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In Their Words: Meet the 2020 ICON Award Winners


Pet Age introduced its ICON Award 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 have 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, this year’s class of recipients come from all sectors of the industry, including veterinary, grooming and product development. 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 companion animals and their adoring pet parents.

The Pet Age staff congratulates the 18 winners of the sixth annual ICON Awards, and we encourage you to meet these remarkable members who have earned their place atop the industry.

 

 

Carmen DailyDaily, Carmen - Headshot

Owner

Animal Environments / Birdcages by Carmen

Years in the industry: 32

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

Our family pets were the biggest inspiration, so I was motivated to provide them a better environment. It’s been my dream to provide to pets and families with a better and safer environment. It took years of consulting with veterinaries, pet shop owners and breeders combined with the greatest innovation, vision and technology before the door was opened that enabled me to be part of the pet industry.

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

Innovation, quality and excellence using the finest materials to manufacturer a healthy environment for pets. Animal Environments has been the pioneer for more than three decades, and the brand has been honored by the pet industry with so many awards, best bird products, prizes in manufacturing, best product awards and so many others. It is an honor and satisfaction to be part of the pet industry and to receive the Pet Age ICON Award for 2020.

What has motivated you over the years?

The desire to have the best products, the most elegant, the most functional bird cages, animal cages, ring stands, toys and other pet products. The thank you notes, e-mails and phone calls from customers is what motivates me.

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

Leadership requires effort, an open mind, lots of hours of work, discipline with an organized team and a dream. My dream has always been to maintain the Animal Environments brand as the best of the best, the No. 1 brand in quality and design so our pets can live a long life. My success has been shaped with the love and support of my family, friends, customers, magazines and social media who with their ads and communications make sure customers follow our brand in the pet industry.

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

From my perspective, the industry needs to find a way to provide information when disasters like floods, hurricanes or wildfires force people to evacuate and many animals are left behind. We need to help to find a better way to stablish places of rescue and services for different types of animals. Many nonprofit organizations need the support of businesses, corporations and governments to provide help, but when it happen customers do not know what to do and pets get scare and lost, and many times is too late to get them back. Someone in the industry needs to organize a definitive kit with a list of local rescues and resources to inform the public of what to do in emergency situations.

 

 

Stephanie DavisDavis, Stephanie - Headshot

Owner

Mirage Pet Products

Years in the industry: 22

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

My great grandmother, my grandparents and my uncle. I grew up watching them put in long hours and hard work to keep our family’s dream alive.

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

We try to make pet ownership even more fun than it already is! Everything we do is done with one underlying question – does it make pets and their people happier? We like to think that the 10,000,000+ collars we’ve sold since the 1950s have done just that!

What has motivated you over the years?

I’m very driven to find a greater purpose in the work we do here at Mirage. We give a lot of money away every year to projects that are near and dear to me, and it’s because of those projects that I absolutely love what I do. Who knew cat collars could provide clean water or that dog toys could provide scholarships? It’s exciting to be a part of a bigger picture and that keeps me going in the hardest times.

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

My leadership style is really inspired by my Uncle Phil and my grandparents, Betty and Jay. It’s been our philosophy from the beginning to hire great people to do great things. We are as hands-off as possible, while still providing the support our crew needs to get their jobs done. We want them to feel proud of their work, their job, their company when they go home at the end of the day and be able to take personal ownership in what we are doing together. The people we work with are not my employees, they are my crew, my second family. I give them as much flexibility as I can, pay them as well as I can, and do my best to remind them of how awesome they are. When you remind people of how good they are and give them freedom with their responsibilities, it comes back tenfold. We have employees that have been with my family for decades because of this and that kind of loyalty makes our company

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

I think it’s incredibly important for the industry to take care of our independent retail businesses. With big corporate retail operations, we just don’t see a lot of innovation. We believe that the more the pet industry consolidates, the less creation and innovation we will see. We love the ideas and energy that come from the independent stores, they are absolutely necessary to keeping the industry growing and improving.

 

Linda EastonEaston, Linda - Headshot

President

International Professional Groomers, Inc.

Years in the industry: 47

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

I was introduced to dog shows and obedience training in 4-H with dogs and horses. The 4-H leadership led to a job in a kennel then learning to groom. My passion is animals and treating them kindly and with respect in handling and training. After college, I realized animals were still my passion, so my grooming hobby became my profession. My involvement with IPG grew from a desire to help all groomers increase their skills while having the skills and knowledge to treat all animals and their owners compassionately.

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

My biggest contribution to the pet industry was researching and launching the first Safety Certification program for Professional Groomers and Pet Professionals in 2014. Since that time, we have certified over 2,500 groomers and salon staff worldwide in grooming and handling safety, pet health and sanitation. These Certified Professional Groomer and Certified Pet Professional programs allow groomers and other professionals to be educated and acknowledged for their skill and compassion and allows pet owners to feel comfortable trusting their pets to a certified groomer. These programs have also proven to be a great first step for groomers who want to learn more and become certified as Master Groomers.

What has motivated you over the years?

I love getting calls and emails from groomers who complete their certifications and are happy and proud of what they are doing. The groomers who thank me for demanding compassionate handling and appreciating what they are doing is very energizing! Every call makes me want to work harder to help these groomers thrive.

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

My leadership style is to encourage to support groomers as they learn and go through the certification process rather than simply evaluating their work. I love to teach groomers and give tips and techniques to help them become better groomers and be happier in what they do!

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

Consistency and education with an emphasis on pet safety. Groomer need to have access to consistent education that prepares them to provide the best care of pets in the grooming salon. This includes safe handling, recognizing health problems, understanding safe grooms and techniques and customer service.

 

Tedd EllisEllis, Tedd - Headshot

VP, Marketing and Sales

Phelps Pet Products

Years in the industry: 20

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

I started my career in the advertising agency business and had the opportunity to work with PetSmart as a client and later on with Mars. That’s when I fell in love with the pet industry and never really wanted to work in another category after that. I left for the client side in 2005 and started with what is now Healthy Pet and have stayed in pet ever since.

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

We help people express their love for their pet; I’ve always thought of that as the core of working in this industry. That was the sentiment of my first clients in pet, and I’ve kept that as a guiding principle to how I’ve been oriented in business and in working with customer and consumers.

What has motivated you over the years?

The role pets play in providing unconditional love, safety and peace or escape no matter what is going on in the outside world. We work in an industry that supports the animals that give those things back to their owners with no questions asked. I also love to be a part of industry of passionate, smart, caring people that has allowed me to make a lot of lifetime friends.

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

My goal has been to create strong teams, which means among the people that report to me directly and on an organizational level where different groups collaborate to achieve the goals of the business. I’ve tried to create circumstances where people have ownership in what they’re doing. I think it is a leader’s role to create the circumstance for people to use their skill and talents to do the work and share in or feel pride in the accomplishment.

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

On the consumer side, I think pet owners are overwhelmed with the amount of information coming at them on how to care for their pets. We need to make it less complicated for pet owners to learn how to care for their pets. I think there could be more clarity or standardization that would help people understand nutrition, diets and how we communicate what we’re making and how we make it.

 

Dr. Mark FinkeFinke, Mark - Headshot

Owner

Mark Finke LLC

Years in the industry: 34

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

After completing graduate school, I wanted to work someplace that I could help improve the lives of animals.

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

Developing products that go beyond industry/AAFCO standards and also improve the lives of pets including an FDA approved diet for reducing the risk of feline lower urinary tract disease. I’ve also developed diets to improve the nutritional content of feeder insects and help alleviate certain nutritional deficiencies commonly seen in captive insectivores and led a team that significantly reduced live pet (fish, reptiles, birds and small mammals) loss at retail.

What has motivated you over the years?

The pets themselves. They are completely dependent on us for the health and welfare and we should do everything we can to improve the quality of their lives.

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

1) Be honest; 2) Treat people like you want to be treated; 3) Find good people and as subject matter experts trust them do their job without micromanaging them; 4) Help them find good solutions when they are struggling; and 5) protect them from corporate politics. My best bosses have operated that way and it allowed me to learn and grow as I’ve moved through various organizations. It’s OK to fail as long as you learn from the experience.

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

As a scientist, I would say more research on the needs of the pet. For some species, we know a lot (but certainly not everything) to help those pets live longer, healthier lives. For other species, our knowledge is very limited and products are often developed with lots of assumptions that may or may not be true.

 

Dara ForleoForleo, Dara - Headshot

Educator/Entrepreneur

The Whole Pet Grooming Academy

Years in the industry: 26

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

Thirty years ago, the grooming industry fell into my lap. Having attended Nash Academy in the late-1990s opened visions I dared to dream about. Now, my inspirational drive to continue with the growth for the industry comes every day from the students we work with, as well as the loyal team of instructors that support the Academy every day: Michelle Knowles, Cindy Buttrick, Malissa Conti-Diener, Anjie Coates, April Bejosh, Latifa Meena, Karen Sullivan, Chrissy Neumyer Smith and Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins.

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

Having the opportunity to create with these educational sensations a well-balanced and advanced education for future pet stylists, canine massage therapists, aromatherapy practitioners and animal communicators. This is not something that can be done alone. This is creating the opportunity for these woman to teach their expertise successfully on a larger scale and see them grown from groomer to educator to industry mentors.

What has motivated you over the years?

Knowing that the pet industry is one of the fastest growing in the world, how can one not want to stay active and motivated? The tremendous growth and the love people have for their pets is thrilling. My motivation comes from the happy pets that come for grooming, the number of students that grow and advance their passion into a career.

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

I am just one of the leaders on my team. This core group of women works together and we have the freedom to bring new knowledge and development to the academy. Success is in the eye of the beholder, when all these woman succeed, then I do as well. There is no “I” in “Team.”

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

I believe, because it is so easy for people to get involved in the pet industry, there is a larger number of business owners that are lacking many skill sets necessary to run a business. Social media has become an easy way for people to communicate. This should not be an educational tool or a way for those to seek advice. There are so many other useful avenues that can be taken to help mentor others. Free is not always good and should be taken wisely, if one chooses to invest into themselves or their business, the less likely it will be to fail.

 

James HeimHeim, James - Headshot

President, Business Development

Central Garden & Pet

Years in the industry: 20

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

I grew up in Little Rock, but my family had a cattle ranch in southwest Arkansas. My family always had many different pets on the ranch; turtles, fish, chickens, dogs, etc. In the mid-1960s, I even raised three-toed box turtles! I realized early of the positive bond that exists between humans and their pets. After a successful career in cosmetics at Maybelline/L’Oréal, I met Glenn Novotny and Bill Brown. I made the decision to join Central Garden & Pet as president of the Pet Division. This has been my most rewarding career not only because of the great company Central Garden & Pet has become, but also because of the many truly dedicated people I have met at Central and throughout the pet industry.

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

I believe my biggest contribution to both our pets and our pet parents has been to get the word out that pets can be life savers to people and people can be life savers to pets. This important bond has been proven by HABRI to be incredibly beneficial to humans and animals.

What has motivated you over the years?

Over the years, I am constantly motivated by the doing more to promote the human-animal bond. Every day I see the loving and caring bond that exists between humans and their pets. For example, this is especially true when I see the excitement of my grandchildren, nieces and nephews when they get to feed the fish in our pond. I see the lifesaving bond that exists between our veterans and their service dogs at The Pets and Vets program at Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF). I see the people who bring their dogs to the ballparks at the Bark at the Park events. In fact, over the past 20 years, Bark at the Park has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local pet shelters, including ARF. I truly believe that our world is a better, more caring world because of our pets!

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

Since an early age, I have been involved with athletics. I was lucky to play for many outstanding coaches. One of these legendary coaches, Charles “Rip” Ripley, had a great influence on me. He stressed teamwork, persistence and to never give up. These early experiences helped me to develop a participative leadership style. I like to compare working at an organization to running a sports team. I enjoy a coaching style that sets objectives, game plans the objectives and then executes against the objectives. Just like a coach, set clear game expectations, create a positive team atmosphere, motivate the players to execute and then win!

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

As the pet industry moves forward, I believe that we need to stress the importance of a healthy, responsible supply of pets. As my friend, Alan Levy, always states, “Nothing happens in the pet industry until a pet is sold.” We need to continually promote and support a responsible and healthy supply of live animals.

 

 

Lon D. LewisLewis, Lon - Headshot

Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist

Pet’s Best Life LLC & Rubicon Scientific LLC

Years in the industry: 38

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

I was inspired when chosen to fill the Dr. Mark L. Morris, Jr. endowed chair in veterinary nutrition. That was followed by the opportunity to work with him and Dr. Stanley M. Teeter to further enhance veterinary nutrition knowledge and develop products to enhance the lives of animals.

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

I authored the first three editions of “Small Animal Clinical Nutrition,” the first two editions of “Feeding and Care of the Horse” and “Equine Clinical Nutriton.” I helped found the American College of Veterinaryi Nutrition and develop some Science and Prescription Diets,

Greenies, Yummy Combs, Enterolyte and pharmacologically active ingredients in pet foods.

What has motivated you over the years?

The success of products I have developed.

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

Lead by work example and collaboration in the development of successful products.

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

Innovation of scientifically valid products instead of copycat products and marketing hype.

 

 

Dr. Molly McAllisterMcAllister, Molly - Headshot

Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer

Banfield Pet Hospital

Years in the industry: 20+

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

For many veterinarians, myself included, this profession is more than a job. It is a calling. I have loved pets deeply for as long as I can remember and feel fortunate that I grew up on a family farm. Because of that, pets were a natural part of life, and I was able to experience the joy and learning of raising and caring for animals of all types. Dogs and cats, for certain, but also chickens, rabbits, horses, cows, sheep and more. The joy that my pets brought to me inspired me to go into a career in which I could return that favor, but also so that I could help other people experience the joy and love that pets bring to them. There was never any doubt in my mind that I would work in a job with animals, but it wasn’t until my college years when an interest in science and medicine was really sparked and led me to entering veterinary school.

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

At Banfield, we are passionate about and feel a responsibility to share our insights and resources with the broader veterinary profession to help promote quality-care practices and build sustainable outcomes for pets. I am particularly proud of helping to lead the development of publications like Banfield’s Veterinary Emerging Topics (VET) Report, with the ultimate goal of advancing veterinary care and improve outcomes for our patients. The fact that data from the VET Report is used as the basis of continuing education for veterinary professionals and have been cited at the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine’s Annual Forum are particularly notable—when researchers of this caliber cite your work, you know that you have garnered respect from the profession and are making a meaningful impact for pets worldwide.

I am also very proud to have overseen the introduction of Banfield’s Medical Quality Standards program, including a new edition of our anesthetic and pain management guidelines and protocols. For more than 15 years, Banfield has made its anesthesia guidelines available to all veterinary professionals, long proving an important resource for new and experienced veterinary professionals alike. The culmination of years of collaboration between Banfield veterinarians, anesthesiologists, research analysts, and industry experts alike, the new program—announced in 2018—was created to equip every member of the hospital team with tools to aid in delivering safe and effective anesthesia, and ultimately, improve patient outcomes. We have seen the results with a steadily declining rate of adverse events associated with anesthesia since implementation. Providing high-quality medicine is at the heart of what we aim to do for every pet that walks through our doors, and Banfield’s anesthesia program was thoughtfully designed to support not only our hospitals but also thousands of other veterinary teams in delivering on that goal.

What has motivated you over the years?

It starts quite simply—I was raised to believe that it is my responsibility to leave the world a better place than how I found it. To make a positive impact on those around me.

With my strong love of animals and, as I think is true for many veterinarians, a desire early on in my career to do everything I could to address the medical needs and promote the health and wellbeing of the animals I cared for—I truly saw the impact I could have on pets. The fierce connection I had with my various pets growing up made me want to give back to them, to all animals, by taking care of their health.

As I’ve matured in my career, I’ve come to realize how important pets are to people, and how pets can make a better world by helping people feel connected and needed. It shifted my motivation to think bigger—to understand that, when I care for a person’s pet, or support another veterinarian to do so (as I do in my current role), I have the potential to make an important and lasting impact on that person that can spread far beyond a single interaction. I truly believe I am motivated by the desire to make a better world for pets and the people who love them.

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

One of the greatest contributions that pets can bring to our lives is to support and promote our well-being. However, in this caregiving field, veterinary professionals and other care providers frequently land in a situation of compassion fatigue and burnout.

They sacrifice their own well-being in a desire to help the animals they are so passionate about, or because they haven’t seen a model of how to engage in the work sustainably and think they have no choice. As a leader, I am passionate about paving the way to show people that you can be committed to your work and influence the future of your profession while still taking care of yourself. It requires authenticity, vulnerability and a motivation for long-term sustainable gains, recognizing that this work is not accomplished overnight or without true commitment.

I’m a firm believer in adopting behaviors that promote our own well-being and that of our associates, to consistently model what it is to take care of yourself—to make sure you put your own oxygen mask on first, you could say—so that we are, in turn, able to give our best to the pets and the people who depend on us each day. This focus on resilience to get through the challenging times and empowerment to consciously prioritize taking care of myself so that I can better take care of others has helped me weather my own challenges with burnout. It’s also allowed me to live and model a career in which I am fulfilled and largely balanced. I attribute much of my success to taking that personal accountability for my own well-being.

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

Pets have always played a big part of a family’s life, but we’ve certainly seen their role rise over the years, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic. People are turning to their pets for companionship and comfort more than ever before, and as the human-animal bond continues to evolve, it’s critical the veterinary industry works to ensure businesses are poised to best be there for pets and the people who love them. This means that we as a profession need to be open to new ideas for how to care for pets, and we need to challenge the status quo for how pets are cared for and how pet owners are supported. This means reevaluating how we provide care and the assumptions that we make around that process–and really challenging those assumptions to find ways we can do better. I believe we have the ability to improve society by taking better care of pets and the people who love them – and that makes me incredibly excited about the future of the profession.

 

Dan McDougalMcDougal, Dan - Headshot

Director of Sales

The Natural Dog Co.

Years in the industry: 40

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

From the time I was a small boy, I always had an interest in all animals. I kept and bred dogs and birds for years, which led me to start selling pets when I was in junior high. I’ve always loved what pets bring to humans and never could get out of the business.

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

Promoting not just owning a pet but appreciating the good that comes from human-animal relationships. Teaching others that animals do have feelings and deserve respect.

What has motivated you over the years?

I’ve been motivated by my love of animals and the people that surround pet-keeping. Also trying to keep getting the word out about remembering animals have fear, pain and love just like we do. Teaching respect of non-human beings.

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

I am a firm believer that you teach by example. Attraction rather than promotion of good behavior in a business. Making sure people are told about the good they do and not just what is wrong. Treat your employees well and they will treat you well. Show people some of your personal side, not just the business side.

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

Promoting pet ownership. Pet stores that haves no pets in them, to me, is like a book store with empty shelves. Selling, adopting and breeding companion animals can be done in good and humane ways. The idea that selling an animal is bad has become far too accepted. Selling an animal in a wrong or inhumane way is bad, but promoting a loving relationship with humans and animals is good for all.

 

 

Ian W. MosesMoses, Ian - Headshot

CEO and Founder

Aussie Pet Mobile, Inc.

Years in the industry: 25

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

I was living in Australia, away from the city, and trying unsuccessfully to find a way to get my dogs groomed. I came across a young woman washing a dog in an old horse trailer and the entrepreneur in me immediately saw an opportunity to provide a service that would have instant appeal and ongoing demand.

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

I could see that pets were becoming a solid part of every family. I anticipated that pet owners would really benefit from having a service that would provide total convenience and a better experience for them and their beloved pets. This vision created an opportunity for the industry to grow and a way for pets to get the very best of care right in their driveway.

What has motivated you over the years?

My No. 1 motivation has been the success of our franchisees. Many franchise systems grow solely through the sale of new franchises. At Aussie Pet Mobile, our success comes through the growth of our franchisees. Our symbiotic relationship and the way we manage our business is dependent on the overall business development and triumph of our franchisees.

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

Many years ago, I determined that I would always manage from a place of loyalty and integrity. That management style has driven my business success and the success of my associates for over 50 years. I teach and mentor my associates and team members and then let them perform. I course correct as needed and then step back. Choosing the right associates, be they team members or franchisees, is a critical component in success.

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

The pet industry is on a very solid growth path. To sustain that growth and reach the next level, the industry will need a solid influx of pet-loving individuals. The most valuable thing the pet industry can do is to implement a recruiting program to help attract pet-loving people, in need of new career paths, to our industry. The entire industry would benefit from this.

 

Art ParadissisParadissis, Art - Headshot

Engineering Director

Mars Petcare North America

Years in the industry: 26

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

My love of animals started at a young age. I have had all types of pets living with me for over 50 years from childhood through my adult life. I know the joy that pet ownership brings to me and so many others, and wanted to be part of an industry that provides for them. When I had the opportunity to join Mars Petcare’s Columbus, Ohio, manufacturing site back in 1994—and heard that the company’s purpose was A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS—I just knew that it was the perfect fit.

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

Over my 26 years in the industry, I have had the opportunity to be part of so many great projects. One that I’m particularly proud of was the chance to be the project leader on a new Mars Petcare manufacturing site in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The opportunity to be part of that project from design concept to start-up, and to see the continued success of the site today, is an experience I’ll always cherish.

What has motivated you over the years?

Throughout my career, I’ve been motivated by seeing those around me succeed. Watching my team’s projects evolve from a concept on paper to a product on the shelf (which my pets happily consume daily) is really rewarding. There is no better sense of accomplishment than seeing the ideas that your team came up with on a whiteboard become reality.

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

As a leader, I strive to be trusting, humble, and transparent with my team. At Mars, Associates at all levels of the business are encouraged to take ownership and responsibility for their work and make decisions as if they owned the business. I see it as my responsibility to promote those behaviors by enabling my team and valuing everyone’s perspective. I’ve been blessed to work with fantastic associates throughout my time at Mars who have always been supportive and dedicated. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

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

Premiumization and customer shopping habits have rapidly changed all aspects of the pet care industry. It’s so important that we stay agile and adaptive in our manufacturing networks so we can continue providing great customer service for pets and the people who love them.

 

Steve SchrekenhoferSchrekenhofer, Steve - Headshot

President / Owner

Leather Brothers, Inc.

Years in the industry: 45

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

My father inspired me to get into the pet industry. He was a shoe cobbler by trade but in his later years started making dog collars and horse tack. By working hard and long hours, he made a living for his family. Over many years, he taught my brother and me how to work, and instilled strong work ethics in us. When I was older, my brother and I started producing dog collars mostly for the hunting industry, but later ventured into the pet industry as well. We now produce thousands of items and sell worldwide. My dad taught me that through hard work you can achieve anything you set your mind to.

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

My biggest contribution to the pet business is providing our customers with quality pet products made in the U.S.A. by a dedicated and skilled workforce. We take pride in providing excellent customer service, and have long-term relationships with our customers who depend on us to get our products to them on time, whenever needed. Providing high quality pet products to companies all over the world, we also offer private labeling, and contract manufacturing. Over the past few years we have partnered with some great companies to bring quality products to our customers. The resurgence of American-made products within the pet industry has been a blessing to us.

What has motivated you over the years?

Having a company that I could pass on to my children, who are the fourth generation, working in the business has been my primary motivation. Building a company that we could be proud of and truly understanding how a family business works is very important. A family business is much more than a business, it’s a “family” working together to provide an end product. From customer service, to our factory, shipping and office personnel—each person and job within our company is just as important as the next. Watching our business grow over the years and introducing new & innovative products to our customers has also been a motivator for me. It’s been a pleasure meeting and getting to know customers and business associates in the pet industry—which is a great industry to be in!

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

I lead by example, not expecting anyone to do what I would not do myself. Making a work environment that our associates can thrive and enjoy working in is a priority and by working in a family business, you become part of the family itself. By helping others be the best they can be, in turn it helps me to be the best I can be. I am always open to new ideas and new ways of looking at things and enjoy working with others that are positive, creative thinkers—resulting in more productive and profitable ways of doing business.

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

Product education at all levels is one of the biggest issues in the pet industry. Properly educated customers result in higher sales and end consumer satisfaction. We have an awesome customer service and sales department that is on call every day to answer any question or concern that arises. I’m a big believer in proper business ethics, when things are done the right way from the beginning it’s a lot easier to correct issues later. As a fellow Arkansan (Sam Walton) once quoted “We’re all working together; that’s the secret.” By working together we will continue to build an even bigger and brighter future for the pet industry—one dog collar at a time.

 

Eric ShookShook, Eric - Headshot

Co-owner

Grandma Lucy’s

Years in the industry: 21

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

We started as many of our retailers and our customers, as concerned pet parents. At the time, Lucy our English Cocker Spaniel was 11 years old and becoming extremely picky about what she would eat. We tried most treats on the market looking for one that was not only safe, healthy and worked with her skin allergies, but was one that Lucy would eat. After little or no success, we began reading about what was in pet food and treats. We were surprised to find out the inferior quality of ingredients that are typically used in pet food products at the time. As a result of these findings we began to home cook Lucy’s meals and treats. Surprisingly for a dog that had become very picky, she loved her home-cooked meals and treats. The next step seemed natural; we wanted to be able to offer to others the healthy and safe treats we were cooking for Lucy.

Our ingredients and philosophy have not changed since we began in 1999. We remain committed to using only human-grade ingredients and making all of our freeze-dried products in-house. We know that not everyone has time to cook for their pets as they wish they could. Grandma Lucy’s provides pet’s with food and treats their parents trust and feel comfortable feeding because we are just like them, concerned and loving pet parents.

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

When we began Grandma Lucy’s, we had to teach ourselves quite a bit as we started from our business completely from scratch. Breann and I have always chosen to split the tasks over the years. When we needed a website, I taught myself how to build a website. When we needed product packaging, I taught myself how to do graphic design. The most important component of Grandma Lucy’s I needed to learn was the art or freeze-drying. Rather than outsourcing production, we were committed to keeping all aspects of our freeze-drying production in-house. Our first freeze-drier was older than both Breann and I so it took a lot of time and adjustments. I worked with many different freeze-drying technicians over the years to perfect the art to ensure we are bringing the best possible freeze-dried product to pet owners. A product that is not only freeze-dried correctly to ensure optimal freshness, palatability, consistency and nutritional retention, but also a safe product they can trust.

What has motivated you over the years?

We have three children and have had many pets over the years. Being there for them is always my No. 1 priority. From there, our extended Grandma Lucy’s family has grown over the years to include our great staff and our customers. Many of them have been with us from the start. Keeping Grandma Lucy’s at its best for them has always been a motivation for me, and I am grateful to all of them for their support over the last 21 years.

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

I am very hands on and believe that people learn from experience. When working with others, I encourage them to not only learn the process but why and how each step of the process is done. By learning each step or a process, it has helped in making the best possible decisions for the longevity of our company.

 

Dennis SprungSprung, Dennis - Headshot

President / CEO

The American Kennel Club

Years in the industry: 50+

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

I was inspired as a youngster, seeing quality purebred dogs and being inspired by their consistency and predictably in temperament and appearance.

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

Building bridges between the industry and elected officials at the Federal, state and local levels. Education of politicians and their staff is essential for the long term benefit of pets, in my case dogs, as well as the human canine bond. I am also proud of having created DOGNY, with the blessing of the AKC Board, two days after the 9/11 attacks. We raised $3.5 million in six months, which was donated to search-and-rescue teams that came to aid those in Washington DC, New York City and Pennsylvania.

What has motivated you over the years?

The love and passion to produce quality, healthy dogs for the public and those in our core constituency as responsible owners and breeders.

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

To respect everyone’s dignity, listen and respond. Understanding that no one can please everyone on each topic. Nevertheless, there is ample opportunity to improve the world we and our dogs live in.

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

Collaboration from each and every facet of the industry on an ongoing basis.

 

Eric UdlerUdler, Eric - Headshot

Producer

Super Pet Expo

Years in the industry: 20

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

All of us have the greatest pet and everyone is right. My boy Chandler was a 70-pound Weimaraner who inspired me to develop Super Pet Expo into a pet shopping extravaganza. Our annual events in Edison, New Jersey, and Chantilly, Virginia, are a pet lover’s paradise. Pet lovers like me go nuts shopping for our four-legged family members. Producing pet events has been blast for the last 20+ years. I love our industry and creating #petlovingfun.

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

Creating a pet shopping marketplace is simply bringing buyers and sellers together under one roof. There is no better feeling than observing commerce being done by like-minded pet lovers and everyone is smiling. Many of our exhibitors are testing new and innovative products and/or designs to see if there is a want or a need from the tens of thousands of pet lovers who attend our shows.

What has motivated you over the years?

Motivation comes from within and my mantra is “under promise and over deliver.” Creating fun events and activities for the pet owning public year after year challenges our crew to be innovative. All of us enjoy the challenge when it comes to producing an event that will keep pet owners and their pets coming back year after year. Man, I love what I do.

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

A seasoned motivator and team player is how many would describe my leadership style.  I expect results and celebrate often the thrills of ringing the sales bell, setting goals and exceeding them, and proving the naysayers wrong.  One of my favorite people ever believes I am a cross between a democratic leader (gives everyone a voice and values opinions) and a laissez-fair leader (let’s everyone make decisions with little oversight provided the employee is highly skilled and motivated).

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

We need to encourage innovation in the pet industry—especially tech products. I would love to see more development in the pet tech sector. The opportunities are endless.

 

Jerry WilsonWilson, Jerry - Headshot

President

Jerry Wilson & Associates, Inc.

Years in the industry: 40+

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

While in college, I had a part-time job in an animal health distribution warehouse where I did everything from stocking shelves, picking orders to delivery work. As I graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice in 1980 and was a week away from heading in to the police academy, I decided that, at 20 years old, I was not ready for that line of work, so I asked the company (Walco) sales manager if I could take a shot at pet supply sales? The route I had been delivering to had just lost its sales rep, and they told me they would give me a “three-month trial” to see how I would do, since I had never been in sales… 40 years later, here I am.

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

Consistency and trust. I’ve never considered myself a particularly great salesperson, even though I have attained some high level success, but I always showed up when I was supposed to, and I gained the trust of the customers I have enjoyed working with over the years in both retail and wholesale pet supplies. I really do love the pet industry and the relationships I have built over the years.

What has motivated you over the years?

I have always believed in the old Zig Ziglar (I used to listen to his motivational cassettes in my car back in the 1980s and ’90s) statement: “You can get everything in life you want, as long as you just help enough other people get what they want.” This has stuck with me, especially as I started to hire sales associates for our MFG rep firm, and I truly enjoy giving back to make everyone’s lives better.

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

Honesty (even when it means not everyone will be happy with what you say), integrity (even when no one is watching) and respect for good hard, creative work. These are Christian principles I have always strived to live by, and they have certainly gotten me this far in life and work.

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

Better support for the hard working independent, regional brick-and-mortar pet supply stores. Working with these great people is how I have made my living for the past 40 years, and I intend to do so until I retire. We need more companies to respect what these people do and how difficult it is to fight against the big box, grocery and e-commerce competitors they have to deal with every day.

 

 

David YaskulkaYaskulka, David - Headshot

CEO

Nature’s Logic

Years in the industry: 20

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

Over the years, it’s JP, Jasmine, Rajah, Sterling, Bert, Maya, Erebos, Zebulon and Samson, of course! But even that credit belongs to my wife Debbie, our sons Ben and Noah and my parents—nothing inspires the love of pets more than a loving family! Industry giant Steve Marton of VisioCap first brought me in full time, teaching me more about the pet world than anyone, while inspiring me to keep getting better.

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

Showing how exemplary corporate social responsibility is good for business.

What has motivated you over the years?

Liz Baker of GreaterGood.org and Caitlyn Dudas of the Pet Sustainability Coalition inspire me daily to see just how huge a positive impact our industry can have, if we work together. Neighborhood pet pioneers including Michael Levy and Mark Witriol of Pet Food Express, Mike and Trish Elkind of Pet People, and all of our amazing independent pet retailers and distributors demonstrate the power of “Thinking Globally, Acting Locally.”

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

At Nature’s Logic, I’m blessed to work with people who know much more than I do. I try to make sure their hard work helps create the world they want for themselves, their children and their community.

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

Sustainability.

 

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