EAST LONGMEADOW, MASS. — Connectedness and innovation are the cornerstones of W.F. Young, prioritized in both the day-to-day and long-term business strategies led by President Jaime McKinley. The family-owned and -operated company manufactures The Missing Link® brand of dental treats and functional supplements, as well as several other pet care brands. W.F. Young has been around for more than a century, and the emphasis on connection and innovation is part and parcel of the company’s continued success under McKinley’s leadership.
“Our legacy and heritage are important, but what’s most important is where we’re going,” McKinley said. “It’s the vision that we have for being the most trusted name in animal care that will allow us to constantly strive to be better, do better and care more. We can stand on the years of experience and that commitment to quality, but it’s really important that we’re taking all of that and being more forward thinking about the role that innovation plays in providing better solutions for our customers and for pets. We’ve been committed to that for a long time, and we will be for generations into the future.”
In the following Q&A, McKinley shares what makes W.F. Young unique in the pet industry, how the company is navigating challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and other industry disruptions, and top trends to watch.
PFP: Tell us about your business in the pet industry.
McKinley: W.F. Young has been in the animal health and wellness business now for over 130 years. We're very passionate and have a long-term view about the importance of nurturing and taking good care of animals, and the importance of our role with innovation and advancing that care. It’s at the heart of what we do.
PFP: How did you get your start in the pet industry, and how did that experience lead you to where you are now?
McKinley: Mine is a very unique situation in that I was fortunate to grow up in the business. I am a fifth-generation member of the Young family, which owns and operates the company, so I’ve been able to grow up around animals and around our brands for most of my career. I've been with the company for 30 years myself, and in the role of president for the last year and a half.
PFP: What has been your biggest challenge — personal or professional — related to your work in the pet industry?
McKinley: I think the evolution of how we are all trying to be consumer-centric in a world that's been challenged with how we can be collaborative and in the face of challenging times, where not everybody could gather together easily or readily over the last couple of years.
I'd say our biggest challenge is to make sure that work-life balance and feeling a sense of value is equitable, not only for the folks that report here into the home office but for those valued employees that work remotely and/or travel. It’s been a challenge that we've tried to rise up to in order to make sure that everybody feels a sense of connectedness and value, despite the fact that not all of us can always be together in the same room.
Meeting the needs of our consumers has driven our business for over 130 years. The global pandemic created challenges in the way we worked together, especially when face-to-face meetings were limited. We really leaned into the importance of connectedness with each other and found new ways to collaborate and support each other as we worked to serve pet parents around the world. Helping employees find a better work-life balance in the face of the challenges people experienced during COVID has also been important to us.
To address these challenges, we created a Wellness Team and Program to provide the space and tools for overall health, and we created a workout room and offer daily meditation via the Teams platform that supports better work-life balance.
PFP: Tell me about a professional accomplishment that you are proud of.
McKinley: I'm most proud of the fact that we've leaned into the importance of our culture by being really clear about what our purpose and our passion is and aligning those with our CARE values. We really have a unique focus, compared to some of the other folks that we go up against in the industry, to create a culture here that really empowers our creativity and continuous improvement, and focuses on how our innovations can help animals live happier and healthier lives. We’ve worked really hard to build this culture, and it has allowed us to build trust and a strong sense of teamwork. We believe if we live by these CARE values — which is an acronym that stands for Collaboration, Accountability, Respect and Enthusiasm — and take good care of each other, we in turn become better caregivers for the animals and our pets that we cherish so much.
PFP: What is top of mind for you and/or your business in the industry right now?
McKinley: Our focus is on strategic growth and really building our business with our partners, while keeping an eye on the importance of what tomorrow's consumers are looking for in terms of health and wellness, and meeting their needs with the development and creation of innovative products that really answer their challenges as they relate to overall health and wellness.
Consumers seek our trusted brands because of the exceptional quality experience and efficacy. The ability for pet parents to readily get a veterinary appointment has created the opportunity for us to provide home solutions for routine and preventative care. We work closely with our veterinarian advisors to ensure that they have access to the proven science behind our products.
PFP: If you could pick three trends influencing the industry today, which are the most important and why?
McKinley: We're certainly keeping an eye on the fact that our pets have become such a central part of our wellbeing. We're all spending more time with our animals. The trend is making sure that you feel that same connectedness to your pets regardless of your work environment — whatever we can do to make people feel like they’re taking better care of their animals. In some cases, it's addressing their lifestyle and the life stages that the animals are going through, but there's an opportunity via nutrition as well as the areas of first-aid or care that, as consumers take really good care of themselves, they want to make sure that they have those same options and opportunities available to take the best possible care of their pets and animals.
Nutrition continues to evolve as an important part of the conversation about how to best support longer and happier lives for animals. As pet food has evolved, so have the opportunities with natural-based ingredients and organic offerings and the opportunity to think about how to customize nutrition to best meet each animals’ needs. It’s very important with trusted brands, like The Missing Link, that we can have the conversation around what animals’ future needs are and be able to evolve nutrition to help meet those life-stage needs.
We’re definitely seeing a lot more demand for products that allow pet owners to be with their animals more. There are opportunities with travel, and taking your pet to work is another big trend that we see. But we also see devices and tools that are being utilized to help pet owners make sure that there's that connectedness even when they’re apart. We've seen a lot more leaning into outdoor time, certainly with walks and exploration. That lends itself to opportunities for greater health and wellness for those weekend warriors and those pet owners spending longer amounts of time outdoors with their animal. There are opportunities to meet them where they're at for future mobility and comfort and overall satisfaction in terms of the interaction and the personal relationship between owners and their pets.
PFP: What is something about the pet industry that people outside of the industry may not realize?
McKinley: We're very fortunate, despite all the challenges that are happening from an economic or climate environment, that the value of having pets in our lives and the love that comes from that connectedness is something that you really don't find in in other parallel industries. There's a sense of continuity and resilience when work is grounded in an emotional connection like that.
We’re all pretty joyous people. I think for most people, once they understand how important animal health is, then it becomes a passion and it's very hard to find that in other industries, and I think it's rooted in that emotional connection.
PFP: What advice would you give to young people starting their careers in this industry?
McKinley: Surround yourself with people who believe what you believe, and with those that strengthen your vision about what you think is important. Sometimes that means you have to align yourself with a champion or somebody who shares your same excitement and vision for things. I would say to younger folks, be an advocate for yourself. We have a tendency to want to defer to others because we think that's humble, and I say don't do that. Be very clear and consistent with aligning yourself with those who share your same values and those who make you feel inspired. If you're not able to do that, find a place where you feel valued and your contributions matter, and align yourself with those who see that in you.
Part of our CARE philosophy comes with the kindness to extend charity and love to others. You can find more personal fulfillment if you can find a way to give back, and that can be done in the workplace. Don’t compromise on that. Go where you feel you're valued.
PFP: Just for fun, tell us a little bit about your own pet.
McKinley: My dog’s name is Noah, and he's a mini-Australian shepherd. He's 8 months old and he's super cute. I bring him to the office once a week, maybe once every two weeks, and he loves it. He would come with me to work every single day if he could. I have two human children, but I don't know if they get as much attention as Noah does. It's quite gratifying to have him be part of our life.
PFP: Any final advice for other women in the pet industry?
McKinley: I think it’s important that people can know they can align themselves with and get involved in the industry. There are lots of opportunities, whether it's on the manufacturing side or the branding side or the advertising side — there's quite a need for people that are very passionate about animal health, and it's a wonderful industry. I'm hopeful of folks with backgrounds in science or nutrition, who understand the importance of what animals can do for us both from a mental health perspective and a physical health perspective. There are opportunities and career paths for that in this industry, and once you get involved and engaged you won’t want to do anything different. I'm hopeful that Pet Food Processing also inspires folks to further immerse themselves in this wonderful industry that we all get to participate in.
Jaime McKinley started with W.F. Young in 1992 as a brand manager and has since worked her way up through various roles to her current position as president of the company. She is a fifth-generation member of the Young family, which has owned and operated the business since its founding in 1892. McKinley earned her bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Connecticut School of Business, followed by her Master of Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts’ Isenberg School of Management.
Continue reading about other female leaders featured in our Women in the Pet Industry series.