Phoenix Business Journal's Most Admired Leaders 2023: J.K. Symancyk

2023 Most Admired Leader honorees share their leadership strengths, challenges they have faced in their career, and how to maintain work-life balance.

Phoenix Business Journal's Most Admired Leaders 2023: J.K. Symancyk

What is the mission of your organization/company? PetSmart is a leading pet retailer that offers products, services and solution for pets' lifetime needs.

How long have worked you in Phoenix and the Phoenix Area for? Nearly five years.

What is your greatest strength? I hope that people will describe me as a servant leader who attracts and motivates talent to create a culture and environment where we can accomplish greater things together. Leaders are distinguished by their ability to demonstrate judgment, build and support talent, and exercise influence. These are the traits I admire in strong leaders that I have the privilege to work with each day. I hope I can reciprocate. I want people to describe me in the simplest way as someone who is willing and able to help others.

Which leadership style do YOU find the least effective? The wrong way to lead is to put your own needs first. As a leader, my role is to make sure that everyone in the organization knows what I am doing. I would be less effective as leader if I did not do that. Today, the right leadership style is one which is relatable and meets people where they're at. It also creates an environment that values diversity and inclusion and welcomes and encourages employees to be the best version of themselves.

What was the most difficult aspect of your professional career? How did you overcome it? We all felt the uncertainty of the pandemic, and it brought with it unprecedented challenges to nearly every leader. There was no playbook. In the first weeks and months of the pandemic, we had to ensure that our 50,000+ associates felt safe and supported. Next, we looked at how our business could respond to the rapidly evolving issues faced by pet parents who still needed access to our shops. I watched our PetSmart family come together to support each other and to live up our shared value of unity.

It is important to maintain a balance between work and life. What do you do to recharge? My family, including my dogs Stella and Harper, is the most important part of my life. Our family is active and loves to explore and travel. There's no better city to do this than Phoenix, with its many attractions.

What would you ask a notable person, past or present? I worked in my grandfather's restaurant as a child. He was a small-business owner. These early lessons taught me a lot about people, business and customers. As problems become more complex, I think more about those early lessons. I would love to be able to pick his mind today about some of the important decisions I need to make.