Allow your passion to be on display for everyone to see and feel. Passion is contagious, and there is nothing better than a leader who displays their passion and commitment every day. When done effectively, the organization feels more like a community than a group of employees. When leading the turnaround of a company, I demonstrated my passion around developing a trusting relationship with the customer. We did this by focusing on their experience with our products and our employees, making sure they knew we were listening. I even called or wrote to customers personally to let them know I cared, and the company cared. Whenever there was a product issue or concern, the decision of what to do was easy because we did the right thing. In one situation, we changed the design of a particular product after receiving a request from a customer regarding safety and comfort. It was wonderful feedback and it showed we listened made changes. Love what you do, and it will show.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Carol Bramson, the CEO and Co-Founder of Side by Side Pet Nutrition, a company that focuses on a complete wellness program for pets. Previously, Carol has served as a CEO and Director of private and public companies, including Summer Infant, where she led a financial turnaround. Carol is a former Partner at First Chicago Equity Capital and the Founder of TBG Capital. Carol is deeply passionate about helping people, their families and their pets live better lives, demonstrated by her philanthropic activities and active support for business strategies that improve nutrition, wellness and lifestyle factors.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Early in my career I worked for a healthcare focused venture capital firm by the name of Essex Venture Partner, where we helped the startup of innovative device, pharmaceutical and service companies in the healthcare sector. The opportunity to support businesses that touched peoples lives in a positive way was a great start to a career and a goal I have always strived for throughout my career. We helped to support the launch of ARCH, an innovative venture investor aligned with the University of Chicago.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The mission of Side by Side is to help pets live longer through whole food nutrition and the principles of eastern food therapy for healing. When I was spending time at our Learning Center in Chicago, we had a visit from Jessie, the founder of Real Dog Moms of Chicago and Puppy Mama to Ragnar, an Australian shepherd/poodle mix. Jessie and her husband had just rescued Ragnar’s littermate from a shelter in Florida, and they drove straight to our store to get help for their new dog. We noticed immediately that their new family member, Fozzie, was terribly inflamed and suffered from excessive heat in his system. We recommended a cooling diet for Fozzie, our Harvest diet, filled with cooling ingredients such as pork, rabbit, celery and spinach. Within a few weeks, Fozzie was demonstrating greater balance and enjoying his new family. It’s so rewarding to bring health and happiness to pets and their families and, in this case, to see brothers come together again as family.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think it’s very healthy to find humor wherever possible, even when making mistakes. However, it has only been in recent years that I’ve been able to share this perspective in real life. And as a long time perfectionist, I still struggle to find humor in mistakes. The lesson I’ve learned is to be more present, to accept the little twists and turns faced along life’s path, and to know it’s ok.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The fact that we’re focused on pet wellness and well-being makes us stand out. There are a large and confusing number of pet food companies in the marketplace, but Side by Side is different because we seek to connect with the pet and pet owner on a much more in-depth level to nourish and heal. We’re not transaction focused; we care about learning about pets to help them enjoy better lives. One of our employees took in a foster dog from a puppy mill. This beautiful Samoyed dog, Roma, had spent seven years in a puppy mill, in a cage with limited exposure to sunlight with no playtime. She developed Type 2 Diabetes. Jessie took the time to understand and treat her health issues. Through vet support and nutrition guidance with Side by Side, Roma’s skin and coat, energy and blood sugar levels began to improve. We are available in our locations in Chicago and Telluride or more easily on the phone or through our online chat system. We have staff trained in eastern food therapy and have partnered with vets to support the wellness needs of pets. While this story involves a serious health issue, we meet a variety of pets. Whole food nutrition helps with everything from improving eye clarity, skin and temperament, to the more demanding health issues as those seen with beautiful Roma.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
At Side by Side we’re working on an exciting expansion to our supplements line to include nutraceuticals. We’re planning to launch soon an expanded line of pet nutraceuticals that provide enhanced nutrient profile through a controlled growing environment for the key all-natural, whole food, functional ingredients that will provide the basis for our healing formulations. We’ve demonstrated success in the early testing of these unique ingredients, and we’re excited about the potential. A key element of the Side by Side philosophy is the recognition of the body’s ability to truly absorb the nutritional elements found in food products. When the ingredients are allowed to maintain their natural structure, the body is best prepared to absorb the nutrients. Leafy greens are perfect example, the body is designed to best absorb the fiber, vitamin A and vitamin E in the natural structure and combination, not through a pill or powder supplement.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Whether working in a large corporation or a start-up, the first area of focus in building and supporting a team is to hire individuals who understand and share in the vision and cultural style desired for the company. Whenever possible, bring in individuals who have ‘been there, done that’ in leadership areas, allowing the team to move quickly and hopefully avoid many common set-backs. The leadership role can be lonely if you allow it to be. Enlist others in your journey, such as advisors, investors and ambassadors. Their support can take you to places you would otherwise not go. Be very clear on your mission and translate this into measurable goals for your team. The clarity that comes with a very clear roadmap makes for true transformation and improved execution. Then empower your key employees to make the dreams a reality. With these principles in place, team members will be in a position to best reach their goals and feel the personal reward that comes along with success.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a larger team?
In my experience, the key to managing a larger team is:
(1) Shared vision, culture and communication
(2) Hiring experienced leaders in key positions
(3) Clear objectives & measurable performance targets
(4) Empowering key leaders
(5) Rewarding success
As the CEO of a publicly traded company with employees around the world, the key to success was surrounding myself with talented leadership in the key functional areas and allowing them to do what they do. I was fortunate to have been able to bring five direct reports onto the leadership team who had demonstrated experience doing what we needed to get done. This included new hires in the areas of Sales, Marketing, Finance, Product Development and HR. As this was a turnaround situation, the company required a transformation in culture and processes; in order to get change you need to be willing to make change. This proved to be a very successful strategy. Through performance and change in management, the company saw a 3x improvement in stock price in just eight months.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career to have been exposed to professionals who have been tremendously supportive of my vision and projects. One individual I met 25 years ago has invested in every company I’ve built since then. The first deal we did together had many challenges, from personnel to industry change. The stress of repeatedly dealing with these situations really helps you to get to know someone. In this case, we worked through each one openly and with great communication and teamwork. We dealt with adversity, learned from it, implemented change strategies, sought outside assistance and didn’t give up. While things didn’t end the way we hoped, we moved through that difficult first situation and onto some exciting and rewarding company building that followed over the ensuing 25 years. There is great truth in the statement, “You learn more from your mistakes than you do from your successes.” I’m grateful for that early experience, but even more thankful to have found such a talented partner to work with in the future.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m hopeful that my life’s path has resulted in many examples of goodness well beyond those which I am aware of. Whether it’s been in business or personal encounters, I try to connect and touch the lives of others through kindness and sincerity. Sometimes this is through every day encounters; sometimes through my philanthropic support of causes like the American Heart Association and the tremendous good this organization has done around the world. And today, goodness is seen in every pet life that we have the chance to touch through Side by Side. It is so rewarding to hear the testimonials we’ve received from pet owners regarding the positive transformation in health and wellbeing they’ve seen since transitioning their pets to our food. We call this our Side by Side family. In addition, through our new Side by Side Giving Fund we are sponsoring service dogs with food and wellness counsel. These special animals have a very important role in their families, and we want to make sure they’re at their best every day.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1) Clearly define your mission & culture. When I first stepped in as CEO of a public company that required turnaround, I was quickly faced with some product quality issues. I realized later that my quick and decisive response was a culture-defining moment for the worldwide team. I called customers directly when they had a concern about our products so I might understand first hand what was wrong and give them the reassurance that the highest level of the company truly cared. When you do the right thing, life is easy.
2) Hire experienced individuals and empower them to lead. As a leader, it’s so very important to surround yourself with experienced individuals and to empower them to lead others. It’s tempting as a CEO to get involved in everything because you care so much, but that could limit a company’s success and ability to grow. My most rewarding leadership experience to-date has been with a company where I had the chance to promote or bring in the five individuals that made up my senior leadership team. Each of them had experience in that same role and beyond. Each of them built teams that supported their individual functional areas. While the overarching strategy and culture needs to be consistent throughout the organization, bringing on board key leaders will make the tactical execution of that strategy attainable. It’s important to give them the empowerment they need to do so as they see fit.
3) Communicate clearly and commit to key priorities. You can never over communicate, particularly as it relates to key priorities. Every member of the team will feel like they have an endless list of things to get done, but it’s of critical importance to make sure to identify the key priorities and that these tasks obtain a higher level of focus and execution. Every week, I hold a team meeting which includes three key priorities for each individual. We share where things stand and support each other in getting things done. It’s only after going through all of these priorities that we open up the meeting to discussions of other topics. The meeting is never longer than one hour, and we work together in a collaborative way to execute the key tasks.
4) Set objectives that are measurable. There is a commonly used phrase in leadership that you get what you measure. This is often a key focus when designing incentive compensation plans so the results that are desired are aligned with the measurements used to determine whether an individual has attained the goal. If the objectives and goals are overly theoretical, the performance many be too open to interpretation and a miss on goals. During my experience working with a number of large and small companies, both private and public, I’ve found the management teams and their staffs find it most comforting and clear when there are clear metrics, like sales, gross market, dates for new product launch or specific targets for new innovation. It gives comfort to the employee and the overall team to be able to understand and see their progress in objective terms.
5) Allow your passion to be on display for everyone to see and feel. Passion is contagious, and there is nothing better than a leader who displays their passion and commitment every day. When done effectively, the organization feels more like a community than a group of employees. When leading the turnaround of a company, I demonstrated my passion around developing a trusting relationship with the customer. We did this by focusing on their experience with our products and our employees, making sure they knew we were listening. I even called or wrote to customers personally to let them know I cared, and the company cared. Whenever there was a product issue or concern, the decision of what to do was easy because we did the right thing. In one situation, we changed the design of a particular product after receiving a request from a customer regarding safety and comfort. It was wonderful feedback and it showed we listened made changes. Love what you do, and it will show.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger)
I would hope to inspire a movement around environmental awareness and opportunities to make changes that help to stop and reverse the many ways we’re destroying our environment and to save future generations from harm. I’ve had the pleasure of traveling to many different parts of the world, including some of the most impoverished areas, and the effects of climate change often start with those who are least able to fight back. I trekked across parts of Nepal, an absolutely beautiful part of the world that is suffering from debris and lack of clean water. When I look at the debris, all I see is packaging from the industrialized world in a place where they focus on simple needs and farming to sustain their lives and bring happiness to their families. I think a movement in this area would bring improved quality of life to many around the world and also improve the quality of life for generations to come.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 😊
I would be so honored to spend time with Oprah Winfrey, to learn from her experience and to share my passion for touching lives in a positive way. Oprah has often talked about having a calling or purpose in life, and that it’s important for each of us to be aware and awakened to our calling. Many friends have pointed out to me how this latest venture with Side by Side, and the thoughtful way in which we’re changing lives in a positive way, is a culmination of my professional career up to this point. The path I’ve taken in food, healthcare, manufacturing, brands, mission and entrepreneurship all came together when I adopted my puppy, Wrigley. Bringing him into my life highlighted the deficiencies in the Pet Food sector. I was moved to do what’s right by these wonderful companions, and Side by Side was born.
Thank you so much for all of these great insights!