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July 11, 2018

Pet Age’s ICON Awards honor pet professionals with years of demonstrated commitment to the sustained success and growth of the pet industry. These individuals have at least 25 years of experience—though several of them boast a resume spanning almost double that length of time—working with some of the market’s leading manufacturers, distributors, retailers, public relations firms, trainers and beyond.

While their experiences may vary, they all have at least one thing in common: the pet industry simply wouldn’t be what it is today without them. Raised on a farm in Nebraska, Geralynn Cada Ragan has built a career over the last 25 years as a dog trainer, brand advocate and product developer; has helped train service and therapy dogs for veteran families; and has been featured in various print and broadcast news publications with national and international audiences. Mark Dail is the national sales manager for Leather Brothers, Inc., DBA Omnipet, and has worked with large, small, independent and chain businesses to grow the pet retail segment over 38 years in the industry. Jim Seidewand is the president and founder of Pet World, a set of pet retail stores with live companion animals and a special focus on aquatics. Before his foray into the retail space 47 years ago, Seidewand was an avid aquarist and is now equally active as a board member for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), participating in initiatives ranging from creating employee training materials, mapping out standards for store operation and animal care, and helping to influence legislation affecting the pet industry. James Golladay is the co-founder of Ohio Pet Foods, which began and is still run as a family business. With 56 years of experience in the pet industry, Golladay passed control of the company on to his children, continuing the family tradition of producing super premium pet food.

This year’s ICON awardees were named by three judges with impressive resumes of their own. Beth Sommers is the president and chief merchandise officer for Pura Naturals Pet and first entered the pet industry in 1989. Steve King, CAE, has been the chief staff executive for the Pet Industry Distributor’s Association for almost 30 years and served as assistant general counsel for PIJAC before that. Don Tomala has worked with a number of Fortune 500 companies and pet brands before forming Matrix Partners, Ltd., in 1996. The marketing and communications firm has become one of the best regarded in the pet market, having worked with Stella & Chewy’s, Swheat Scoop, Bravo, Caru, Inaba Ciao, FreshWorx, Health Extension and more.

By honoring these true pet industry icons, Pet Age thanks them for their contributions that will have a lasting effect on pets and the humans who love them. Congratulations to the winners!

 

Head shotCarol Frank
Managing Director
MHT Partners
Boulder, Colorado

Years in the Industry: 31

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

In the late ’80s, I was in graduate school taking a class on entrepreneurship. I traveled to a lot of pet stores and was underwhelmed by the small size and product selection of these stores. As a result, I realized I should write my business plan with the goal of creating a spacious, professionally operated pet store. The Animal Kingdom retail pet store was the first of four companies I founded in the pet industry.

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

I have always been passionate about parrots and their welfare. At a time when most distributors sold just birdseed and plastic penguins, my distribution company, Avian Kingdom Supply, stocked almost 2,000 unique and premium products for pet birds.
In addition to distributing pet bird products, I started a bird cage company, Avian Adventures. Avian Adventures designed and sold only large, spacious, high-quality bird cages—cages that give the bird plenty of room to maneuver, have lots of toys, and still look elegant in the owner’s living room.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry, and why?

Joining the board of the Pet Industry Distributor’s Association (PIDA) provided me with the opportunity to get to know some of the smartest and most successful distributors in the country. Not only did I learn a great deal from them, but when I started Avian Adventures, many of the PIDA board members were among my first customers.

 

David Levy PresidentDavid Levy
President
Zeus and Company – Pet Product Innovations
Des Plaines, Illinois

Years in Industry: 22

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

The original inspiration was Zeus, my Rottweiler, who I named my distribution company after: Zeus and Company Pet Supply. I was always looking for the best foods and treats but it was not easy back in the mid-90s; I often cooked for Zeus.

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

Zeus [and Company Pet Supply] was known for being a pioneer for more than 42 brands, many of which have gone public, have sold several times over or are the largest in the industry today. Because we only took on top quality lines, the pet retailer as well as the pet owners were able to feel good about the brands they were feeding to their pets.

I also take pride in the team that we built as well as gaining the respect of manufacturers, distributors, retailers and organizations we partnered with and being part of something bigger than ourselves and outside of our immediate area to truly make a difference.

Today, Pet Product Innovations LLC, my newest venture, brings unique, award-winning, problem-solving products to pets worldwide.

Describe your leadership style and how it has helped you be successful in the pet industry.

My leadership style has always been teaching by example—that means doing whatever I expected others to do. And stand behind your employees. None of us do these things on our own, and if any successful person tells you that then they have forgotten all of those that fought the fight.

 

img_0414.jpgDerrik Kassebaum
Vice President of Sales
TropiClean Pet Products
Wentzville, Missouri

Years in the Industry: 29

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

I came right out of high school and entered the pet industry, so I can’t say that there was one contributing factor that led to me [here].

However, over the years, I have come to appreciate the relationship of the pet with the pet parent. There are so many stories I have observed over the years that have increased my appreciation for what a pet can do for the mental and physical well-being of a person.

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

I have been able to build strong relationships with the partners that we serve. This has allowed me to build long term friendships that help others reach [what] they wish to attain. One of the things I hope that people have realized from me working in the industry that I always just try to be real and genuine with them to help them reach the goal that they are striving for.

What do you think will be the next “Big Thing” in pet specialty?

The explosion of e-commerce will redefine how business is done. This will be the greatest opportunity while also becoming the biggest challenge for both the retailer and the vendor. However, at the end of the day, the person we all serve is the pet parent, and it is our responsibility to give them the best possible product or service at the best price, the easiest way possible.

 

geralynncadaprodogtrainerGeralynn Cada-Ragan
Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Pet Product Expert
C and C Paw Company, LLC
Overland Park, Kansas

Years in Industry: 30+

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

My parents were and still are my inspiration. As a 9-year-old little girl, dogs became my life. Every decision I make has to do with my passion for improving the lives of people and pets.

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

Through my work, I’ve been successful at keeping pets in their forever homes by helping people understand how the canine mind operates. My goal is to always set up pet owners and dogs for success and a long, happy/healthy life together.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry, and why? I have continued to educate myself throughout my career and have learned to meet dog owners on their turf so we can find solutions that set up both the owner and dog for success. Why? Because I care deeply when it comes to the human-canine (and -feline) bond.

What do you think will be the next “Big Thing” in pet specialty?
Blending pet tech and the human elements of pet care is the next most exciting thing in pet specialty. Though this product specialty has been rapidly evolving for several years now, I feel that pet tech will soon break through and provide even more options and support for pets and pet owners.

 

ginazarofinalGina Zaro
Director of Marketing
Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat Products
Englewood, Colorado

Year in the Industry: 21

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

My love for cats and wanting to elevate cat issues and how they are viewed. My background and experience in marketing and advertising has given me the tools to combine both loves to advance the mission of helping cats and elevating their status.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? Partnering with a company like Dr. Elsey’s that puts pets—not profit—first has allowed me to introduce proven products for cats and their owners. Since inappropriate elimination is the number one behavioral reason cats are surrendered to shelters and euthanized, Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract litter has allowed me to impact this problem with a solution to keep cats out of shelters.

How has the pet industry changed since you started, and how have the changes shaped your business? A couple of notable changes that have changed the industry and helped shape our business are social media and the customers’ need for transparency and knowledge. Knowledge, feedback and opinions are shared in real time as well as customers’ need to have in-depth information about products and how they perform and impact the lives and health of their cats. Dr. Elsey’s wants to be the thought leader for the products we produce and to be able to share information and provide excellent customer support, which has allowed our products to become one of the most reviewed cat brands on the internet.

 

greg_photo_051718Greg Forquer
Retail Pet Executive
PetsPhD
Scottsdale, Arizona

Years in the Industry: 29

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

When I was looking for a new career, a friend in the broker business told me about a startup company called PetSmart here in the Phoenix area. I interviewed and was hired as a buyer for pet consumables. I was promoted to vice president of Merchandising at PetSmart in the mid-90s.

Through my contacts in the industry for 11 years at PetSmart, I was able to also land positions at Petco’s corporate office and eventually at another startup company named Petsense LLC.

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

I have been instrumental in bringing many new, exciting brands and products in retail pet stores across the country for pets and their parents. I was also instrumental in store layouts and designs to make shopping easier and more fun for pet parents. I have had the opportunity to work with some terrific and passionate co-workers and vendor partners over the years and hopefully have been a mentor to some of those folks.

What issues need more attention from the pet industry, and why?

The pet industry needs to evolve with the changing times of e-commerce. Stores need to have available and interactive associates that understand the products carried in the stores and be able to recommend solutions. Ideally, associates will have handheld devices with them at all times that can tell customers when out of stock products are coming in, or that they could order those products from their online store and deliver it to their house in a few days.

 

jim_golladayJames Golladay
Co-founder, Ohio Pet Foods
BrightPet Nutrition Group
Lisbon, Ohio

Years in Industry: 56

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

I co-founded our family business that focused on combination of feed and pet food, but transitioned into the pet food industry solely because of the potential of wider distribution and overall growth. Ultimately, we started the original company because of our family’s love of pets.

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

I’ve always strived for quality of product in the finished formula. Cutting a corner for a lower price was never an option when creating our pet food recipes. Our clients and end-customers have respected that approach because that’s the way we’ve done business since the beginning.

What is something you are totally passionate about, and why?

The fact that our business is family driven has always propelled me to do more. We started the business together. The operation is now under the control of my children who carry on my passions about producing super-premium pet food and taking the business to the next level.

How has the pet industry changed since you started, and how have the changes shaped your business?

Dogs and cats have gone from pets to companions to now part of our family. Consumer is now demanding higher quality nutrition from the manufacturers. We’ve always listened to what people are asking for in the marketplace and have tweaked our formulas to include what they want and remove what they say they don’t want when it’s nutritionally sound to do so.

 

jim_seidewandJim Seidewand
President
Pet World, Inc.
Rochester, New York

Years in Industry: 47

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

I was a fish hobbyist and breeder, and I found myself running the first fish show in Rochester. The club needed over 100 tanks, but to get a great price, I needed to buy three times more than that. I covered the extra and started a basement business selling fish and equipment.

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

Twenty-five years as a board member of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, much of that as chair of the Government Affairs Committee. I’m proud of sparking industry awareness of zoonotic disease issues and contributing to many issues such as invasive species, store standards and employee education.

What is something you are totally passionate about, and why?

Being vigilant in monitoring legislation and regulation affecting the industry. We need to be actively involved in shaping policies that allow the industry to flourish while we also protect animals, consumers and the environment. We also need to educate consumers on proper pet care that emphasizes safe handling practices for family members.

What issues need more attention from the pet industry, and why?

Animals are the key to everything we do, but commercial breeders are often negatively portrayed. Yet I’ve found that these same breeders are increasingly capable of bringing higher standards of animal care and quality. We need to protect their ability to provide a supply of well-cared for animals for our customers.

 

jim_stout_and_turboJim Stout
CEO and Founder
Coastal Pet Products, Inc.
Alliance, Ohio

Years in the Industry: 50

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

A joint venture with my brother Tom Stout and the opportunity to start and operate our own business was the beginning of Coastal Pet products.

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

We are most proud of being a second generation, family-owned manufacturer dedicated to doing the right things for the right reasons. I appreciate that my daughters and our team are dedicated to making great products, continuing to manage our business with a long-term view and contributing to the health of the pet industry.

It is our mission to design and deliver quality products that people trust for the pets they love—that is what pet owners truly want.

Describe your leadership style and how it has helped you be successful in the pet industry.

My style is direct and engaged; I am still hands-on with the design of products and our manufacturing processes. We have also always focused on maintaining strong relationships with our customers and suppliers to maximize efficiencies and evolve to meet their needs.
For our associates, we maintain a clean, friendly work environment that encourages open communication and collaboration that helps us continue to be successful in the pet industry.

 

joel_katz_Head ShotJoel Katz
Chief Commercial Officer
Heath Extension Pet Care
Deer Park, New York

Years in the Industry: 27

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

As a child growing up, my parents wouldn’t let me have a dog. I grew up believing I had missed a valuable experience by not knowing the love of a dog, so as soon as I got married and moved out, I got my first dog. When I got the opportunity to join a pet food distributor, it just felt like a logical place for me to be. It enabled me to interact with all types of dogs in so many areas that were meaningful to me.

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

I have been very successful in facilitating an unusually strong bond amongst a number of key retailers in our marketplace that has led to my having a close and trusted relationship with these exceptional store owners.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry, and why?

I have been fortunate to work for two really wonderful distributors over the years; however, it wasn’t until I was blessed with an opportunity and made the decision to join Health Extension and became part of a family where I truly felt at home. Health Extension provides pet parents with foods that are absolutely the most nutritionally sound products available to feed their pets. I am proud to be part of a company that also supports many worthwhile causes and gives back to the community in so many ways.

 

20130313_101800000_iosKenneth Oh
Senior VP of Marketing and Sales Support
Central Garden & Pet Specialty Pet
Franklin, Wisconsin

Years in Industry: 22

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

While the pet industry has evolved tremendously over the last 20 years, the simple gratification that pet ownership gives to people has never changed, and the part I have been able to play in making that a reality for consumers on a daily basis is the inspiration that brought me into the industry and drives me to this day.

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

Early in my career I was asked to serve as a member of the APPMA Aquatics Sub-Committee. I felt privileged to be able to give something back in some way. Little did I know that this would be the start of a decade’s long commitment to industry boards that played a key role in guiding the evolution of the pet industry.

Describe your leadership style and how it has helped you be successful in the pet industry.

Early in my career, I was fortunate to have a mentor by the name of Harvey Feinberg who, at the time, was president of Perfecto Manufacturing. He saw something in me early on and put me in a position that he was confident I would succeed in. In my own career, I have tried to follow the same approach in making sure I understand strengths and weaknesses for myself and those that I lead. I have found that working to improve weaknesses while at the same time putting myself and others in positions of strength is a reliable recipe for success.

 

mario_esquer_presidentMario Esquer
President
Avadium Design
Scottsdale, Arizona

Years in Industry: 20

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

I grew up around dogs, so when I had the opportunity to make products for them I knew this was the industry to work in. Plus, having your dog at work with you makes your job fun.

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

My biggest contribution to the pet business is being able to help so many pet companies and manufacturers design new products that go on to be successful. It’s a fulfilling feeling to know that the products we design make pets happier and make pet parents’ lives easier. We are always trying to solve problems with great design solutions. We love working with pet companies who are so passionate about what they are doing and really care about making pets’ lives better.

What is something you are totally passionate about, and why?

I am very passionate about design. I like to educate business executives about the power of industrial design and how it contributes to the success of companies. It is such a strong differentiator when it comes to branding and creating products that resonate with consumers. My passion for pets can be found in our company design philosophy to make products that make pets’ lives happier and better.

 

mark_dailMark Dail
National Sales Manager
Leather Brothers
Conway, Arizona

Years in Industry: 38

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

I started working at Leather Brothers when I was 18 and going to college and then continued working in the family business for the last 38 years.

Leather Brothers is owned by my uncles, and my grandfather is the one that got them started. After graduating from college, I thought it would be a great opportunity to continue on in the family business. Also, a love for dogs and pets since I have always had dogs throughout my whole life.

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

Providing quality pet products to a wide variety of past and current customers and always being willing to help develop their businesses and create a long term relationship.

How has the pet industry changed since you started, and how have the changes shaped your business?

The size of the industry as a whole in both products, sales and trade shows [have changed]. There are so many different types of products to choose from, and you see that in how big the major trade shows (Global Pet Expo and SuperZoo) have grown. The growth has opened up many opportunities of having a wider variety of products and customers to sell to. Every type of business loves to purchase pet products because they are a part of your family.

 

mark_johnson__regional_president_mars_petcare_north_americaMark Johnson
Regional President
Mars Petcare North America
Nashville, Tennessee

Years in Industry: 31

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

At 18, I was offered an opportunity to work for Mars and it was just a natural fit. The industry was exciting, and I had a personal connection to it. Now, 31 years later, my dog Ollie is my daily reminder of why I come to work every day. Over my time in pet care, I’ve been really energized by the purpose that drives the industry and the level of emotional connection people have to it.

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

Driving the quality and safety of pet food has always been my number one priority. When we bring products to the market, I feel good knowing that we’re focusing on the right things: providing safe, nutritious and innovative food solutions to pets and consumers to make their lives better.

I’m also really proud of our BETTER CITIES FOR PETS program, which is working to make cities across the country more pet-friendly.

What issues need more attention from the pet industry, and why?

What’s really important is that we, as an industry, have the right level of controls and governance around the quality of products that we’re producing and sending into the market. Pets are extensions of people’s families and we need to keep that top of mind. At Mars, we have thousands of associates across the world making sure that we are continually meeting our quality standards—it’s our number one priority as a business.

 

Dr Nick Saint-ErneNick Saint-Erne
Pet Health Veterinarian
PetSmart, Inc.
Phoenix, Arizona

Years in Industry: 34

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

Having been a fish and pet owner since a young child, I wanted a career working with animals and decided to be a veterinarian. Working with PetSmart, the largest pet store chain, has allowed me to develop best practices for pet care, both at the pet breeders and in the stores, and develop training and educational programs for store associates and customers.

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

Over the years, I have developed several pet foods and treatments for use in PetSmart stores, and some of the manufacturers have introduced those items as retail products. Also, working with the product development team to improve everything from dog leashes and harnesses, to bird cages and reptile habitats has improved the products that are offered to pet owners not only at PetSmart, but all across the pet industry. Our Vet Assured Program recommendations for pet care have been adopted by the best pet breeders and are promoted as industry standards by the PIJAC best practices program.

How has the pet industry changed since you started, and how have the changes shaped your business?

More pet owners are interested lately in animals other than dogs and cats as pets. The growth in keeping reptiles as pets has been astounding. By making better quality pet foods and habitats available for these other pet species, we are making it easier to care for them and to keep them healthy.

 

rich_van_engers_icon2Richard Van Engers
Founder and CFO
Sturdi Products, Inc.
Gig Harbor, Washington

Years in Industry: 27

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

About 30 years ago, I had that “a-ha” moment when driving by a veterinarian’s office. I saw a woman coming out with a cat in a box, and the cat was falling through the bottom. I knew that I could design a carrier far safer and more comfortable for a cat. That was the catalyst for the SturdiBag carrier design that I later patented and that launched my manufacturing career.

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

I think my greatest accomplishment within the pet industry is that I was the first to design products specifically for safe feline containment. After the SturdiBag, I designed portable pop-up kennels/shelters that have helped to revolutionize cat show exhibition by largely eliminating the wire cages of the past. Exhibitors in many countries now opt to use their own personal pop-up kennel that many believe are safer and more hygienic for both cat and dog containment and make an excellent foundation for emergency preparedness planning.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry, and why?

I believe that my company’s future is dependent on a strong team and solid leadership. The best decision I ever made was to hire Penny Johnson 14 years ago. Promoted to Sturdi CEO in 2016, Penny is an influencer in the pet industry and her energy, problem solving skills and ability to focus has been instrumental in the ongoing success of Sturdi.

 

Rory MillerRory Carr
Founder
RC Pet Products
Vancouver, British Columbia

Years in Industry: 25

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

We started in the ski and snowboard business and saw an opportunity to offer well-made, well-fitting pet products with an eye on trend. The ski and snowboard industry has always pushed the limits with materials and color, and we wanted to bring that to our pets.

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

I believe that we raise the bar with both fashion and quality. When we first got into the pet industry, there was a lot of products that looked the same and were chasing the price point business. We entered the market with a high quality product with a different look to it. There was some resistance in the beginning, but eventually many stores saw a place for a differentiated product.

What issues need more attention from the pet industry, and why?

Social compliance and factory working conditions have been a huge issue in the fashion and sports industries for decades. It would be nice to see that same commitment in the pet industry. I believe this is important, as a global citizen improving the working conditions and lifestyle for factory workers associated with the healthy pet industry should only be considered a good thing.

 

Griffin.sirSteven Rosenfeld
President
The F.C. Sturtevant Company
Windsor Locks, Connecticut

Years in Industry: 22

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

I grew up in a family that included five children, a dog, a rabbit, tropical fish and two parakeets. As a young person growing up, I always felt happiest when I was hanging out with my dog. When I was a teenager, I began riding horses, and my interest in animal health developed at around that time. I was inspired to get into the pet industry when I had the opportunity to work at an iconic company like The F.C. Sturtevant Company.

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

I think that supporting our domestic industry and providing products that are safe and effective in treating infections and wounds in large and small animals are among my strongest contributions to our business and to pet owners. Each day when I read a letter or an email describing how a seriously ill animal was helped and even saved as a result of using one of our products, it becomes a beautiful day.

What do you think will be the next “Big Thing” in pet specialty?

I think that the next big thing will be an added focus on pet care. While many retailers continue to provide minimal offerings in this category, I believe that the recent success in human healthcare from the use of topical probiotics will expand to pet care. I predict that there will be topical probiotic products to successfully treat atopic dermatitis, staph infections, hotspots and even help fight parasites.

 

terry_headshotTerry Gao
President
Caitec Corporation
Halethorpe, Maryland

Years in Industry: 26

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

Business opportunities in pet industry.

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

We bring innovations to pet and pet parents every year, especially in the pet bird area and now in the dog category, too.

How has the pet industry changed since you started, and how have the changes shaped your business?

There is a lot more competition in the pet industry today and this change makes us even better in offering more innovative products and services to pets and pet parents.

What is something you are totally passionate about, and why?

Innovations and product development. Innovations are the only way to improve pets’ and pet parents’ way of life.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry, and why?

Stay with one particular area and become an expert in that area.

Describe your leadership style and how it has helped you be successful in the pet industry.

Trusting your team and believing in team work.

 

tim_blurtonTim Blurton
CEO
Hyper Pet LLC
Wichita, Kansas

Years in Industry: 30

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?
I joined Mars Incorporated directly from college and, since I didn’t express a preference for which product division, I was assigned to the division making pet snacks and treats for Europe. It was the best non-decision I ever made, and I’ve absolutely no regrets.

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

The biggest single contribution was probably the role I played in the Mars acquisition of Royal Canin and then the consequent establishment of Royal Canin Vet Diets in the USA. I really believe this helped give access to some of the best diets available to all the pet owners in the USA.

How has the pet industry changed since you started, and how have the changes shaped your business?

In the years since I started in the industry, it has become much more professional. The marketing of products is much more sophisticated, and the standard of retail outlets and of the quality of products has significantly improved to the benefit of all. There is much more education available to pet owners… In conjunction with this, there has been an ongoing trend of pets being part of the family and much less outdoor pets or animals. All of these factors have helped improve the care we provide to our pets and the benefits we as individuals and families get from owning pets. It’s also helped to keep the industry growing and provided roofs over the heads for those of us working in the industry, so positive on all counts!

 

T.Foster PhotoTony Foster
Owner
Valhoma Corporation
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Years in Industry: 42

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?
Animals of all sizes and breeds were a large part of my growing up in a rural environment. I have always loved animals, so being able to have a business that made products for them was the best of all worlds.

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

At Valhoma we were instrumental in creating, developing and promoting quality products that always had the animals’ safety and comfort in mind. Making so many inventive and necessary products and being able to provide them to pet owners has great satisfaction.

How has the pet industry changed since you started, and how have the changes shaped your business?

Of course all business in general has changed dramatically since Valhoma started 50 years ago. Technology and travel have improved our industry, expanding information, product lines and safety information. Manufacturing equipment and incredible new materials have helped to make the safest, most reliable and comfortable products ever in the pet industry.

Describe your leadership style and how it has helped you be successful in the pet industry.

Valhoma has always believed in producing top quality products with the best materials and craftsmanship available. Our dedication to the comfort and safety of the pets and our ability to continue to distribute nationwide through proper channels has allowed us to remain successful and growing for half of a century.

 

green_military_86531Virginia Hamilton
Founder and Teacher
Canine Commandos Inc.
Melbourne, Florida

Years in Industry: 26

What inspired you to get into the pet industry?

I began volunteering in our shelters and discovered the kennels full of pit bulls and the high rate of kills. As a teacher, I knew the students, and I could help the animals after watching an obedience trainer on Animal Planet state that many dogs are overlooked due to lack of training. With much support, the Canine Commandos was born, and the students, with the help of an obedience trainer, developed all the steps needed to make the program a success.

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

We created Canine Commandos where students bus to all of our shelters to train dogs in basic commands. We currently have 18 schools making a difference with shelter animals through socializing, training and reading to them—cats, too. During this time, I joined Brevard Aiding Shelter Animals Project as its education director developing humane education in our schools. Since Canine Commandos has become a nonprofit, I have devoted all my time to the organization with a team of amazing teachers!

Describe your leadership style and how it has helped you be successful in the pet industry.

I teach kindness in my classroom and believe the adage, “You catch more flies with honey.” Leadership is allowing others to shine in their area of expertise. Give them the freedom to grow, and offer guidance but don’t “lead.” Leadership is a partnership of like minds.

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