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August 6, 2019

This year marks the fifth anniversary of Pet Age’s ICON Awards. The award was introduced in 2015 to honor the leaders of the pet industry who have shown a long-term commitment to its success based on experience, integrity and leadership.

Candidates had to meet selection criteria that included working in the industry for at least 20 years and holding position with significant authority in decision making for their organization.

ICON recipients are the leaders who are driving our industry, and this year we recognize entrepreneurial trailblazers like Darcy Bomford and Chuck Simons, who have turned their vast knowledge and creativity into innovative, impactful products as well as Kristen Levine and Sandy Robins, professionals who have used their extensive skills to play an important role on an engaging program or service that provides exceptional care for the pets that the industry serves.

The 2019 class of recipients come from across the globe and all sectors of the industry, including the top manufacturers, pet suppliers and public relations agencies. No matter their location or role in the industry, one thing remains constant: the pet industry would not be where it is today without their contributions.

Each honoree has had a unique yet equally meaningful journey, where he or she has made impressive contributions to not only the business side of the industry but also the millions of beloved pets and their adoring owners.

The Pet Age staff congratulates the 20 winners of the fifth annual ICON Awards, and we encourage you to meet these remarkable members who have earned their place atop the industry.

Darcy Bomford- darcy_and_dogs_copy

Darcy Bomford, Founder and CEO, True Leaf Pet

Years in the Pet Industry: 34

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

I was inspired by my love and passion for pets from an early age when I felt a special connection to animals. I grew up with a single mother in Calgary and we lived in a building where we couldn’t have pets. When I was 12, my mom and I moved to British Columbia into our own house and I was finally able to get my first dog: his name was Charley—a black spaniel cross and we were inseparable. I worked for a vet when I was a teenager, then decided to start my own natural pet treat company in 1987 called “Darford”—a combination of my first and last name. Charley was the dog in the logo and I’ve had a dog in my life every day since.

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

Always striving for quality and giving back. Right from the start, as a manufacturer, we were focused on making products as natural and as wholesome as possible. We wanted our consumers to recognize the ingredients we used and feel good about feeding them to their own pets. I like to think that our work helped motivate other companies to use higher quality ingredients overall. Giving back has also been important to me: When I had Darford, we created the ‘Plus One Movement’, an initiative that had us giving food to rescue organizations through our product purchases. We met a ton of terrific people and gave away over 800,000 meals to dogs in need; we were all really proud of what we accomplished because it went beyond just dollars and cents. At True Leaf we are striving to do the same with our ‘Return the Love’ program, and it remains really exciting to give back and make a difference.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

Luckily, I am motivated every day. It could be a soft chin on my right shoulder when I’m driving to work in the morning, bright eyes and a wagging tail when I come home from a long trip or a paw on my knee when my day isn’t going so good. All these immensely powerful connections come from our pets and the unwavering unconditional love they show us every waking moment of their existence. This is the main reason why I do what I do. It really is that simple. Every day I do my best to try and return the love to my dog, my staff, my friends, family and most importantly…anybody I have the chance to say hello to. The desire to do better and to improve the lives of pets and their companions has always been my deep-rooted goal. Through this lifelong process, if I learn enough to leave the world a better place than I found it, that’s all I can really hope for.

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success? 

I’ve been an entrepreneur since an early age, then skipped university and went straight into business full time for myself when I was 19. I guess you could say that my style has been “listen, learn and dive in!” I am lucky to be blessed with a creative mind and the ability to create something from an idea and mold it into a real business that people believe in. I would describe my leadership style as ‘collaborative’. I like to have the whole team aligned and on board before decisions are made. I’ve learned many skills in my life by trying, that is the proverbial ‘school of hard knocks’. However, the key to my success has been the people around me and the skills and passion they bring to the table… I couldn’t have done it without them.

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

I think for years the pet industry too often relied on sub-standard ingredients or materials that are not fit for human consumption, but seemingly ‘good enough’ for pets. Over time, that has changed as consumers demanded and were willing to pay for higher quality ingredients. But where are we today? Recent findings point towards shorter life expectancies for dogs from cancer and new issues with ‘DCM’ in ever-popular grain free diets. I think this shorter life span is going to become THE issue that will demand attention: “Why am I spending so much on supposed high-quality food, but my dog is dying at 8 years of age? What is going on?” It may be ingredients, it may be the environment that we continue to compromise or perhaps it is our own anxiety that our pets feel and are connected to every day. The market is changing. For all the reasons I’ve mentioned, people cherish their pet companions and want them to live forever. The future belongs to companies who can deliver on this promise—quality of life and longer life expectancy. I suspect the answer is the same for all of us, we need to look after ourselves and our environment—they are all connected.

 

Pamela Bosco, Founder and President, Pet King Brands, Inc.Pamela Bosco Pet King Brands against brick wall

Years in the Industry: 20

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

It was 20 years ago and my beloved German shepherd rescue named Elizabeth was plagued with chronic ear infections. I enlisted the help of my bioscientist brother who possessed a great deal of knowledge on the topic of enzymes. He is the developer of the patented LP3 Enzyme System and the #1 dentist-recommended oral care products for people suffering from Dry Mouth. I recognized the increasing threat of antibiotic resistance and knew that ZYMOX could help so many, as it did my Elizabeth—without the side effects of antibiotics.

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

My biggest contribution would have to be bringing to market ZYMOX enzymatic animal health products that have helped over a million small and large animals find relief from painful, chronic ear infections and itchy allergy skin without the use of antibiotics. I also brought to market Oratene Brushless Enzymatic Oral Care to make it easier for pet parents to provide superior oral care without the need to brush.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

Everything I do is for the benefit of animals—all animals. It’s hearing the testimonies from frustrated veterinary professionals, groomers and pet parents who share their stories of how our products have deeply impacted the health and comfort of pets.

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success? 

I lead with common sense, creativity, a positive attitude, a passion for animals and the ability to dream. I am fortunate our foundation is a great team with diverse personalities and talent. Each person brings a unique perspective and I have the ability to see their individual strengths and how they contribute collectively. This creates an environment that allows us to build a successful, thriving business.

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

I believe cooperation with other pet-related companies in maintaining a fair and competitive price point by following and enforcing a MAP policy. This includes e-commerce businesses.

 

dave_delucaDavid DeLuca, Supply Chain Director, Mars Petcare

Years in the Pet Industry: 31

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

I was recruited to join Mars Petcare’s Columbus, Ohio, manufacturing site back in 1988. At the time, I had two cats, but didn’t know much about the pet industry as a whole. The opportunity to join Mars, a global, family-owned business, was exactly what I was looking for. There was unlimited career growth potential and it was an exciting place to be. What’s kept me at Mars Petcare for all of these years has been the amazing opportunities for growth and the company’s clear commitment to our people and our purpose: A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS. The pet industry is a really exciting one to be part of, and it’s full of passionate people who really love pets.

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

Over the years, I have been involved in many new product launches, capacity expansions and new plant start-ups. For me, it’s been great to know through my career at Mars that I am part of a company that’s putting a growing number of high-quality products in the market for our consumers and their four-legged family members.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of my best friends—that makes coming to work enjoyable. I also really enjoy hiring and developing talent. Whether they’re on my direct team or associates that I mentor, watching people grow professionally is a constant motivator for me.

Seeing how much I can actually, as an individual, impact a large company like Mars is extremely unique. At Mars, we as associates are asked to take direct responsibility for results, to exercise initiative and judgment and to make decisions as if the business were our own. Knowing that the company has passed this responsibility on to me has been a real motivator.

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success? 

As a leader, my job is to set context for my team—not just tell them what needs to be done, but also why it needs to be done and how it relates to the overall business strategy. I fully support my team members’ career aspirations and will provide as many opportunities for their development as I can. If a member of my team wants to pursue a new opportunity that will help them learn and grow, I will always be supportive—despite the fact that having them leave my team may cause me some short-term pain.

I am open and honest at all times, and am not a particularly serious person. It’s important for me to create an environment that people want to be part of, and I think humor plays a big role in that.

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

It’s so important that, as an industry, we’re constantly monitoring our controls and the governance we have for the quality of products that we are producing and putting into the market. At Mars, I’ve always been proud that meeting our quality standards is our number one priority as a business. I’m proud of the work our industry has done and continues to do.

 

Michele DixonMichele Dixon, Health and Nutrition Specialist, Petcurean

Years in the Industry: 30

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

From a young age, I knew that I wanted to work as an advocate for pets. I discovered that through nutrition I can help improve the lives of both pets and their people. I was drawn to nutrition because it’s a bit of an art and a science. I love using my science knowledge combined with my natural intuition to help people find solutions to their pet’s health and nutrition problems.

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

I think like a scientist but I can balance that with other parts of life that aren’t so linear and logical. This allows me to work well with many different types of people and understand what they are really trying to ask. I am able to communicate using many different styles and perspectives.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

Nutrition! It is so fascinating, and ever-evolving.

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success? 

My leadership style is diplomatic. I feel that everyone has a perspective and that perspective is valid. Having the ability to “sit on the fence”, so to speak, allows me to see challenges differently, and find a happy medium that works for everyone. This flexibility has shaped my success by allowing me to be adaptable to change, and having the ability to jump in wherever needed.

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

I think the industry needs to continue to make people feel heard and valued. As times change, people’s values change, and keeping up with that is critical to success.

 

jo_huntJo Hunt, President/Owner, DHA Lifestyle PR

Years in the Industry: 21

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

After owning a PR Agency for 29 years doing various kinds of product PR, I thought if I was going to continue on this career path the remainder of my work years better be about something for which I have a passion. I can’t think of anything I’m more passionate about than animals and their well-being, including my dog Rocket and cat Jet.

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

I have launched some of the most innovative products in the pet industry over the last 21 years. But I do think that my work with the Lucy Pet Foundation promoting low-cost spay and neuter services to help cut down on the number of animals euthanized each year was one of my biggest honors and one of my most motivating causes.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

My love of animals has definitely been the most motivating factor for me over the years. But I also think the people, including media and manufacturers, have continued to keep me interested. I can’t say enough about the quality of people in this industry. Having worked in other product arenas, the people in the pet industry are far and away the most kind, sincere and enjoyable folks I have ever met.

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success? 

I have never been a micromanager when it comes to employees and people. Therefore it goes without saying my patience level for those that are not self-starters is not vast. However, I do find that investing your time in the career and advancement of young people is an incredibly rewarding experience. Probably similar to what a teacher feels when he/she sees a student go on to achieve great things. Nothing like it… but it is not for the faint of heart.

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

The biggest issue the pet industry needs to pay attention to are product “trends.” Like those we see in pet food, treats, supplements and now CBD products. There must be some way to figure out if these manufacturer claims are true or just hog wash. Because although these new “trends” might be filling a manufacturers pockets with $$$$, they could also be harming our pets in ways that we cannot even imagine. As we all know the pet industry can be quite lucrative… but at what cost?

 

Brad Kane Bio Shot 07.07.19Brad Kane, Executive Vice President, Petmate

Years in the Industry: 30

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

I like to say that I was fortunate enough to be born into the pet industry. My grandfather, two uncles and my dad were all involved in the pet food side of the business. I grew up attending many breeder shows when my dad sold his raw premium pet food and I quickly realized what a special opportunity I had to serve in this industry. While going to college, I opened a small feed store that sold pet supplies in my hometown and after graduating, joined the family pet treat business. After 10 years in the family business, I had an opportunity to join Doskocil Manufacturing (now Petmate) as a marketing manager and I have never looked back.

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

I think the most rewarding contribution has been on the acquisition side with Petmate. My background in small business has helped me to understand the importance of treating an acquisition with respect and holding true to the promise of being a caretaker for the brand we are acquiring. Having been a part of numerous acquisition integrations over the years, it has been very rewarding to see many of the original companies reach new heights and still reflect the original legacy of the owner or founders.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

A driving principle for me has always been doing your best to improve and make an impact every day. I had a mentor who constantly reinforced the principle of how consistent improvement has a compounding impact. If we are consistent in making an incremental improvement in our business each day, we will see exponential results over time. It is tempting to want instant results, but the principle of compounding consistency is a powerful dynamic for success.

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success?

It sounds cliché, but I have always tried to lead by treating others the way that you would want to be treated. Whether it was accompanying my dad on deliveries to kennels and breeders, working in my feed store or managing in a diverse, corporate environment, the principle never gets old. Helping others is more rewarding than helping yourself and I have found that many people in the pet industry hold true to that same value. It has been a true privilege to share that principal while working with and alongside so many folks that have achieved success and made an impact in this industry.

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

Speaking from the supplier/manufacturer side of the business, we need to adopt industry-specific standards for quality and safety for pet products. Today, many retailers default to quality or safety standards that are applicable to the juvenile industry but may not be best suited for pet products. There has been a recent effort by some suppliers to create an industry standard for pet products, but we need more comprehensive support across retailers and suppliers to make this a reality.

 

stephen_m._katz_vmd__founderStephen M. Katz, VMD and Founder, Bronx Veterinary Center and Therabis

Years in the Industry: 35

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

What inspired me to get into the pet industry was having a series of incredible experiences. One of my first experiences taking care of pets was when I was a freshman in college at George Washington University. I rescued a zookeeper from a 23-foot-long reticulated python that had escaped from its cage at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. This truly opened me up to a career with animals as I was introduced to the head of the World of Wild Life Fund where I was put on two expeditions of mapping sea turtle nesting beaches in French Guinea and the Galapagos Islands National Park of Ecuador. Then I was the assistant director of the Hai Bar Biblical Wildlife Preserve in Israel where I helped take care of people’s pets in the wild. In the Middle East, it became obvious to me that I needed more training, so I came back to the United States. After being accepted to Cornell University, I decided that being a veterinarian would be a great fit for my lifestyle and philosophy of loving animals and taking care of people’s pets and enhancing their experiences. Aside from dogs and cats, I was determined to take in exotic animals as well. I was also highly inspired by my mentor, Dr. Robert Altman, when I did my externship at his animal hospital. As a vet, I treated every animal that walked into my exam rooms the same no matter what it was. The ability to be a vet to all sorts of animals and to be able to help all those animals and their pet owners gave me the greatest satisfaction.

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

For me, the most important element in vet medicine is the fact that I get to serve the community of the South Bronx. Our mission statements in the hospital are (1) To educate clients properly so they can take care of their pets; and (2) Give forth all the compassion and love I can to every single person that walks into my exam room. On a daily basis, I see 60 people and their pets, and my goal for each of them is to help make their situations better in any way I can.

Over the years, I’ve witnessed firsthand the prevalence of older pets with chronic conditions, which led me to develop Therabis. I saw many clients concerned when their pets were no longer able to keep up with their daily routines. Activities such as going up the stairs, jumping into bed or jumping on the chair became prohibitive. I started by giving the Therabis formulation to friends, and after various successes, I started giving it to my clients to try free of charge. They’d all come back for more and have anecdotal success stories about increased mobility and improved energy levels. Over the 10-year course of the formula’s development, I really had no intention of commercializing it. I was just doing it as a service to my clients. But I soon realized that I could make a much larger impact by making my formulations available to anyone online.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

What motivates me every day is my constant goal of making my clients smile. I always want to ease their worries when they see me, so they can free up that space in their mind that was previously scared or sad to take in information that will help their pets. When a client learns something new about how to combine healthy doses of nutrition, exercise, compassion and love—that motivates me.

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success?

My leadership style starts with LOVE. It’s all about love. If you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life—that cliché is true. I walk into that exam room with love, professionalism and a plan tailored to each individual pet’s needs. When I walk out of my exam room, I want to make sure my clients know what to do to ease any issue their pet is facing. I love to make my clients laugh, smile and be at ease. When my clients feel at ease, I know that they are taking in all the information about what is required to make their pets okay.

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

The pet industry needs to continue focusing on making living conditions better for pets—we have a long way to go with this still. I’ve seen the devastating effects of places like puppy mills and the exotic animal trade on the health of animals. I’ve also seen devastation on the faces of pet owners who expect to give 15+ years of love, devotion and attention to animals whose lives are cut short as a result of being mistreated or raised in horrible conditions. If we can all work together and with integrity, we can make a difference for pets and their parents.

 

kristen_levine_president_pet_living (1)Kristen Levine, President, Pet Living with Kristen Levine

Years in the Industry: 31

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

I was initially inspired to work in the pet industry by the executive director of the SPCA Tampa Bay, Beth Lockwood. In 1988 she hired me to do public relations for the animal shelter. Her dedication and commitment to the animals in the shelter’s care was incredibly inspiring. It was very clear that she cared very much for each pet in our care. She also had an incredible work ethic and set an example for all of us who worked at the animal shelter.

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

By building two marketing and PR businesses focused exclusively on serving the pet and veterinary industry, I think I’ve helped to elevate the caliber of marketing agencies and practitioners serving our industry.

From a personal perspective, what gives me the most satisfaction is knowing that I have helped pet parents overcome challenges and have a better life with and for their pets.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

Over the 31 years I’ve worked in this industry, several things have motivated me to build a career serving pets, people and brands. Innovation in products, services and veterinary care; cultural attitudes and acceptance about “pets as family” has been very motivating. Also, having built two successful marketing businesses serving the pet and veterinary sectors has been fulfilling and motivated me to pivot my career along the way to meet new demands and opportunities.

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success? 

I believe it’s important to hire people who are a cultural fit for our business and who have a great attitude and desire to impact the lives of animals through their work. Then, they need to be given the tools, training and professional development opportunities to be successful in their roles. I’ve always strived to hire people who were a lot more knowledgeable than I was in a particular skill set, so that I could focus on the vision and leadership.

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

I’d like to see our industry give more attention and support to fighting animal cruelty laws in the U.S. It’s time we put an end to this barbaric practice. Dog fighting in particular is a very secretive enterprise that’s tough for law enforcement to infiltrate. Investigations into dog fighting require a lot of the same resources and skills as other major undercover investigations require (ie, narcotics) and challenges the resources of any agency that seeks to respond to it. I’d like our industry to find a way to help.

 

tom_lunneborg_vice_president_of_research__developmentTom Lunneborg, Vice President of Research & Development, Oxyfresh

Years in the Industry: 23

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

I grew up with pets. My two dogs followed me everywhere as I explored our property. They would walk me to the bus stop each morning and be there to pick me up after school. They were family. It has been incredibly rewarding to create products that improve pets’ health and extend their lives. We all want to maximize the short time we have with our furry friends. Oxyfresh products are extraordinary at improving their health.

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

I feel my biggest contribution is education of the businesses and pet owners. We all want to do what is best for our pets. The challenge is the confusion of marketing messages. It becomes overwhelming for pet owners. I spend half of my time creating educational tools for pet owners and businesses to explain our products and how they help pets.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

I’m constantly motivated by the growing opportunity in the pet care market. This industry continues to grow year over year. Pet owners are taking a major interest in quality products for their pets. It’s rewarding to hear customer comments and read positive reviews about how our products have helped their pets.

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success? 

My leadership style is based on listening. Early in my career I trained specifically on listening and connecting with others. It’s vital to make sure that you really hear what they are saying. Everyone wants to do a great job. If they are given the right tools and clearly communicated with, they can do their job with excellence. I also believe in leading by example. Make sure you are walking your own talk. I believe this style establishes trust and confidence in employees.

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

I believe the biggest issue is safety. As industries grow there are many more companies that join. We need to police ourselves and make sure the formulas we are creating are done to serve the pets, not the industry. If products are simply jumping on a non-scientific trend, it could harm pets.

 

steve nicolosiSteve Nicolosi, National Sales Manager/Owner, Glo-Marr Products, Inc.

Years in the Industry:  25

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

Since we are a family-owned business I would have to say my father, Fred Nicolosi, who, with his father, started the business in St. Petersburg, FL in 1965.

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

While we have been manufacturing our own brands for all of these years, I think our private label program has contributed a lot to the industry. We private label for a lot of companies out there and it is really fun to see them develop and expand their lines. Most all are quite successful and nationally recognized… some even world-wide!

3. What has motivated you over the years?

I really like the sales end of running this business. I love meeting and working with different people. I enjoy going to trade shows and visiting customers in their own environment and seeing how we can grow our businesses together. Some of our private label ventures are challenging in regards to the sourcing and creating different products and formulas that our customers are looking for. I really enjoy that challenge.

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success? 

I want to think that I am pretty easygoing and laid back with my employees. We have a small, but effective, team and we are more like a family. I respect them and am thankful for their hard work and loyalty. I try not to micromanage. I will find what special qualities each employee has and give them certain responsibilities and tasks. They all thrive on that and are more productive once they feel trusted. I can’t say enough about our team and try my best to let them know how much I appreciate each and every one of them. Our company would not be the success it is without everyone on the team.

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

While the online marketing industry has been pretty good for us and some of our private label customers lately, we would still like to see the brick-and-mortar single stores and smaller chains be able to compete. Some of these smaller stores are closing because they can’t compete. It is very convenient to sit at home and shop on your computer and have something delivered to your door. However, there is still a real value to be able to walk into a store and be able to see products in person and still get customer service and attention that people are looking for. Glo-Marr likes to offer these types of retailers lower minimums for private label projects so store owners can create their own identity. Therefore, customers will have to come back to their store to buy “their” brand.

 

ANDY PAULES aAndrew Paules, Sales Manager, Pet Specialty Division, Ethical Products Inc.

Years in the Industry: 49

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

Early on, I was inspired by my parents, James and Ruth Paules. They helped me gain a work ethic that I carry on to this day. Our family was one of the first pet specialty distributors in the entire country. Willis Distributors of Bridgeport, CT was established in the late 1800s as a feed and grain store and evolved into a full line distributorship to the industry in the 1960s, servicing the pet supply retailer, as well as the feed and grain market, veterinarian clinics and grocery industry. I, along with my eight brothers and sisters, grew up working in the family business. After over 100 plus years, the family business ceased operations in the late 1980s. As time went on, I joined the Ethical Products Team in 1990, and I was inspired by the founder (Alan Zelinger) as well as his son Jonathan (current president of EPI). I recall Alan introducing me to our other sales reps and company staff back in the early 90s… He said to them, “You can’t teach passion. It comes from within, and this kid has it!” I’m very proud of that comment and it will stick with me always.

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

My contribution to pet owners is simply based on getting the innovative products our company introduces onto the shelves and peg hooks of the local pet store. My contribution to the industry is solely based on my relationships with our distributor and dealer partners. You cannot (will not) be successful in any phase of your professional or personal life without the trust, loyalty and faith your customers and co-workers have in you.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

I have always been a very competitive person, whether it was in sports, schoolwork or sales. If you want to succeed, you must put in the effort. In order to stay motivated and maintain a high level of success, you must be able to learn from your mistakes. I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years, but I’d like to think that it made me better and stronger by focusing on improvement and better results. There is a famous quote attributable to many people, and I don’t know who said it first (some say it was Gary Player, professional golfer)… “The more I practice, the luckier I get”… This is true in business as well as in sports!

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success? 

I have always lead by example because that’s how I learned from my parents and many others over the years. You have to be able to complete any task that you ask of someone else, and the only way to do that successfully is to have done it correctly yourself.

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

We have to continue to support the independent pet supply retailers at every level. They are the backbone of our industry. They survived the onslaught of the big box retailers in the early 90s. They survived the onslaught of the mass market and grocery stores moving into larger pet supply departments. And now, they are facing their biggest challenge yet, the onslaught of the online pet supply sellers. The strong independent pet supply retailers will survive AND thrive with the help and support of the manufacturers, their local distributors and, ultimately, the consumer. The consumer needs the expertise and service that they deserve and the best place to go for those options are the local pet shop.

 

William Piechocki- billfiestaheadshotWilliam Piechocki, President, Fiesta Pet Deli

Years in the Industry: 49

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

Growing up in Buffalo, New York and having a farm and love for animals.

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

Offering a cost-effective and natural way to maintain and promote optimal health and longevity for pets.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

To improve animal health in the most species-appropriate manner.

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success? 

Caring, researching, spreading the resources and education and being there for my customers and their pets.

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

Transparency in the products being offered.

 

Sandy RobinsSandy Robins, Pet Lifestyle Expert, Author and Pet Industry Spokesperson

Years in the Industry: 20

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

My parents were my biggest inspiration. They instilled in me a deep love and respect for all animals. Growing up, I wanted to be a veterinarian, but living in South Africa at the time, the only veterinary school, the renowned Onderstepoort, only taught in my second language and I knew I would never manage scholastically. Instead, I studied communications at a university and subsequently took classes in interior design and landscape architecture. Nevertheless, all through my student years both at school and university I continued to spend my summers working at our local veterinary clinic and they were kind enough to allow me to observe operations, too.

Little did I know that when I arrived in the USA, the humanization trend was just taking off, and I found my pet lifestyle niche—all that I had learned and studied fell into place and allowed me to build my platform to create a brand of edutainment to help pet parents understand their pets and improve their well-being. Along the way, I have been privileged to meet many leaders in the veterinary and nutrition field who have shared their knowledge and remain vital mentors to my work.

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

I have been lucky enough to have been given fabulous assignments by major companies from the corporate world, such as Toyota and American Airlines, to the giants in the pet industry that include brands such as Purina PetCare, Worldwise, PetSafe and many more that have given me many opportunities to educate pet parents. Assignments that collectively have allowed me to use my platform to make a different whether its educating pet parents about safety in cars, flying with pets, to creating safe spaces in a home for pets and ways to offer them mental and physical stimulation. Lots of small contributions that collectively have allowed me to make a major contribution to help pet parents.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

My work is a work in progress. New pet parents adopt every day and need to learn basics to improve their pet’s general health and well-being and learn how to deal with individual traits and characteristics that each and every dog and cat has. This keeps me going because the more knowledge I can impart, I hope I can help pet parents cope and not give up on their pets so that they land up in the shelter system through a lack of basic knowledge and know how. It’s a hamster wheel—going around and around—and I have no intention of getting off!

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success? 

I have worked hard to create a written style as well has a fun presence in front of the camera that I hope pet parents can identify with and accept what I have to present. After all, I am first and foremost a pet parent, too!

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

The pet industry is fueled by the human-animal bond. The biggest issue that needs urgent attention is educating pet parents not to equate love with food. They are other ways to reward pets and show our love. Pet obesity is out of control and is in a state of crisis with 60 percent of cats being overweight or obese and 55 percent of dogs also in this category. This needs to be considered a major project for the pet industry to address and conquer. And it must involve all sectors of the industry not just food manufacturers. For example, toy manufacturers can play and important role in physical well-being. Conquering pet obesity needs to be an all-encompassing pet industry initiative.

 

Chuck SimonsChuck Simons, Inventor and Owner, Groomers Helper

Years in the Industry: 3o

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

I was inspired by my wife, Beth, who was frustrated by not being able to easily clips dogs nails, and safely control dogs on the table without getting physically worn down herself. I essentially invented the Groomers Helper to make her day-to-day life easier. Really did not know at the time that we were about to introduce something truly revolutionary to the entire industry.

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

The Groomers Helper is being used by hundreds of thousands of groomers on millions of dogs every single week. The groomers are safer and in better control, can do more grooms every day to increase their income and the pets themselves are significantly safer from incidents while on the table. It is the single most important grooming safety item in the industry today.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

A continuous drive to visualize and create new tools to help groomers in a truly physically and emotionally demanding job. To keep pets safer while in the salon, and constantly look for additional top quality products to share with the industry like ActiVet, Cloti, and now ReThink CBDs.

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success? 

I am hands-on in every facet of our operation from top to bottom. We work as a team to be as efficient and effective as possible with one eye on innovation and the other on safety.

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

Without question, education. Educating groomers in both a risky and rewarding trade, educating pet owners about what is truly best for the pets they love and educating other industry professionals to truly appreciate the wonderful opportunities we have all been given to follow our passion. Our industry is experiencing explosive growth, and we are all so fortunate to be right here, right now.

 

jungle_bob_ceoJungle Bob Smith, CEO, Jungle Bob Enterprises, Inc.

Years in the Industry: 20

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

Nature…the wonders of nature inspired me as a 6-year-old boy and continue today to grow my pet business with a focus on what I call the world’s most “Unloved, Unusual and Unknown.”

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

My biggest contribution to the pet business is to continually elevate the ownership of reptiles and amphibians as pets through education at all age levels through a variety of mediums. Education includes proper husbandry, coupled with a solid understanding of the animal’s behavior in the wild. Dispelling the myths surrounding these fascinating animals is a critical component in this education.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

I enjoy seeing the human interaction with reptiles once they learn the true facts and thus feel more comfortable with them. For example, realizing snakes are not slimy is an eye opener for many. Seeing moms, who previously resisted having a reptile in their home, carrying it on a leash and walking around town tells me we are succeeding in our mission statement.

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success? 

I have an uncanny ability to problem solve and encourage my staff to be problem solvers, not presenters. I tend to set the rules on HOW to do things in most facets of the business but I welcome every employee to contribute to tweaking those rules with new efficiencies to get through the “day to day”, particularly in the area of technology. Efficient day-to-day operations allows me to focus on the big picture, the weekly entrepreneurial decisions, so I can grow the business. Key employees, including my two sons Tyler and Dylan, have taken my out of the day-to-day problems and catapulted the company’s success forward.

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

The pet industry needs to watch the legislation that is pending at every government level and be more proactive. Then I would also like to see all pet professionals acknowledge that there are other animals besides dogs and cats; after all #scalyisthenewfurry.

 

tim_taftTim Taft, Executive Vice President, Innovation Pet

Years in the Industry: 27

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

In the past 27 years, I have worked with the most incredible people who inspired me to stay in the industry!

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

Designing and developing products for the backyard flock owner. Started in designing chicken coops and poultry products in 2004 and now lead Innovation Pet to become the largest producer of chicken coops in the world.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

I love to create successful products and programs!

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success?

I lead from being a part of the organization. Just being a part of the team and leading by example of working hard, loving what you do in life and respecting everyone!

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

This one is tough, I have seen the industry mature and grow over the years and there is so much that is right with the pet industry!

 

michael_twain__president__amazing_pet_products__head_shotMichael Twain, President, Amazing Pet Products

Years in the Industry: 38

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

I am third generation in the pet industry of a business that was started in 1922. I was inspired by my father (David Twain). He is entrepreneurial, creative and has always enjoyed his work. I traveled with my family when I was a young boy to all the industry trade shows, and was impressed with how passionate the people that worked in the industry were about their trade. I was also captivated by how many really nice people there were in the industry.

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

Working as part of the World Pet Association (WPA) board of directors and as chairman of the WPA board to help bring people together for a common goal of promoting the benefits of pet ownership, constantly working to improve the care and welfare of pets and working to keep pet ownership viable for all who would like to have a pet.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

So many people have offered and given their help and guidance throughout my career…. that I have always wanted to “pay it forward” anytime I had the chance.

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success? 

My leadership style is one of empowerment and delegation. I have the good fortune to have the opportunity to work with so many incredibly talented people. In most cases, others far more experienced than me and people that were truly expert in so many different things. It has always been my goal to help them into situations that gave them their best chance to succeed. When they succeeded, we all succeeded together.

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

There are three. One, communicating with consumers on the benefits of having pets. Two, educating everyone in the industry as well as consumers about the difference between animal welfare and animal rights. Three, working to keep pets and the associated supplies available and affordable.

 

Ryan Yamka_revisedRyan Yamka, Co-founder, COO and EVP, R&D, Guardian Pet Food Company

Years in the Industry: 20-plus

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

My father was a big animal lover. In fact, when he served in the Coast Guard, they had a dog on board the USCGC Campbell named “Sinbad”. When I was a kid we always had dogs and cats. As a result, I knew I wanted to be working with animals. Like many freshmen in college, I wanted to become a veterinarian. With that being said, I took a course in animal nutrition and found my calling. My advisor told me about a program at the University of Kentucky where I could earn an MS and PhD in companion animal nutrition. The rest is history.

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

Prior to leaving the corporate world, I believed my biggest contribution was delivering consumer relevant products into retail (foods, supplements, litter, training pads, etc.). After leaving the corporate world, I feel that my biggest contribution to the industry is debunking pet food myths and misconceptions on the Pet Food Industry website.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

The willingness to learn new things and challenging the status quo. For example, today the cost of entry into the pet food industry is having a food that is natural (with added vitamins and minerals), meat-first, grain-free and brown kibble. My co-founder and I wanted to change the status quo with Guardian Pet Food Company where pets come before profits. That is why we developed a patent-pending all-natural food that is convenient for pet owners (no bowl or re-hydration required). Additionally, we have partnered with Terracycle for upcycling/recycling our packaging, and we will be B-Corp Certified by 2020. My co-founder and myself left our nice salaries and benefits simply to start a company that does things the right way for the pet and the pet parent.

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success? 

Don’t be afraid to admit when you do not know something. Then surround yourself with people that can fill the gaps of knowledge. After that, remove the barriers and roadblocks that your team needs to succeed. No one can do everything by themselves. A team that compliments each other and can constructively challenge the team will result in better results. Many companies say this; however, they do not execute it because they may have different goals and priorities. A good example of this internal struggle is regulatory vs. marketing.

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

Misinformation on the internet. Today, people look immediately to the internet for knowledge seeking. Unfortunately, there are many self-proclaimed “experts” that provide misinformation. I believe it is the industry’s responsibility to properly educate their consumers vs. consumers learning from Dr. Google.

 

donald_youngDonald Young, Vice President of Sales, Merrick Pet Care

Years in the Industry: 27

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

In 1992, a close friend introduced me to this remarkable industry and I haven’t looked back. I’d held previous sales jobs, but it wasn’t until I started in pet care that I truly found my career. At that time, I had two four-legged family members—Rusty and Oscar—and it didn’t take long to realize how enjoyable it would be to sell food to passionate pet parents like myself. I was inspired by the opportunity to teach pet parents how their dog or cat’s food can offer features and benefits that can improve the life of their beloved pet. And I believed there was an opportunity to make a difference in the pet parent’s life, too.

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

I strongly believe that our retail partners should consider us as a trusted business advisor—not just as another person trying to sell them pet food. I’ve always approached retailer relationships as if I’m a guest in their store—every day, every week, I want to make sure that I’m invited back and have earned their trust so that I can continue to be welcomed in their store. I’m committed to building a sales team that is empowered to do what was right for their retail partners. We invest in education and services that help the retailer succeed. If we help a retailer with their grand opening, setting up a new store, nutrition training or simply helping them hire stronger associates, we are building greater partnerships. I can always sell the first bag on trust, but the second one is sold on performance. That’s why I also challenged our team at Merrick to make a food that is all-natural, truly out-performs any product in the category and delivers value in pricing.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

My team. I’ve been extremely blessed to work with wonderful teammates throughout my career and they have blessed every day of my life. I’ve only succeeded thanks to the support and trust of the people around me. I’m motivated by the opportunity to meet and bring in new team members to become a part of this industry and my extended work family. I’m beyond thankful for the trust my team has given me, and the lifelong friendships we’ve formed.

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success? 

If you’re ever going to get a team to follow you, you have to believe in yourself and what you’re doing. I’ve always tried to lead by example. As the saying goes, “never dress warmer than the troops.” That’s why I focus on over-investing in training and making sure that I provide my team with all the tools they need to succeed. Without my great team and teammates, I wouldn’t have been blessed with the opportunity be a part of two business—Nutro and then Merrick—that experienced exponential growth over the years. The team is the reason I’ve been successful.

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

Service. We are asking pet parents to drive away from the grocery and mass stores and make a special trip to a pet specialty store. It’s our responsibility to continue to give pet parents the great service, recommendations and superior products that can only be found in the pet specialty channel.

 

Yuriy Synytsya- collar_company_owner_yuriy_synytsya_and_liluYuriy Synytsya, Owner, COLLAR Company

Years in the Industry: 23

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

I wanted to have a dog since I was a child. But for a long time, the living conditions of my family didn’t allow me to adopt one. When I was 16, I finally got a Schnauzer dog and decided to give him the best I could. Together with my father, we made for him the first collar, from the highest quality leather we could get—the uniform belt.

At that time (1993), there were no pet shops in my city at all. My friends noticed that collar and asked me to make the same ones for their dogs. Then the orders from other acquaintances started to arrive. I understood that due to my love for the pets, I can do good accessories for them and produce exactly what the other pet owners needed. That was my way to the pet business.

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

My biggest contribution to the pet business is the COLLAR Company team that grew up to 550 people after 23 years. They are people who are working hard to generate and implement the new, revolutionary ideas for the pet industry; non-trivial solutions and innovative products.

These products, in their turn, may change the lives of pets and their owners. For example, PULLER—the fitness tool for dogs—inspired us to create Dog Puller, an international sport where any dog and owner can try themselves and become regional, national and even world champions.

3. What has motivated you over the years?

It is very inspiring to think that any owner, disregarding of their age, lifestyle and preferences, may find something for their pets among our products. The mission of COLLAR Company is to help owners to enjoy and take care of their pets. I am very motivated with the possibility to bring something new and joyful into the relationship between the owner and the pet. To give people another possibility to show their care, to help or just to have a great time with their pets. At COLLAR Company, we love to think about different needs of the pets and owners.

4. How would you describe your leadership style and how has it shaped your success?

My team management style is to give person the opportunity to enjoy their work and their results. I should give them the area of responsibility and the ability to manage it. Then that person, or the team, will find the best way to achieve their goals by themselves. My role as a leader is to share with the team my vision of the development strategy and create the conditions for its implementation. Due to this approach, our company has grown from three people to 550 people.

5. What is the biggest issue that needs more attention from the pet industry?

Even now, especially in post-USSR countries, some owners treat their pets as their property, not as friends. Also, there are a lot of stray animals on the streets. In my opinion, the pet business industry should help people to create a culture of love, care and communication with pets. If we produce a toy, we add a guide to show how to play with it together—not just leave it for the dog. Pitchdog, Flyber and lots of other products have them, and for PULLER, we even made a comic book. If it’s a vest for dogs, it should be the most lightweight and comfortable one, such as AiryVest. The COLLAR Company takes part in social projects, providing veterinary care for the strays and helping people to adopt pets from the shelters. In the U.S. and Europe, the pet owners are calling themselves “pet parents” more and more often. They include their pets into their families. To support this attitude, we made our special series WAUDOG Printed Family Look, where leather collars and leashes for dogs are combined with matching bracelets with the same design for the owners. I think it’s due to this attitude the developed countries have so few stray animals on the streets. I believe that loving and caring should become the new world trend in pet industry and all the manufacturers should support it.

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