New President and CEO at PIJAC
Newly minted president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council Mike Bober plans to grow the legislative and regulatory watchdog into an organization with a budget and staff to match the size and scope of the industry it serves.
Mike Bober was promoted to president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) effective Jan. 1, 2016. He succeeds Ed Sayres, immediate past president and CEO, who will take on an advisory role with a focus on responsible breeding and companion animal care, according to the organization.
Bober joined PIJAC as the vice president of government affairs in 2013 and has overseen the council’s legislative and regulatory efforts throughout his time with the council.
Pet Product News caught up with Bober to discuss his appointment and his goals for PIJAC going forward.
Pet Product News: How did the decision to release Ed Sayres to an “advisory role with a focus on responsible breeding and companion animal care” come about? He wasn’t CEO for very long, which could be perceived as unsuccessful. What would you say to those who might have intimated that his leadership was not what it was hoped it would be? What bearing did his background have on his tenure?
Mike Bober: Ed was brought on at a time when PIJAC needed a leader with experience in stabilizing a major national organization and putting it on a sound footing going forward. His work over the past year and a half, which has largely taken place out of the spotlight, accomplished that. His insights and experience regarding animal care and well-being are tremendously valuable to the industry as a whole, but PIJAC’s role within the industry is that of legislative and regulatory watchdog. His transition—the term “release” has an unwarranted negative connotation—is as much a reflection of the important role he plays within the broader industry as it is of PIJAC’s renewed, specific focus on the industry’s government affairs.
PPN: Could you expand on what Sayres’ advisory role will look like?
MB: As far as what his role will look like, I think an excellent example can be found in his involvement in recent coalition efforts to push back on retail sales ban proposals throughout Florida.
Referencing Ed’s experience and his background, he has helped to tell the responsible pet trade’s story and to refute some of the mischaracterizations and outright falsehoods put forward by those who would outlaw commercial breeding.
His overall role is likely to be far greater in scope, but it certainly will reflect a similar application of his background in breeding, animal care and animal welfare to help the industry tell its story.
PPN: You joined PIJAC in 2013. Please share your background prior to joining and how it positioned you to act as the organization’s executive vice president.
MB: Prior to joining PIJAC as the vice president of government affairs, I spent four years as the coalitions director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. During that time, I acted as the committee’s primary liaison to a broad range of traditional (and not so traditional) allies, communicating our messages to them and relaying their priorities and concerns back to the committee chair.
I also worked with our top-tiered candidates to ensure that their campaigns were reaching out effectively to similar coalitions within their respective districts.
Before that, I was the executive director of a leadership political action committee associated with a member of Congress where I was responsible for all aspects of the organization’s strategy, messaging and fundraising.
These portfolios made me ideally suited to an advocacy role for the pet industry—I am intimately familiar with the legislative and regulatory process, I approach issues with a campaign-oriented mindset, and I am used to building coalitions rather than attempting to go it alone.
I also have ample experience herding cats.
PPN: What have you learned at PIJAC since 2013 about the pet industry, and how do/will those lessons inform your new position?
MB: More than anything else, I’ve learned that ours is an industry under near-constant fire. We are an easy target, both for legislators looking for ways to generate additional revenue via fees and penalties and for activists who use emotion and sensationalism to advance their agenda.
Naturally, I’ve also learned quite a bit about the specific issues and challenges faced by those in each of the major companion animal sectors—dogs, cats, aquatics, birds, reptiles and small mammals. And I quickly learned that, no matter how much I learn about a given topic, there are experts among us who have dedicated their entire lives to that specific issue and whose counsel must be sought if we are to base our arguments on the best available data and empirical evidence.
Unfortunately, I’ve also learned that there is a natural tendency within the industry—as in so many others—to sit back and let others shoulder the burden of financial support for our legislative and regulatory efforts. PIJAC’s charge is such that we defend the entirety of the industry, not just our membership. But without continued—and, frankly, significantly expanded support—we are unable to do that job to the level necessary.
I work with an exceptional team at PIJAC—Bob Likins, Jeff Plummer, Josh Jones and Nancy Knutson—and they are dedicated to our mission as never before. I see it as my job to ensure that each of them has the resources and the support necessary to do what they do on behalf of the entire industry, no matter what challenges we are faced with in the coming year, and that the industry as a whole knows exactly what we are doing on their behalf and why their support is absolutely necessary if we are to succeed.
PPN: What are your short- and long-term goals for the organization, those both outlined by the board and your own goals and aspirations, and what is your strategy to meet those goals?
MB: I have laid out a long-term vision for the industry that sees PIJAC evolving into an organization with a budget and staff truly reflective of the size and scope of the pet industry. This includes elements such as issue-based research, a regional staffing structure to address state and local issues when they arise, and a renewed focus on government affairs-focused communications.
In the immediate future, PIJAC’s government affairs strategy can best be summarized as consisting of four P’s: proactive, prepared, partnered and political.
We seek to be proactive, both in our approach to legislation (rather than always playing whack-a-mole chasing injurious items as they are introduced) and in our efforts to help the industry address issues before others raise them.
Preparation involves an increased focus on research and data, resulting in white papers and explanations of our positions on key issues.
Because we are vastly underfunded relative to our most frequent opponents, we need to pursue strategic alliances and partnerships that allow us to share the load with like-minded organizations and better support our grassroots network on the ground across the country. Increased transparency and communication are the keys to this.
Finally, we, as an industry, need to recognize that there is a political component to lawmaking, as well. Elections have consequences, and when we fail to get involved in the electoral process we allow those consequences to be imposed upon us.
We will not become a political force overnight, of course, but we will begin laying the groundwork for such things with new initiatives this year.
This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Pet Product News.