Cannabis Society (VCS), the first non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization focused on raising awareness of cannabis as a medicine for animals.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

Veterinarians deserve the right to openly recommend cannabis as a viable treatment option for their patients. Veterinary professionals should also have a say regarding product safety and cannabis-related laws. Currently, medical cannabis laws, including medical “recommendations” apply to the use of cannabis products in human patients only, not veterinarians. That being said, veterinarians struggle to discuss cannabis with pet parents, as they want to avoid potential legal implications. The majority of the state veterinary medical boards are not taking a solid stance for either hemp or high THC cannabis products, making it very difficult for vets to understand the legal parameters within their specific state. Raising awareness of these issues was of our main goals when starting the Veterinary Cannabis Society, which is focused on creating lasting solutions to ensure the safe use of cannabis in pets through education, advocacy, and promoting product standards.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

The most essential trait a leader can embody is to lead by example. Using kindness and compassion to elevate those around you will empower your team to be the best they can be. A leader understands that while perfection is far from our reach, we still stretch to our limit and learn from our mistakes in order to grow.

 

 

Hernandez Geekie, DarleneDarlene Hernandez Geekie RVT, Founder and CEO

VEMA

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

I am one of those fortunate people that always knew what I wanted to do. As a child, I would catch lizards and keep them as pets, I would tell my twin sister I wanted to work with animals. It has always been my passion. I became a Registered Vet Tech, I have taught and started unique veterinary practices that address the needs of low cost spay / neuter for cats, or affordable care for those that are disadvantaged, homeless, or elderly to give back to my community and fill a gap in pet care.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

Biggest contribution is ability to find solutions to problems. Such as helping low income, homeless and disaster victims having the inability to pay a vet bill.

In my Veterinary Angels Medical Center Practice, I have specialist that see species that other vets are not used to seeing. So, when we respond to a disaster, we do not have turn away a donkey, rabbit, swan, or pig.

The Little Angels Project, my non-profit animal assistance organization, has responded to fires and an earthquake and has taken care of animals that were injured as a result of disaster at zero cost to the owners.

The VEMA idea stems from responding to those local disasters and the folks who show up at an evacuation center and having taken nothing for their pets including vet records that may prevent them from being allowed into the shelter. I wanted to be sure that pet owners were prepared with their own “go bag” and education.

During the disaster relief recovery, we learned how many people were not prepared and how to prepare and had no idea of what supplies to take. I have put together a product that pet owners can have confidence in that it is safe for their beloved pet.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

We need to provide more education from the pet industry. Pet owners need to know more about the animals they are adopting – how long they live, how to handle emergencies, what resources are available to them to decide about selecting a pet that is right for them and the proper care for that animals We are educating people in pet care not just products so they have solutions for their pets to fill the gap.

As to pet care the public needs to understand that products need to be animal specific not just use people products. In a disaster, they need to be ready to help their pets if first responders cannot get there in time. They need to arm themselves with knowledge and become a valuable part of the pet industry team. There also needs to be education about what the animal will require over time – food / products for aging. Will it require medications and how to get them.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

Willingness to be flexible, understand, listen, and ability to not be afraid to forge a new path regardless of who follows.

 

 

Hudson, AnnAnn Hudson, Vice President of Marketing

Whitebridge Pet Brands

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

I grew up on a farm in Illinois and spent a lot of time around livestock and dogs and cats. As a toddler, I was out in the barn while my mom helped birth calves and rode along in the truck as she hauled grain. My dad worked at a feed mill and grain elevator and I spent almost every day there as a kid, so I grew up knowing quite a bit about the large animal feed industry. Ironically, corn from that grain elevator was sold to a plant in Missouri that produced Bow Wow dog food. Large animals, pets, feed and pet food is definitely in my blood and the industry has been a part of my life since I was born.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

I have always worked for companies that had a complete dedication to pet health. They never compromised on nutrition and never skimped on research. That is the first thing I think of when I work on a new product or think about a new program and I never let something cross my desk if it isn’t the right thing to do for dogs or cats. I’ve launched and built a lot of what I believe are the strongest brands in pet specialty today, including Royal Canin and Tiki Pets.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

There has always been a divide between “science” and “natural” when it comes to food. I believe that you can deliver natural nutrition, defined as minimally processed with recognizable ingredients, that is consistent with what we know about the real physiological needs of dogs and cats. Most owners like to feed “people food” but most “people food” is not good for pets. Brands have to deliver on the promise of healthy nutrition for pets that makes pet parents happy to feed.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

The best leaders surround themselves with good people and give them the freedom to do what they do best. There is no room for ego, and strong leaders work hard and give credit where it is due. Strong leaders are confident, they are not afraid to make decisions and they want to succeed. Winning is fun, but they know it takes everyone working together to get it done.

 

 

Kuris Morgan, SaraSara Kuris-Morgan, Founder and CEO

Frenchie’s Kitchen

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

My inspiration was Romeo, my sick French Bulldog puppy. Frenchie’s’ Kitchen gently cooked, human grade dog food began in my kitchen in 2007 – the year of the melamine recalls for pet food and treats made in China. My French bulldog puppy, Romeo had been dealing with severe digestive issues since he was born. We went to specialists across the country and spent lots of money with no results. I finally made an appointment with a holistic vet who specialized in Food Therapy and Traditional Chinese Medicine. With her guidance, the recipes were formed and my cooking days began! Romeo quickly began to improve and eventually got off all of his prescription medications.

The vet loved what I was doing and asked if I would make prescription meals for her clients. The results were amazing! We saw with our own eyes the power of nutrition. As business began to grow, we moved into a commercial kitchen and shortly afterwards we began manufacturing our products in a USDA Inspected Human Food Facility. This has been a fantastic journey with amazing stories from across the country. We are happy to say that Romeo was our official “Taste Tester” until he crossed the Rainbow Bridge in 2020 at the age of 14. He was one of the oldest French Bulldogs in the country at the time of his death.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

Pioneering the “Gently Cooked” category of Human Grade dog food Our biggest contribution to the pet industry was developing a new category of pet food that didn’t exist at the time – “Gently Cooked.” When we started Frenchie’s Kitchen, the only categories of pet food were kibble, can, raw and dehydrated. We began challenging the big manufacturers to provide healthier food choices for “Man’s Best Friend.” Consumers became more educated and began recognizing the benefits of feeding their pets fresh, human grade, whole food ingredients that are sourced in the USA!

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

We need to have more consistency within the various regulatory agencies regarding the “Human Grade” claim as well as other manufacturing, packaging and labeling requirements. Currently these requirements vary from state to state and it causes lots of confusion for the manufacturer as well as the consumer. We also need more transparency on the quality and sourcing of ingredients including vitamins and supplements. The majority of vitamins in pet food come from China and the consumer has no idea. At Frenchie’s Kitchen we pride ourselves in sourcing 100% of our ingredients, including the supplements in the USA.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

I feel that honesty and integrity are the most important attributes of a strong leader. I also believe this person must start by creating a culture within their company for individuals having common interests and goals. It allows the various departments to share the vision of the company, inspires them to set the bar high and meet the goals and objectives of the business while allowing them to feel empowered and fulfilled. I want our team to love what they do and know that they are appreciated and their work is important. We encourage others to succeed and celebrate those successes no matter how big or small they may be.

 

 

Lawless, JulieJulie Lawless, Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Administration

Elanco Animal Health

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

I’ve always been intrigued by the power of the human-animal bond. I experienced it early in life growing up on a farm with dogs, cats and horses as pets. Then over the last 12 years in the pet industry, I’ve learned about the science behind the physical and emotional benefits of interacting with pets. I was working in the automotive industry when I was offered a role in communications at Mars Petcare in 2009, and I jumped at the opportunity to move into the industry. Mars was the perfect place to learn firsthand about human-animal bond from the scientists at The Waltham Petcare Science Institute in the U.K. I took that knowledge and passion with me to Elanco Animal Health, where I’m thrilled to lead an engaged team that advocates for healthy pets and their benefit to people every day.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

There are so many fantastic opportunities to contribute to this industry in the areas of Corporate Affairs and Corporate Social Responsibility/Sustainability. With my past 6+ years in the consolidating, maturing animal health industry, it’s been a highlight to work on two of the industry’s largest acquisitions and Elanco’s IPO in 2018. I’ve been fortunate to serve this growing industry during an exciting time, communicating animal health’s importance to society and the critical role of healthy animals to the health of people and the planet.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

If we truly want pets to live longer, healthier lives, then we need to focus on ensuring access to veterinary care for all. We’ve learned so many valuable lessons on the use of telemedicine and digital through the pandemic lockdowns around the world, that now we have the opportunity to apply those lessons for the long term. We can also tackle issues related to social isolation and mental health through increased use of pet therapy and animal-assisted interventions. It’s a worthwhile area where the pet industry can lend its support to make a difference for both the practitioners and people in need.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

It’s such a great time to be a female leader and to be in the pet industry. I see the importance of emotional intelligence only increasing in leadership roles – and the need for empathy and vulnerability. People want to follow a leader who’s human, inclusive and someone that personally connects with them. As one of my early mentors said, the ability to connect with people “from the top floor to the shop floor” is critical to leadership. And in this time of constant change, resilience is also a key ingredient for a strong leader.

 

 

Masingill, DaniqueDanique Masingill, President

Leashes of Valor

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

My husband’s need for a service dog got me into the industry.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

Our biggest contribution is providing these life-saving animals, while at the same time setting the industry standard for our veterans dogs.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

Standardization of service dogs tasks and the obesity of our pets.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

Being willing to adapt.

 

 

McCarron, KateKatie McCarron, Founder

Portland Pet Food Company

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

For me, it’s not a question of what brought me to this career path – it’s who. I spent most of my professional career focused on human nutrition, primarily conducting research that bridged nutrition with healthcare administration and education. Throughout it all, Rosie, my Standard Poodle, was by my side. By the time I’d sold my first business, Rosie had reached her senior years and her health was declining rapidly. I was devastated when our vet said that she may only have a few more months of life left. The vet gave her a prescription diet in an attempt to increase her nutrient intake, but she wouldn’t eat it. After that, we tried whatever we could find – kibble, wet food, raw, etc., but none of it was of interest to her.

So, I put all of my time, focus and nutrition background into helping Rosie — and the most important thing she needed was to start eating again. I began cooking for Rosie at home using only ingredients that I’d find at local farmers markets and natural grocery stores, and Rosie loved it. She lived for two and half more years eating only Portland Pet Food Company meals and is the real founder of our company. Though Rosie has been gone for a few years now, I’m still immensely grateful for the extra time I was able to be with her. I decided that every dog parent should get the opportunity to spend as many years with their dogs as possible, so I launched Portland Pet Food Company featuring the exact recipes I’d been giving Rosie!

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

I think my biggest contribution to the pet industry is offering an alternative human-grade pet food option in the very first shelf stable, convenient pouch without any preservatives/additives and with ingredients sourced only in the USA. When we were first starting and looking into packaging that would allow us to do this, people thought we were crazy –  but we were determined. Today, our meals offer pet owners a way to feed their dogs fresh, nutritious ingredients without needing to store anything in the freezer. With PPFC, owners can feed their dogs a home-cooked meal without any dirty dishes! Additionally, our products are sustainably made and support the local community.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

More than anything right now, the industry needs to devote more attention to transparency and sustainability – from sourcing ingredients, the process of making food, and finally to recycling the packaging. Pet manufacturers have a responsibility to do what they can to better the quality of ingredients in pet food and improve the environment we live in, and it’s time to step up and do more.

The next issue would be to stop normalizing a set diet for all dogs or certain breeds. Dogs thrive on a rotating, fresh diet, but most owners believe that feeding only one type of kibble is adequate because of the messaging they’re being told. Just like humans, there is not one set diet that works for all.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

Strong leaders have a vision…they write a new story. They encourage and help people to achieve their best, and they hire people that have skills beyond their own. Strong leaders show compassion and care for their team and those they interact with on a daily basis. And most importantly, strong leaders know when to laugh and learn from their own mistakes, while not taking their eyes off the end goal.

 

 

Pletz, LauraLaura Pletz, Scientific Services Manager – East US

Royal Canin

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

I recognized the wonder of the human-animal bond. When I was 5, my new puppy broke his leg and I was so grateful that the veterinarian was able to fix him, that I knew that was what I wanted to do. I have enjoyed finding many ways to support this amazing bond between us and our pets during both my time in practice and in industry.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

Recognizing the importance that the leadership of the veterinary profession should reflect those serving in the profession as well as the larger population we serve. I am working hard with many others to ensure we are equipped to meet the needs of future veterinarians and pet owners. Through the creation of the Royal Canin Women’s Veterinary Leadership Forum, I have been able to shine a light on the need for us to continue to learn and grow about things other than science and medicine. We also have a duty to continue to grow as human beings and understand how to be better leaders and better colleagues to each other.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We must be equipped to meet the needs of future pet owners and if we continue to remain one of the least diverse professions, we cannot meet this challenge. As leaders, we must lead the charge and make sure creating inclusive environments becomes a top priority each day.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

Authenticity is key for me. By showing up as my true self, it provides the space for my team to do the same and I truly believe this is the path to success for teams, as well as the health and wellbeing of each individual.

 

 

Prehogan, JacquelineJacqueline Prehogan, Co-founder and Chief Brand Officer

Open Farm Inc.

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

I have always had a passion for animals, which was ignited further after rescuing our first pug, Bella. Back when I was working in the corporate world as an accountant, I was driving home one day and I ended up getting stuck behind an animal transport truck. This was a pivotal moment for me, as I began to think about the food on my plate and how it got there. This experience caused me to take an even greater interest in the food my family was eating and the ingredients we were putting into our bodies. Around that time I had left my corporate role to launch Canada Pooch, a lifestyle brand of pet apparel and accessories that marries fashion and function.

After adopting Maddie, our second rescue pug, I began searching for a pet food that reflected the food standards my husband and I were looking for ourselves in terms of the humane treatment of animals and ingredient integrity. Noticing again another gap in the market, we set out to create Open Farm, a premium pet food that provides the highest standards in nutrition and focuses on ethical sourcing, sustainability, and transparency.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

I am very proud of what the team and I have built at Open Farm. We know that pet parents just want to give their pet the best, and our unmatched standards for ingredients are a way to give them confidence that the food they’re feeding is giving their pet the nutrition they deserve. Our vision for the brand has been to redefine industry standards for the way pet food is produced and manufactured while making exceptional products. This includes tackling the industry’s contribution to global pollution as well as the obscurity of ingredient sourcing. Raising the bar on what we feed our pets, we have worked to improve the food system, partnering with ethical sourcing partners, such as Certified Humane and Global Animal Partnership. In working with these partners, our recipes are formulated with animal proteins that meet the highest animal welfare standards for food production, resulting in happier and healthier farm animals and a higher quality of meat for our pets. I believe companies should be held accountable for their impact, and at Open Farm we strive to better the environment and our communities while providing our pets with even better nutrition than what we eat ourselves.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

Given the size and impact of the global pet industry, I believe diversity and inclusion need to be given more attention since this represents a huge opportunity to advance these values. Pet owners represent a broad cross-section of cultures and the bond that exists between humans and pets is a universal human truth. It’s important that diversity and inclusion are considered so that we can better represent the customers we serve and the things that matter to them.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

I believe a strong leader is also an inspirational leader. A strong leader inspires the team to believe in the mission of the business, lives and breathes its core values, and shares the success and growth of the organization. Open Farm would not be where it is today without its employees which is why I believe a great leader is someone who has a passion for people. It’s important to be truly invested in your team’s success and growth, not only in their careers but also as people. Helping team members achieve their utmost potential will benefit the individual as well as the company.

Lastly, it’s crucial to foster honesty and transparent communication within your organization to build a culture of trust. I believe in being open about the challenges and opportunities facing a business and always sharing feedback directly and engaging in open dialogue. It’s important to listen to opposing points of view, while also sharing thought processes in decision making.

 

 

Pryor, TraciTraci Pryor, Chief Development Officer

Pet Partners

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

The opportunity to work at Pet Partners brings together two of my life’s biggest passions- pets and philanthropy. I am so grateful that I get to play a part in generating support for our passionate therapy animal teams as they interact with a wide variety of clients including veterans with PTSD, seniors living with Alzheimer’s, students with literacy challenges, patients in recovery, people with intellectual disabilities, and those approaching end of life.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

I am proud to have worked to launch several national initiatives and signature events at Pet Partners including National Therapy Animal Day, the World’s Largest Pet Walk, Animal-Assisted Workplace Well-being and We Are All Ears, a worldwide read-with-pets project. I am so grateful that thousands of people across the country and world have joined us in these opportunities to celebrate the human-animal bond.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

The need for the unconditional love, comfort and support that therapy animals bring is only increasing, and demand for therapy animal visits will be even more urgent as we begin to heal from the COVID-19 pandemic. I invite leaders in the pet industry to join Pet Partners in raising awareness and educating the public about the role therapy animals play in enhancing the health and wellbeing of humans.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

I feel that we can learn many important leadership attributes from the pets in our lives! Our pets teach us to follow our gut instincts, greet each day with boundless excitement and an eager attitude, and to listen to others without judgement. From my adored basset hound Frisco, I have learned the importance of taking care of oneself (what we humans call work-life balance!) He never hesitates to take a break for a well-deserved neighborhood stroll or much needed nap!

 

 

Rubin, LindsayLindsay Rubin, Vice President of Operations

v-dog

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

From a young age, I was always a huge animal lover. I was obsessed with dogs and horses. I was known for begging my parents to let me peek at the cute little furballs any time we were nearby a pet shop. In high school, I started my own dog and cat sitting business in our neighborhood.

After graduating college, I worked at a veterinary products startup company. The path towards my current career was always calling my name as someone interested in both animals and business. Being able to connect my passion for animals, specifically dogs, with my career is the best gift and allows for me to naturally bring my all to work each day.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

I’m so proud to help lead and grow v-dog, and our international brand v-planet, and make this new category of nutritionally complete, plant-based products accessible to pet parents around the world. I’m also grateful to lead a team of passionate, talented professionals and encourage a path of self-growth and empowerment within our team.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

Removing animal products from the dog food supply chain entirely needs more attention brought to it. According to a 2016 study by Mueller, et al., beef, dairy and chicken are the top allergens in dog and cat food. In addition to making a lot of dogs itchy and sick, the production of animal products require far more water, land and energy to produce than their plant-powered counterparts. I often say: If there is a food our dogs love that provides all of the nutrients they need to thrive and does no harm to sentient farmed animals, why not choose this option?

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

Listening to your peers and self-reflecting in order to grow are crucial for strength in leadership. Both of these require vulnerability, which is a key element of being a successful leader.

 

 

Sayles, MicheleDr. Michele Sayles, Executive Director of Food Safety and Quality

Diamond Pet Foods

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

I have always been a food safety advocate and started my career focused on human food safety and quality. When I was recruited in 2007 by a pet food company, I knew this was my opportunity to take learnings from human food manufacturing and help the pet industry adapt those same protocols and practices to make pet food safe and healthy.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

There are three distinct contributions that come to mind:

  1. One of my proudest achievements is aiding in the development and execution of the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The leaders of the FSMA relied on my pet and human food safety experience in order to provide insight on how this act could benefit the pet food industry. I also developed the FSMA’s training materials for the pet food industry and regulatory professionals to use, ensuring the new regulations were properly observed.
  2. Having a key role in developing species-specific probiotics, proprietary blends created exclusively for Diamond Pet Foods’ brands. These strains, developed from probiotic strains already found in the canine and feline GI tracts, may help restore balance to get a pet’s digestive and immune systems back on track.
  3. Working for a company that allows me to be a scientist, learning and testing and then sharing our successes with industry peers. I’m a firm believer there is no competitive advantage to food safety, and being able to have an open dialogue about technical advancements and findings with my colleagues from other pet food companies makes us all better and smarter for our four-legged companions.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

Food safety will always be an issue the industry focuses on, as it is the cornerstone to providing pets long, healthy lives. Sometimes that message is diluted by misinformation that spreads on the internet. Having come from the human food world, I can assure you that Diamond Pet Foods, and many other companies in the industry, have safety programs and protocols in place that rival their human food counterparts.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

Being a good listener, and having an open-minded mentality and the ability to encourage the people you work with. Those attributes help companies thrive and drive the industry forward.

 

 

Skelley, JenniferJennifer Skelley, Senior Director of Communications and PR

American Pet Products Association

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

As a lifelong pet parent, joining and promoting the pet industry while developing my career was a win-win when I started at APPA.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

APPA launched its Pets Add Life campaign around the time I started at the organization. What began as a public service announcement effort in 2005, has grown into one of the leading voices for promoting the joys and benefits of pet ownership. We have reached millions of people with impactful content and narratives shared on social media and in our PAL videos, and it’s been the most rewarding initiative I’ve had the opportunity to work on to date.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

From a professional standpoint, I would like to see and hear from more people from diverse backgrounds in this industry. I’d also like to see more women in leadership roles. A diverse workforce brings to the table a broader level of skills and experiences, thus driving progress and innovation.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

Adaptability and a willingness to be respect and learn from different points of view.

 

 

Sommers, BethBeth Sommers, President and Chief Merchandising Officer

Pure and Natural Pet

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

When I worked at Hammacher Schlemmer in the 90’s, I met Gayle Martz creator of the Sherpa Bag. Together, we launched the first original SHERPA Bag in both the Hammacher catalog and in Skymall. This was the first carrier approved by the airlines for on-board pet travel. Gayle was such an inspiration. I had always loved animals, but this gave me my first foray into the pet industry.

My main inspiration was my dog “Girlfriend.” She was plagued with allergies and skin & coat issues. After numerous vet visits I realized that there was nothing available for grooming or wellness that was natural or organic. After some research, I also found out that there were no label guidelines or regulations on pet products. Realizing that there was a need for a better solution, I decided to try and create a line of pet products that could be trusted. That was the birth of the company. I went after USDA Certification because of the strict labeling guidelines.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

With Pure and Natural Pet, I’ve been able to provide pet parents with a healthier solution in grooming and wellness products that are USDA Certified Organic, USA-Made and Cruelty-Free.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

The pet industry needs more regulations to ensure products are safe for our pets and the environment. There are many products on the market that we would not use on our family that are considered acceptable for our pets. Our pets are part of the family too. By having tighter regulations, we ultimately improve the quality of life for our pets and reduce waste that impacts our environment. How it’s made, where it’s made, and what ingredients go into each product needs to matter!

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

There are many attributes; you can have passion and be innovative but it really boils down to integrity. Integrity impacts every facet of business; from what you say and do, to how you manufacture as well as your interactions with customers. Your integrity becomes your brand.

Empowerment of your team is also critical. When you surround yourself with the right people and allow each person to bring their skills and talents to the table, you’re able to grow and achieve your goals. The strength and dedication of the Pure and Natural Pet team, is what allows me to move forward every day.

 

 

Stultz-Hairston, BethBeth Stultz-Hairston, President

Pet Sitters International

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

My love of pets and people, along with a desire to help small-business owners, led me to the pet-sitting industry. Once I discovered Pet Sitters International (PSI) and its dedicated, professional members, I knew I had found my place in the pet industry. I’m inspired daily by PSI members’ commitment to improving the lives of pets and their people through the services they provide.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

I am very proud of PSI’s leadership and innovation in the professional pet-sitting industry. Our motto is “pet-sitting excellence through education.” Through listening to our members’ needs and working with the PSI team, I’ve been able to help spearhead top educational offerings for the pet-sitting industry, including PSI’s annual Pet Sitter World Conference, the Certified Professional Pet Sitter-CPPS designation and a variety of online courses. At PSI we work to give our members access to the best educational resources, business tools and support in the industry, so that they can turn their passion for pets into a successful career opportunity. Because of these educated, reliable pet sitters and dog walkers, pet parents across the globe are able to travel or work long hours with the peace of mind that their pets are receiving quality care. I’m humbled to play a part in this.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

I look forward to seeing increased collaboration between various facets of the pet industry. Service providers, such as professional pet sitters and dog walkers, play an integral role in the overall well-being of pets. Because of the frequency of their services, they also have their finger on the pulse of the top needs of pets and pet parents. These smaller companies and service providers often get lost in larger pet-industry discussions, but their insight offers great value that can help the pet industry at large better serve pets and the pet-owning community.

I think it’s also important that we focus more attention on the impact of compassion fatigue and burnout in the pet industry. Burnout and compassion fatigue are very real issues in our industry—and, if left unaddressed, will begin to chip away at the professionalism of your business and the pet-care industry at large. As a Certified Compassion Fatigue Educator, I’ve been able to work with pet sitters and dog walkers to recognize the signs of compassion fatigue and burnout and devise self-care plans — which is essential for their personal well-being and the continued success of their businesses.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

In addition to having integrity and self-awareness, a strong leader must also recognize the importance of surrounding herself with the right group of people—including co-workers, mentors, business associates and friends. There is strength in numbers, and the strongest leaders know how to bring the right people together, appreciate the unique talents of these people and then work together to establish and achieve the company’s vision. I’ve always said that “pet people are the best people,” and I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the best people in the pet industry.

 

Truelove, DeniseDenise Truelove, Global Portfolio Director, Dog Main Meal

Mars Petcare

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

I’m a total pet lover and have been around pets my whole life. I have a 14-year old Pomeranian named Sasquatch who was my first baby and now is the best friend to my two human babies. We can’t imagine our family without him – he brings us joy, comfort, and unconditional companionship. As a marketer, I always knew I’d join a consumer packaged goods business. When I interviewed with Mars Petcare, I realized that the company’s purpose: A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS was at the core of everything it does. That’s when I realized I could make my personal passion for pets part of my professional career.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

A common thread throughout my career has been the desire to develop great products that push the envelope in how we think about our pets’ food. In my role, I’ve worked really hard to change the way we all think about wet pet food by creating products that use recognizable ingredients and are “fit for a plate” while being specially designed as complete and balanced for pets. Having those moments of shared joy during mealtime can help solidify the bond between pets and pet parents.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

This past year, people have been turning to pets for comfort more than ever before. We saw record rates of pet fostering and increases in pet adoption, as we saw the impacts of social isolation. As we start to think about life after the pandemic, our industry needs to be prepared to support the evolving needs of pets and pet parents. Whether that’s providing new, nutritious products to promote deeper bonding, or by influencing more pet-friendly public spaces to support pet parents who are nervous about leaving their pets at home, the pet industry is uniquely positioned to help.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

To me, the most important attributes of a strong leader don’t necessarily have to do with having the best vision or setting the best strategy. The best leaders I’ve worked for have truly cared about their team as individuals – not just as workers – and have appreciated everyone’s unique circumstances and experiences. They’ve also empowered their associates to take full ownership, which only increases the desire to do great work. And, they’ve frequently and thoroughly recognized their team members for a job well done. While vision and strategy are important, clearly establishing that your team’s well-being and success are priority is the key to motivation and engagement.

 

 

van der Basch, JolandaJolanda van der Basch, Co-founder

Only An Ocean

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

I have always been inspired and energized by inventors and the intensity of drive behind their vision. My first trip to scout for innovative pet products for our EU online pet business was in 2009 at the HH Backer show. Here, I was met with an entirely new culture and spirit of entrepreneurship. This show solidified my commitment to the pet industry and my unique role as a bridge between cultures within the pet industry.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

Regardless of location and culture, we all want products and services that improve the lives of our beloved pets. One of my major achievements is bringing many such products from the USA to Europe within the industry. My second biggest achievement was to create a model business in both the US and Europe, Only An Ocean LLC, that formally created a model of exchanging products of incredible up and coming pet brands both ways, from the US to EU and visa versa. Hence, the name, there is only an ocean between us… pet parents, pet innovators, pets and our two home bases that drive this model.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

We have seen a big demand for pets during the COVID-19 epidemic. This is such a wonderful element, however, as soon as start to get back to our pre-COVID routines, there will be a shift in needs for these pets. I foresee a greater demand for products and services for these pets as their families return to outside of the home jobs, school, etc.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

I believe a strong leader recognizes the importance of the team around them. Their role is to foster and grow the talent and potential of such a team. This takes courage, a clear vision, and focus. Communicating this vision with shared trust in the ability of all and shared empathy for its members creates energy amongst all. This leader must be genuinely passionate and fuel this for all, both team and end customer, this is what differentiates and connects with all involved.

 

 

Vargoz, JenniferJennifer Vargoz, Director, Brand Strategy & Product Development

Petmate

Who or what inspired you to get into the pet industry?

I’ve always had a profound love of pets and animals, and have been fortunate as I was growing up to be surrounded by a family who shares that love and passion. This family passion was the impetus of the toy brand Fat Cat, my introduction to the pet industry.

Working to develop this brand alongside my family and other inspiring, passionate members of the pet industry, solidified my drive for building brands and delighting people and their pets in the process.

 

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet parents?

As a brand marketer in this industry, I believe it is both the biggest opportunity as well as the best reward, to drive product solutions and meaningful consumer engagement with pet parents. By creating product that is driven by consumer insight, as well as connecting with our consumers authentically to engage and excite them about our brands, it not only connects us, but drives a personally fulfilling experience to pets and their parents. Consumer campaigns and events such as Chuckit! National Fetch Day provide meaningful ways to engage with our brands, celebrate the bond of pet relationships through play and contribute to the very personal experience for our consumers, directly supportive of the personal passion of pet parenting we share, and the same that drives all of us in this industry.

 

What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why?

As industry experts, educating our consumers to make the best decisions for their pets and their families is a responsibility we all share. It is our role to not only provide the best, safest and most appropriate solutions for their needs, but also to be a supportive partner as they navigate pet parenting. As an industry, more focus on education as well as a continued commitment to providing only the safest products that support long lives and well-being will always be an area that can benefit from further focus and continuous improvement.

 

What are the most important attributes of a strong leader?

When I think of the strongest and most effective leaders I have followed throughout my career, empathy stands out as the attribute that they all have had in common. To me, being a great leader means setting a great example. In my opinion, empathy, accountability, self-awareness, adaptability and the ability to flex are critical to the success of a strong leader.

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