There’s a crisis of mental health and loneliness affecting people of all ages today. Study after study has shown the impact pets have on people’s health and well-being, yet few are connecting those dots. I want to reach a day where doctors are as likely to prescribe a pet as they are a pill. I think we’d all be the better for it.
I had the pleasure to interview Jam Stewart, VP of Corporate Affairs at Mars Petcare, Pet Nutrition North America. Jam joined Mars in 2015, where she serves as the Vice President of Corporate Affairs for the North American Petcare business. In this role, she provides strategic leadership to protect, promote, and defend the company’s reputation — internally and externally. Jam leads community engagement, consumer relations, brand public relations, stakeholder strategies, and corporate digital platforms to drive positive change for pets and people. She is also the driving force behind the company’s Better Cities for Pets™ program, which aims to make life better for pets by creating more pet-friendly places. Prior to Mars, Stewart worked at SC Johnson as Sr. Director of Global Public Affairs and Communication, where she led global internal and external communications for the household goods giant. Her scope included brand public relations, public affairs, and corporate communication to drive leadership with key stakeholders including media, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), consumer groups and trade associations. She also led global employee communication, promoting strategic company initiatives to SC Johnson’s 14,000+ employees. Before joining SC Johnson, Stewart was a member of the Kohl’s Department Stores marketing team, where she managed and executed strategic public relations activities for all private, exclusive and national fashion/home brands. She was instrumental in the launch of Simply Vera Vera Wang, the largest brand introduction in Kohl’s history. Prior to Kohl’s, Stewart spent 10 years in the agency world working in consumer marketing and brand public relations. The majority of that time was at Zeno, a Daniel J. Edelman company, where she was a Senior Vice President in the consumer practice. There, she developed and led award-winning strategic campaigns and, as a member of Zeno’s Speaking Female, developed research-driven programs targeted to women at all life-stages. Over the course of her career, Stewart has worked with marquee brands such as Evenflo, Johnson & Johnson, Whirlpool Home Appliances, Cartoon Network, May Company, United Airlines, Pizza Hut, Jose Cuervo, Smirnoff, Oberweis Dairy, Blistex, EFFEN Vodka, Fossil, British Airways and Potbelly Sandwich Works. Stewart earned a master’s degree from Michigan State University. She graduated with honors from Eastern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism. Stewart lives in the Nashville area with her two kiddos James and Jasmine and their Brittany puppy, Jackson Ryder. She serves on several boards and committees including the Pedigree Foundation, Greater Good, and American Pet Products Association. She is passionate about making the world better for pets and volunteers regularly though the Mars Volunteer Program and for the Pedigree Foundation. She is a voracious reader and is attached to her well-worn passport.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Jam! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always loved telling people’s stories. They have the power to create such change. I initially wanted to be a broadcast journalist. When my path led me to business, I realized there was a huge opportunity for storytelling here. Today, I get to advocate for and give a voice to pets. They can’t speak for themselves, but they add incredible value to our lives. I’m so glad to help tell that story.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you became a leader at your company?
Every day is interesting with pets! But one of the most powerful was when we announced our facility dog partnership with Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital. We had therapy dogs there when we announced the program, and the kids were so excited to meet the dogs. These children with terrible illnesses just lit up. It really validates the importance of pet-friendly policies when you see the incredible impact pets have.
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?
On a conference call early in my career, I thought I’d muted the phone and vented to my team about someone on the call…only to find out I was not actually on mute and everyone heard it all. It was truly mortifying, and more important, it was unprofessional. The funny learning was “always check the mute button!” But the lasting insight was that it’s so much better to just give direct feedback. Everything works better when everyone feels the respect they deserve.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Mars Petcare is truly defined by purpose. A lot of companies say that today, but it’s always been true at Mars. We believe the world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today…and we want a better world for pets. So our business is all about making pets happy, healthy and welcome. It gives you a true north: In any decision you ask yourself, “Does this make the world better for pets?”
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! Our Better Cities For Pets™ program is built around the idea that pets make our lives better. But we know that in many places, it can be hard to have a pet. You can’t find pet-friendly housing, or you can’t get around town, or there’s nowhere to go because businesses aren’t pet-friendly. So, too many pets never get adopted and too many people miss out on the benefits of pets. Our program is helping change that — and that means people and pets can live a happier, healthier life together.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Take care of yourself. So often women put themselves behind their kids, their partners and their careers. But we need to thrive in order to inspire and contribute. We need time to focus, decompress and get healthy. So, take that time! And while you’re at it…get a pet. There’s nothing like having to walk the dog to give you a mandatory, healthy break every day.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Honestly, I’d give the same advice to any leader, no matter their gender. Be clear on your vision and be accessible. As your team gets bigger, you can’t be constantly available to everyone. But you can make opportunities to connect. Some people schedule walk-arounds, others have planned “office hours.” You don’t have to have all the answers, but you do have to be clear on where you’re trying to go and be available to help remove roadblocks to get there.
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 had a boss who was very good at pushing people out of their comfort zone. As just one example, she challenged me to drive a product launch that was really unique for the company and our industry. So, there I was, the communication lead, pushing partners across marketing, R&D, supply and customer care. She didn’t expect me to stay in my lane, in fact she wanted me to be a disrupter. I learned a lot about influence and how to bring a group together around a great new opportunity.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Being in a leadership role means I’ve been invited to be a board member for various organizations…and I love that opportunity. Right now, I work with Greater Good, the American Pet Products Association and PEDIGREE Foundation, in each case helping support and shape their work to make life better for pets.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why.
- Start with strategy. Like anyone, I’ve had my share of wins and bombs. But when the heart of every program aligns with your strategy and purpose, even the bombs provide insights you can use.
- Test and learn. Throughout the creation of Better Cities For Pets™, we tried different concepts and partnerships. Some worked, some didn’t. Without the chance to learn from both, we wouldn’t have the strong program we have today.
- Connect the dots. It’s easy to get caught up in a project and forget to help others see its purpose. We all agree pet homelessness is bad, but not everyone understands how housing policy can lead to pets being abandoned. Connecting the dots helps build ambassadors for your cause.
- Never underestimate your Associates. We started Better Cities For Pets™ in the U.S., and now it’s part of our global business strategy. While media coverage and other wins have helped us get there, the biggest driver of support for the program has been our own Associates. They are the best champions you could ask for.
- Start a movement. At Mars Petcare, we always acted on our purpose, with things like adoption events and dog park clean-ups. But when we connected those individual moments into a movement — Better Cities For Pets™ — it became something bigger. We had a language to talk about the vision, and a platform for growth. A movement is inspiring and energizing, and something people want to join.
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?
A more pet-friendly world. There’s a crisis of mental health and loneliness affecting people of all ages today. Study after study has shown the impact pets have on people’s health and well-being, yet few are connecting those dots. I want to reach a day where doctors are as likely to prescribe a pet as they are a pill. I think we’d all be the better for it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The most effective way to do it, is to do it.” — Amelia Earhart. I love this because it’s about getting on with it. Of course, you have to plan and strategize. But at a certain point, you also have to just get on with it. That’s also why I love test-and-learn opportunities. We gain so much in the execution that we can’t imagine at the planning table.
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? Lin-Manuel Miranda. He’s a genius who has brought innovation into a space that is already so creative, and he’s totally blown it up. I think I could learn a lot from him.