Dr. Jennifer Adolphe: “Be confident, but if you’re unsure about something, ask”

Be confident, but if you’re unsure about something, ask. It’s better to ask a question than to make a mistake and cause a greater problem down the road. When I first started in my current role, I was lucky to have someone sit near me in the office who had been with the company for […]

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Be confident, but if you’re unsure about something, ask. It’s better to ask a question than to make a mistake and cause a greater problem down the road. When I first started in my current role, I was lucky to have someone sit near me in the office who had been with the company for more than 10 years. I’m sure she got tired of my questions, but she sure helped save me time and frustration.

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Jennifer Adolphe. Dr. Adolphe hails from Canada, and graduated with her PhD in companion animal nutrition from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. She also has a Master of Science degree in human nutrition and is a registered dietitian. Her PhD research examined the effect of carbohydrates on metabolic and cardiovascular health in lean and obese dogs. She is one of just a handful of pet nutritionists across North America. Dr. Adolphe is the recipient of over 20 awards and scholarships for her academic work and has numerous peer-reviewed publications, in addition to being featured in high profile interviews on TV, radio, online and in print. Her work in the pet food industry has focused on product development and ingredient procurement. She is currently the Nutrition Manager at Petcurean, a company committed to offering superior quality pet foods.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have been passionate about nutrition since I was in grade school, when I encountered some personal health issues. I began to exercise with a program on TV that also covered a lot of nutrition, and that is what sparked my interest. I started my professional career as a registered dietitian, working with people to help them improve their health. But about 10 years ago, I decided that I wanted to combine my love of pets with my knowledge about nutrition and so I completed a PhD in companion animal nutrition. I have always loved dogs, and after family and friends suggested I should switch from human to pet nutrition, I began to look at opportunities in the field. I soon realized that there was a need for more pet nutrition research, and so I decided to make the switch. There wasn’t actually a PhD program for pet nutrition available near me, but fortunately I found a supervisor who shared my interest and we created one together. It ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I now have an exciting and interesting career in the pet food industry, helping to improve the lives of pets through nutrition.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you when you entered a leadership role at your company?

One of our proudest achievements at Petcurean has been the development and launch of our GATHER™ recipes for cats and dogs. It was a three-year adventure, and one of the key reasons I joined Petcurean is because we shared the values that inspired that line.

Our idea behind GATHER™ was to craft a new kind of pet food, using certified and organic ingredients, perfectly blended and balanced to provide dogs and cats with premium quality, natural nutrition.

Every partner we considered as a provider of ingredients for these recipes was required to meet our strict criteria for sustainability, based on five key pillars:

  • Following humane animal welfare practices
  • Protecting water supplies and limiting water use
  • Protecting farmer, rancher and producer livelihoods
  • Ensuring the preservation of natural resources
  • Actively working to preserve biodiversity

We kicked at the dirt in their fields, inspected their farms, stood on their boats and found a handful of farmers, growers and fishers who were practicing the responsible, sustainable production of extraordinary quality, certified and organic ingredients. Those who survived our scrutiny have become our trusted partners in GATHER™ — functional, whole food from the earth and ocean, with nothing added that’s not needed.

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?

It’s not really a funny story or a mistake, but it’s a story about a period of time when I sure learned a lot. It’s a lesson that has affected the course of my career.

My first job in the pet food industry was for a company that needed to develop its entire nutrition and R&D platform, from product formulation to ingredient procurement to quality assurance. It was a huge undertaking and being a new grad, I felt overwhelmed on a daily basis. I tried to take things one day at a time and before I knew it, the company was up and running. I learned a tremendous amount by having to start everything from scratch and getting my hands dirty in many different aspects of the business.

The experience challenged me and forced me to grow and develop. Although there were many days that I wanted to pull my hair out, I am grateful for the experience and opportunity it gave me to develop my skillset in the pet food industry. If there was one lesson I learned that I could pass on to others, it would be to always do your best to persevere when you come up against a challenge — you’ll be better for it in the long run.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Petcurean does not believe in a ‘one-for-all’ philosophy’ because not every food is suitable for every pet. While many companies in the pet speciality marketplace tend to follow one or two particular trends, we believe in offering a wide variety of different foods to provide more individualized nutrition. When we launched a vegan dog food, it was met with some controversy because of some people’s belief that dogs need meat. However, dogs are omnivores, not obligatory carnivores like cats. That means that all of a dog’s nutrient requirements can be met through plant-based ingredients. Switching to a vegan diet can make a big difference for many dogs who suffer from food allergies and adverse reactions, often to various meat protein sources.

And since we launched this vegan recipe, GATHER™ Endless Valley for adult dogs, we’ve gotten a lot of feedback from customers about how it has improved their dogs’ lives. One of my favourite stories involves a nine-year-old shih tzu named Mitzi:

Mitzi had major belly issues, and her discomfort included licking the floor for hours, grinding teeth, constant sneezing, a gurgling belly and a runny nose. Nothing seemed to help. After some research, Mitzi’s family decided to try GATHER™ Endless Valley. In the first week, her nose stopped running and the sneezing ceased. After the second month on the food, all symptoms had gone away. Mitzi’s family is over the moon with this change and attributes it to Endless Valley.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Because we have a continuous goal of offering diverse recipes that are suitable for the individualized dietary needs of each and every dog and cat, we are always working on exciting new products. Unfortunately, I can’t share the details of what we are currently working on, but we are confident that the end result will be new foods to improve the lives of pets and their families. The recipes under development will fall very much in line with our company’s values, which is to put pets first, all the time, and without compromise.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

My advice for other female leaders is all about culture and communication. Hire excellent people, and provide them with opportunities for continuous learning and professional development. It is important to develop a rapport with your entire team, so that you are able to provide open and honest feedback, and so your team feels comfortable providing you with the same. Part of the role of a team leader is to create a work culture that attracts talent and retains it. By supporting members of your team, you can help them achieve their own goals, both personal and professional ones.

Above all — Communication is key. Nothing is possible without good communication.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

While I don’t manage a large team per se, I do work across a number of multi-functional teams. My strategy has been to keep lines of communication as open as possible and be readily available whenever possible.

I think communication is critical, regardless of the size of your team. But make that communication meaningful. Don’t talk for the sake of talking. Don’t hold meetings that aren’t necessary. Ask people questions. Listen to their ideas. Delegate when people have proven themselves. Model the type of behavior you want from other members of your team.

I also tend to have one or two point-people from each department I work with. This helps to streamline communication, and that person then shares information as needed with the key members of their team.

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?

There are four people who have had a major influence on me and led me to where I am now in my career.

My parents taught me how to persist through life’s challenges and develop a strong work ethic.

In school, a television personality first introduced me to nutrition and sparked my interest in such a way that I knew I wanted to study nutrition in university.

And, during my undergraduate degree, one of my first-year professors was a key role model and helped me develop a passion for nutrition research, which led me to complete my graduate degrees.

I am grateful to have had many strong role models throughout my education and career.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My personal ‘pet’ project has been to raise awareness about pet obesity. Pets have become obese at an alarming rate. Keeping our pets at an ideal body weight is one of the best things we can do to keep them healthy. It’s also something that we have a significant amount of control over, since we determine how much food they eat and exercise they get. I take advantage of every opportunity to raise awareness about pet obesity — in the media, at conference presentations and in educational publications. If my message has helped to improve the quality or lifespan of even one pet, I feel that my mission is accomplished.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Be focused. For many years during my career I rushed through my days, never feeling like there was enough time and being pulled in multiple directions. I felt like I was running on a treadmill and couldn’t keep up. Then I realized that I can only do one thing well at a time and if I focused my attention, rather than trying to multi-task, I would actually be more productive and I wouldn’t be exhausted at the end of each day.

Be patient but persistent. It usually takes time to rise through the ranks and develop the skills and confidence to become a leader. Be patient; don’t expect immediate success and promotion. An example of when my persistence paid off was when I decided that I wanted to pursue a PhD in companion animal nutrition. I was living near an amazing veterinary college, but a program in pet nutrition did not exist. I got passed from one professor to another, over and over, until I found someone who would supervise me and develop a program in pet nutrition from the ground up. I am forever grateful to my PhD supervisor for taking a chance on me.

Be passionate. I knew since grade 9 that I wanted a career in nutrition, but it took me a while to find my niche. I studied hard and read everything I could get my hands on about nutrition. Now, I’m one of only a handful of experts in pet nutrition in North America. My new passion is to learn more about the ever-changing world of business and to use this knowledge to help me improve my performance in my current role.

Seek opportunities, and never pass up an opportunity that is presented to you — no matter how terrified you are. I remember the first time I met our current VP of Marketing. It was just after I was hired but hadn’t started in my new role yet. One of the first things she said to me was “how do you feel about doing media work?” I said that it was definitely something I was interested and willing to pursue. Now, five years later, I’m doing this interview after flying back from a media event in New York City, having just spoken with editors from top tier outlets, including The Dr. Oz Show, CBS, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Day and TODAY.

Be confident, but if you’re unsure about something, ask. It’s better to ask a question than to make a mistake and cause a greater problem down the road. When I first started in my current role, I was lucky to have someone sit near me in the office who had been with the company for more than 10 years. I’m sure she got tired of my questions, but she sure helped save me time and frustration.

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. 🙂

Being a pet nutritionist, I would want to inspire a movement that would help pets and consequently improve the lives of the families who loves them. I have witnessed a trend in the past several years that is influencing pet parents to believe that there is only one correct type of diet to feed their pet. The movement I would like to inspire is one of open-mindedness towards what is best, on an individualized basis, because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to feeding our pets. Just because your neighbour’s dog thrives on a particular diet, does not mean it’s right for yours.

Instead of trying to create a single food that works for every pet, we need to recognize that pets are unique and their needs may differ — whether that’s a diet that provides high protein, moderate protein, vegan protein, limited ingredients, whole-grains or no grains.

When choosing a pet food, it’s important to consider things like size, breed, activity level, age, food sensitivities and a variety of other factors. My team at Petcurean has formulated a diverse range of recipes in order to address the highly diverse dietary needs of cats and dogs.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Working in the area of animal nutrition, a quote by Mahatma Gandhi really resonates with me:

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”.

I think that we’ve come a long way in terms of achieving optimal health and well-being of our pets, but I think there is still room for improvement. For example, with the significant rise of pet obesity, now estimated to affect more than 50% of our pets, we may actually be loving our pets to death with food. It’s critical that people learn how to identify if their pets are overweight and how to prevent and treat obesity in pets.

While protein plays a role in achieving optimal nutrition, I also suspect that many pets are being overfed. And it’s not just fat and calories I’m concerned about — pets are also getting too much protein because of “high protein, low carb” trends that are present in both human and pet nutrition.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and 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 sit down with Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google. He has a dog named Jeffree, and employees are allowed to bring their dogs to work at Google. In addition to Sundar being a dog lover, this is likely because it has been shown that dogs at work increase happiness and productivity.

I would like to discuss how Google could use its profile to help raise awareness about pet health and nutrition around the world.

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