Sue — My biggest piece of advice is to not let challenges or limitations stop you. It’s the old adage “make lemonade out of lemons”. People often don’t realize but challenges make you stronger, they help you learn to problem solve and pivot. The road to success is never straight!
As a part of our “Unstoppable” series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Hehir and Sue Delegan.
Sue serves as Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Brutus Broth, Inc. Sue is a graduate of St. Lawrence University and has a strong background in marketing and business. Before launching Brutus Broth, Sue co-founded and served as President of Ilios Dairy Brands, LLC, a dairy company focused on offering an innovative and natural alternative in the dairy segment. The Ilios’ Greek Yogurt Butter was lauded as a “Top New Products” by Supermarket Guru in August 2012 and as a “Rising Star” in Specialty Foods Magazine in November 2012. Prior to launching Ilios, Sue spent 10 years as a fundraising and strategic marketing professional in a variety of non-profit organizations. She focused on major giving (10,000 dollars+), endowment gifts and planned giving. She played a key role in securing gifts from Individuals, Foundations and Corporations, as well as handling all Media Relations. Before joining the Non-profit Sector, Sue was a marketing professional at Brown Brothers Harriman, a privately held financial institution which is well known as a thought leader and solutions provider in the financial services industry. In her free time, Sue volunteers at various community organizations and enjoys cooking, going on walks with her beloved pups and traveling with her family.
A graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, Kim serves as the Co-Founder and President of Brutus Broth, Inc. She has a diverse background in strategy, marketing, finance and non profits. Previously, she was Vice President of Strategic Planning for The Leading Hotels of the World, a luxury hotel company with approximately 500 hotels in 90 countries. Kim oversaw the Company’s overall strategic direction as well as the Company’s ancillary businesses. She was also responsible for sourcing and evaluating new business opportunities and subsequently launching those businesses, which added strategic value to the company. During her 7-year tenure at Leading, she was instrumental in delivering over a 400% increase in shareholder value. Prior to joining The Leading Hotels of the World, Ltd., Kim was a senior investment analyst at Shaffer & Company, which owned and asset-managed over USD1 billion of luxury hotel properties. Prior to that, she was the global director of marketing and corporate communications for Sonnenblick-Goldman Company, an international real estate investment banking firm averaging USD10 billion in annual transactions. Before joining Sonnenblick-Goldman, Ms. Hehir was the director of strategic marketing for HVS International, the world’s largest private hospitality consulting practice. Kim currently serves as a Board member for the Kapi’olani Health Foundation, the Cornell Hotel Society (NYC President from 2004–2006), the Honolulu Zoological Society and the Honolulu Theatre for Youth. She is a member of the President’s Counsel for Cornell Women, the Cornell Alumni Ambassador Network, the Young Presidents’ Organization’s Spousal Forum and PEO. In her free time, Ms. Hehir is involved with various volunteer opportunities with the Joyful Heart Foundation, the Honolulu Museum of Art and at her sons’ schools. She loves food and wine, playing tennis and beach volleyball, watching her kids’ sports games, traveling with her family and hiking with her dog Shumba.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is really an honor. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Our story began on Thanksgiving Day 2016 when a family member asked to what we attribute Brutus’ longevity. The answer: “Love and Grandma’s Bone Broth.” As a pup that led a very active life, he had a number of health issues most senior dogs face.
We found that adding Bone Broth to his diet not only provided him with a tastier meal but gave him added nutritional benefits. Not only that, he loved the taste and adding the broth to his dry food made it more easily digestible. The challenge was finding a way to share these benefits with other dogs.
Kim and Sue spent thousands of hours researching the pet market, speaking to experts in the industry, testing and tweaking recipes, designing packaging prototypes, working with ingredient suppliers and manufacturers, amongst other things, to assemble the best possible team to help bring Brutus’ Bone Broth to the market.
Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you became disabled or became ill? What mental shift did you make to not let that “stop you”?
How did you come to find out you had the BRCA gene and make the decision to both go through double mastectomies?
K — Our father was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013 at the age of 68. He was the oldest living person in a long lineage of people — except for his mother who lived until she was 88. He promptly had his prostate removed but the cancer continued to spread in an abnormal pattern. He was treated at Sloan Kettering and his doctor asked if he would participate in a genetic research program. In July 2017 he found out he had the BRCA2 gene mutation. This was unusual because we are not Ashkenazi Jew and he is a male. This is when a lot of the puzzle pieces started to fall in place — his brother died in his 20’s, his dad in his 50s — of cancer. His Dad’s sister died suddenly of cancer but we did not know what kind (we now think maybe ovarian). So… we got tested and found out in Nov 2017. A few weeks after Wegmans told us they would be our beta test for Brutus Broth!
S — For me the decision to have the surgery was simple. I have a husband and young children and felt it was important to live for them. In my eyes I can recover from surgery, sure it may have been at an inconvenient time and it altered my body but I could recover from it, cancer is a bit different. I did not want to wait until I was diagnosed with Cancer to do something about it. I still have one more surgery to go, which I am literally trying to pencil into my calendar, but I know that when that time comes it will be just another day off and I will be back at it the following day!
What mental shift did you make to not let that “stop you”?
K — Sue and I found out we both carried the BRCA gene on the same day — which is crazy because we live 5,000 miles apart and went through different testing protocols. My first reaction was — at least we are going through this together and we have Brutus Broth to distract us!
S — Like Kim said, the mental shift was “this is going to make us stronger”. I have had a lot of women say to me “you were so brave to have to make the decision to have a double mastectomy”. I don’t see myself as brave, I see myself as a mother that did it for her children. Knowledge is power, I feel lucky that I had the knowledge to potentially change the outcome of my future.
What accomplishments were you able to achieve in the first year after going through all of this?
K- 2018 was a tough year all around and honestly quite a blur because 2 weeks after my first surgery my husband had a stroke and then a week later my son started a new school and then a few weeks after that I had a 2nd surgery. Business-wise, 2018 was the year that we tweaked our product and built the foundation to really expand. We launched in Wegmans in May 2018 and ran the beta gathering information and making adjustments. We launched on Amazon on Oct 30th 2 weeks after Sue and I had our second set of surgeries and was the #1 Topper and #1 “Most Wished For” pet food. 2019 we started our national sales push. Now we are in over 3,300 stores.
S — Our biggest accomplishment was we launched a National Brand! Our surgeries did not slow us down!
What advice would you give to other people who are faced with challenges or limitations?
K- The same advice we give the kids committee — how do you problem solve, how do you pivot, and keep going.
S — My biggest piece of advice is to not let challenges or limitations stop you. It’s the old adage “make lemonade out of lemons”. People often don’t realize but challenges make you stronger, they help you learn to problem solve and pivot. The road to success is never straight!
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?
K — My family. In my day to day with Brutus Broth — I would specifically say my Dad and Sue. Our Dad is the one who ingrained hard work and determination into us. And Sue because she keeps me sane. I always worried about going into business with family because I always wanted to keep business, business. With a family business that is impossible. Sue and I both have kids and husbands who travel. Rarely are we never on the same page. Its give and take. There are times where Sue will pick up my slack because I am too burnt out or tired and vice versa. Also being in 2 totally different time zones can help because we literally are working 24/7. I wake up with a pile of emails from her and vice versa.
S — I would have to agree with Kim. Family has been huge for me. Our father always told us “If business was easy everyone would do it”. He really helped plant the seed of entrepreneurship in us and helped us see that it is not always easy, but it is doable! Kim has been a huge support to me because without her we wouldn’t be here. Having a partner to lean on, collaborate with and navigate this business has been essential to our success. I would also say my husband keeps me grounded and has supported me from day one. Without his support there is no way I could do what I do. Being an entrepreneur can be very lonely and it is nice to have someone at the end of the day that I can unload the good, the bad and the ugly too and for him in turn to tell me he is proud of me. It is so important to have people “on your side” that can lift you up when you fall and celebrate you when you fly.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
K — That is the reason why we are doing what we do. We want to bring nutrition to every dog’s bowl and we want to teach our kids along the way. We also do much more than most startups to give back to the community — whether that is through volunteer days, monetary donations, in-kind support, etc. It is rewarding to hear that people swear our product extended their dog’s life or that our product nursed a sick dog back to health. Recently, we got word from our national charity partner Project K9 Hero that one of their dogs (K9 Chief) was shot in the eye while in pursuit. He lost his eye and his jaw was shattered. They need Brutus Broth to nurse him back to health!
Can you share “5 things I wish people understood or knew about people faced with limitations or challenges” and why.
K- I don’t think I can comment on this. I don’t feel we had limitations at all. We have been so lucky in every way. Sue and I have had so many crazy things happen to us during this journey and we just keep going. We just figure out a different way to accomplish our goal.
S — What Kim said. I believe that limitations are sometimes excuses. People ask me all the time how we started this company or “how do you do the things you do” and my answer is always I just figured out a way and did it. Our Copacker is one of the largest copackers in the country and people ask me “how did you get them?” my answer “I picked up the phone and called them. They were the only ones that called me back”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
K — As our Dad always says “If running a business was easy, everyone would be doing it”
S — “Mindset is everything. If you don’t believe you can do something you probably won’t”