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Leader of the pack: How a chief pet officer landed her dream job

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Heidi Sirota has a title that pet lovers nationwide likely envy. 

As chief pet officer for Nationwide Pet, Sirota is the top dog of the furry side of the insurer’s business.

“Effectively, I’m the business president. But it’s just a little bit more fun to talk about it as a chief pet officer. It gets attention,” Sirota told HR Dive. “It really kind of rallies our teams internally around the idea that we’re servicing pets. It’s a fun way to characterize what I do and what we stand for as an organization.” 

Sirota spent most of her career in various marketing positions, working in senior roles at ConnectiCare, Aetna and UnitedHealth Group, before accepting a position as vice president of retirement plans marketing at Nationwide Financial in 2018. 

She had always known she wanted to run a business eventually and shared her aspirations with the hiring manager at Nationwide when she started. When the top role in the pet benefits business became available a year later, despite being relatively new, Sirota took a chance. 

“You have to put yourself at risk. The only way, in my mind, to advance, to do anything spectacular, is to take a chance. You can’t just always be comfortable, because nothing will ever change. I knew I wanted to run a business,” she said. 

The person hiring for the position wanted a general manager to assume the role, Sirota said. But she made the case for herself, explaining how having a marketing pro in leadership could open the company up to new avenues of growth. 

“I know that I wasn’t on the radar for this role. But when we had that conversation and really thought differently about the possibilities for the leader in this role, I think things turned in my favor,” Sirota said. 

Only 2-3% of pets had any kind of pet insurance at the time, leaving a 97% addressable audience on the table, Sirota said. The company needed someone who could be dynamic and find new forms of distribution and new products, she said. Although it wasn’t the typical career progression in a major corporation, Sirota had confidence in her ability to succeed in the role and marketed herself for it. 

Now, after more than four years as chief pet officer, Sirota characterized her role leading the pet team of more than 700 people as “the best job ever.” And, when people ask her how to get a job like hers, she tells them, “You rub a lot of bellies.”

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