Jacqueline Prehogan: “Be Honest.”

As a confession, I have struggled to be as honest and assertive as I often need to be, but honesty and transparency are valuable assets when achieving success — or my version of success. I’d advise women to have honest conversations and listen to different points of view as well as become comfortable living outside […]

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As a confession, I have struggled to be as honest and assertive as I often need to be, but honesty and transparency are valuable assets when achieving success — or my version of success. I’d advise women to have honest conversations and listen to different points of view as well as become comfortable living outside their comfort zone. By sharing information openly, frequently and transparently, a team gains trust in you and the organization, therefore, making each member feel more supported.

As part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jacqueline Prehogan, co-founder, Open Farm Pet. At Open Farm, Jacqueline is focused on bringing the brand’s mission and values to life through brand marketing and product innovation. A self-described “crazy dog lady,” Jacqueline’s lifelong passion for animals and commitment to sustainability inspires her to create products that “do some good” for pets, farm animals and the planet. Jacqueline is also the Founder & CEO of Canada Pooch, a leading pet apparel & accessories company, and the recipient of the 2015 EOY Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Jacqueline graduated from Queen’s University in 2007 and went on to earn her CA & CPA before starting her first business in the pet industry.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always been driven by my love and passion for animals, and from a young age wanted to build a career around that. I was working as an (admittedly terrible) accountant around the time that my husband and I adopted our first dog, a pug mix named Bella. With limited options for Bella, I saw a gap in the market for fashionable and functional pet apparel and accessories, which led to my first company in the pet industry — Canada Pooch. As we were breaking into the industry, I personally decided to become a vegetarian which greatly influenced the way my family now eats. Without fully realizing it, this was our first shift in marrying action with ideals. We started leaning into the importance of knowing where our food comes from, how it was raised and overall a passion for better nutrition through cleaner, ethical ingredients. When I say family, that includes our two pugs, Bella and Maddie and we wanted to feed them using the same standards we’re using to feed ourselves. We searched high and low but were unable to find any pet food options with the ethical sourcing standards we were looking for, so we set out to create it ourselves. My husband Isaac, my brother-in-law Derek and I all shared this passion and belief in transforming ingredient sourcing for pet food, and that inspired us to take the leap to create our pet food company Open Farm.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Through my time in the industry, one of the most impactful lessons I’ve learned is the importance of working with ethical partners that we can trust and respect. It’s using those standards that we’ve built Open Farm and forged relationships with partners that we can count on to uphold our ideals.

One of the most interesting stories in my business career happened when I started my first company in this industry, I had no idea what I was doing. I did not know how to manufacture, I did not know how to create products, I did not know how to sell products, and I did not know how to build a business.

After developing my first prototype, I figured I needed to start building a retailer network and find a distributor. With zero connections or knowledge of the pet industry at the time, I started to Google “pet distributor Ontario” and found several listings which I then cold-called. With a bit of luck and determination, I connected with the owner of one of the biggest and best pet distributors in Canada, let’s call him John. John agreed to meet with me to see my products, and when we met, he loved my prototypes and placed his first container order with me the very next day. I could not believe my luck.

More than a decade later, John and I have remained close friends and business associates and years after that initial meeting, John confessed the reason he took a chance on me. He liked that “I didn’t know what I didn’t know” — a beneficial trait for an ambitious entrepreneur. It was this balance of optimism and naivete which made me think anything was possible. More importantly, I had a partner I could trust. That was a valuable lesson for me. That trust coupled with never losing the unfailing optimism and belief that no obstacle is insurmountable has helped me become a strong, successful businesswoman.

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?

When I started my business, before I secured a distributor, I was going from pet store to pet store with a “Team Canada” duffel bag filled with samples to show my prototypes. While each store liked my products, I didn’t receive any orders. It wasn’t until I came home and complained to my husband that my mistake turned into business insight. He pulled up a YouTube clip of Glengarry Glen Ross — the scene where Alec Baldwin goes on his tirade about his sales mantra, the “ABC’s — Always Be Closing” and we laughed, but beyond the laughter, the message about closing a sale stuck with me. That’s where it shifts from potential to actual. I was uncomfortable with that critical point in the sales process, that moment where you need to overcome your discomfort and ask for the sale. That scene has played a valuable role in my career as an effective salesperson and my husband and I still talk about that moment.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?

I am an entrepreneur first and foremost. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit and I love pets and innovative products, so this is basically my dream job. Like my first company did, identifying an unmet need in the market excites me. Open Farm does that which I am grateful for every day. The idea of building a business, a world-class team and an iconic brand that I was drawn to remains my great motivator. It drives me. We knew that if our family was looking for ethical, sustainable and nutritious pet food then others would be too. The desire to meet that need is still what keeps us going as we strive to provide a high-quality product that makes a positive impact.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

First, I don’t think there is one answer here. Different executives and leaders view their roles differently and it could mean different things within varying organizations. For me, however, leading by example stands out. I view my responsibility as a CEO as setting our strategic direction, establishing the culture of the business and ensuring that our business and brand lives and breathes our mission and core values. So much of what sets Open Farm apart is our core beliefs and values and that starts with leadership. Through leading by example, we will impact the community, build and cultivate strong teams that echo our values and passion for animals and the environment. If it is something I believe in for business, then I am living by those same principles.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

As an executive, I have the opportunity to work across the organization with a lot of people in a wide variety of roles and at different levels. It’s been incredibly fulfilling to build this team and watch them grow, progress and master new skills. Building Open Farm from the ground up has been incredibly rewarding, especially when it comes to helping others achieve goals they never thought were possible.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

I would say one of the biggest challenges of being an executive is also one of the best parts. It’s an ever-changing role and you are constantly being pulled in so many different directions. I feel like I’m constantly putting on different hats, pivoting between a huge array of different types of work and areas of the business. I’m constantly learning, adapting and facing new challenges. It’s not easy, in fact, it can be hard but at the same time, I thrive on that kind of energy. It keeps me on my toes.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

There are two myths that I don’t relate to — the idea that the CEO makes or breaks a company or that it’s lonely at the top. For me as well as my business, we are nothing without our team. I cannot stress enough the importance of being plugged into and working closely with your team. We’ve worked hard to build a culture at Open Farm that fosters open communication top to bottom and bottom to top. That never feels lonely. Even more rewarding, you have the opportunity to build a strong organization founded in community and that translates into a company measuring its success as a whole and not by individual contributions.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I am grateful to work with people who support my choices. I have always been held up by my team, partners and customers since the beginning. I recognize that is not always the case for women in business, but I have been very fortunate in that respect. Personally, I’ve struggled with the notion of being liked, but my role as a leader asks that I break out of my comfort zone and make hard decisions at times. It can be challenging to advocate for yourself, both personally and professionally, which is why my team plays such a vital role in overcoming these challenges.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from this job, but I just jumped in full of optimism and passion. My job and role constantly intersect ideology and reality. What we are striving for and what we need to do to make that happen. I have no expectations for what tomorrow will bring and that continues to be one of the most enjoyable parts of working at Open Farm. I thrive on staying busy, making an impact and working diligently with talented and hardworking people. I love what I do.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?

There are many different types of executives, with different personality traits and leadership styles that can be highly effective. Leaders who are passionate and can intrinsically inspire their teams, while at the same time promote a high-performance culture that pushes people to be their best, are highly effective.

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

As a confession, I have struggled to be as honest and assertive as I often need to be, but honesty and transparency are valuable assets when achieving success — or my version of success. I’d advise women to have honest conversations and listen to different points of view as well as become comfortable living outside their comfort zone. By sharing information openly, frequently and transparently, a team gains trust in you and the organization, therefore, making each member feel more supported.

At Open Farm, transparency goes beyond conversations and is evident throughout our entire brand. Every bag of Open Farm Pet Food can be traced back exactly to the source — we’ve built our business on that promise. We’re honest about our products, their ingredients and our partnerships to everyone inside and outside our company.

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 am so grateful for my husband and business partner Isaac. Together with Isaac and Derek, we founded Open Farm on core principles that matter to us. Isaac leads our global business and team of employees.

It might be cliché, but Isaac has always encouraged me 100% of the time and is able to see the great aspects of me where I often lose sight. In particular, I will never forget his encouragement to take that leap to start my own business. He holds me to a standard of what he thinks I can achieve, which has helped build my confidence, courage, and strength to push myself. Isaac and I are partners in everything we do, and I wouldn’t want it another other way.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Using our businesses as a platform for positive change is very important to us. It is a priority. Open Farm’s mission is rooted in ethical sourcing, with a focus on animal welfare, sustainability and transparency so leading a positive change with a long-term impact is in our DNA.

We proudly print “DO SOME GOOD” in big, bold letters on our packaging to remind our customers, and ourselves, that our products are kind to animals, people and the planet. We only partner with Certified Humane® or Global Animal Partnership® audited family farms who raise their animals with kindness and respect, and without antibiotics or growth hormones, leading to higher quality ingredients that deliver better nutrition. Since 40% of fish stock are caught from bycatch, we’ve partnered Ocean Wise® to employ sustainable fishing methods that minimize bycatch and preserve our oceans. Currently, fish stocks have been rebuilt to all-time highs due to sustainable fishing methods. Working with TerraCycle, we’ve recycled more than 250,000 bags, and now through a newly announced partnership with Loop Store, Open Farm will be the first pet food available in reusable, sustainable packaging.

Beyond our ongoing initiatives, our companies have also launched community-based initiatives such as a COVID-19 PPE drive where we donated 100,000 masks to hospitals in Canada and the US, and a partnership with Better Help to provide free mental health counseling to anyone in need.

As a business, we have, fortunately, been able to keep 100% of our team members employed during this pandemic which directly impacts their families and livelihood. As a leader in the industry, we value integrity, diversity, and developmental growth to maintain a workplace culture that represents the pillars that Open Farm is built on.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Open Farm is a business model that aims to have a positive impact on the world. That’s why we started it, but, personally, motherhood is top of mind for me. I am a new mom of a six-month-old baby girl who I love so much, and becoming a mom is the greatest success in my life. But it can be really challenging at times. It’s upsetting to see the level of judging and even mom-shaming on social media, so I’d like to see a cultural shift where that antagonistic energy would transform into support, education and acceptance for moms striving to do the best they can.

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

My grandfather Jack, who we called “Zaid,” a come-from-nothing successful entrepreneur, had two quotes that he often said that I loved. First, “If it were easy, everyone would be driving a Rolls Royce” — entrepreneurship and business are not always easy and that’s ok. It’s hard, and it’s supposed to be. The second was a story he would tell about a very well-known, wealthy businessman who would say “Jack, you’re the richest guy in the world!” even though Zaid was nowhere near as wealthy as him. The businessman was referring to Zaid’s family. My Zaid instilled in us that family is the greatest form of wealth, and I really live by that.

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

Warren Buffett. He is so unfathomably successful, and yet he has always stayed humble and grounded. He still lives in the same house he bought in 1958 for $31,000. He simply loves what he does, which drives so much of his success and he is focused on how he can use his wealth to help people and have a positive impact.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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