Former CEO, PetSmart
Seemingly small moments and decisions become significant skills and experiences that culminate into your career journey.
Born in Chicago, Lenhardt lived in Mexico City from age six to ten, where he gained fluency in Spanish. Eventually, Lenhardt headed to Ithaca, New York, to study government at Cornell University. He spent one year abroad at England’s Oxford University studying politics, policy, and economics, then graduated from Cornell in ’91.
Graduating amidst a recession, he landed a job at Merrill Lynch in New York working as an analyst in the corporate finance department. “Merrill Lynch taught me accounting and finance, and the importance of detail, but I looked at more senior people and realized the work life balance didn’t get better. I didn’t want to work 100 hours a week for the rest of my life,” he says. “I wanted to be involved with businesses and broaden beyond finance.”
Enter: Tuck. Lenhardt didn’t start at Tuck with a clear vision of his future career path, though he knew he was most likely heading to consulting. Lenhardt loved the “idyllic setting in Hanover, collegiate feel, and small class sizes.” Never one to take the expected route, Lenhardt saw his summer internship as an opportunity to not work in consulting, but rather gain exposure to the corporate world as an intern for Pinnacle Brands, a baseball card company. He graduated from Tuck in ’96 and entered the workforce as a consultant for Bain & Company in Dallas where they managed Latin American clients and his Spanish skills would be of value.
In his fourth year at Bain, after leading a team developing a turnaround strategy for PetSmart, he was offered an opportunity to join the senior team of the pet retailer, leading their pet grooming and training business. After six years in that role, next came “one of the most valuable career experiences I’ve had,” as he says. Lenhardt was immersed in store operations for the next 18 months, working first as a store manager and then as a district manager overseeing eight stores. “This experience put me on the front lines of the stores and I was able to see how everything we did at the corporate office affected the day to day cadence of a store and how it ultimately impacted the customer experience,” he says. “To the associates and the shoppers at the stores where I worked daily, that specific store represented the entire brand.”
With this impactful experience under his belt, Lenhardt was inspired to lead passionately and empathetically. Lenhardt became CEO in 2013, “As a CEO, you’re on a pedestal—there’s a lot of responsibility. Suddenly you’re the funniest person in the room,” he says “You need to develop a strong sense of self awareness.” Lenhardt learned that when he entered a staff meeting his mood set the tone for the entire meeting. “People are rightfully concerned about themselves, and I had to be conscious of my disposition. As an example, if I had a frown, people were concerned it reflected something about them.” Lenhardt learned to lead with positivity in order to build a successful team, saying “success in a leadership role is only as powerful as the team surrounding you—the goal is an independent, high-performing, committed team.”
Lenhardt’s career at PetSmart lasted 15 years, coming to a close when he stepped down as CEO in 2015. Lenhardt keeps a full portfolio both independently consulting and as a board member with multiple organizations nationally and local to Phoenix, his hometown. He’s also been engaged philanthropically at Tuck. Passionate about leadership, in collaboration with Dean Slaughter and Tuck professors, Lenhardt developed a leadership fund, The Lenhardt Family leadership fund, the first ever of its kind at Tuck.
As a believer in personal engagement in philanthropy, his involvement with the leadership fund goes beyond an endowment—he’s offering decades of personal experience and lessons learned in collaboration with Dean Matthew Slaughter and Tuck professors to adapt a curriculum and program to support Tuck students to become authentic and genuine leaders.
Lenhardt admits developing leaders isn’t a science, and there is no one-size-fits-all formula, but there are concrete steps to developing a personal leadership toolbox that feels genuine and true to you. Lenhardt is the first to recognize the challenges of leadership—he experienced feelings of isolation as CEO and struggled with relinquishing responsibility to his team. The goal of successful leadership is to develop and surround oneself with an “independent, high performing, and committed team,” he says. But to do that, one must develop an authentic and personal leadership style.
Here's how according to Lenhardt:
Do what you fundamentally enjoy. Knowing he was on track to become a consultant during his time at Tuck, Lenhardt saw the summer internship as an opportunity to amplify his experiences and gain exposure to the corporate world. He followed his passion for sports and accepted an internship in Dallas testing the viability of a new product at Pinnacle Brands, a baseball card company, in Dallas in ’95. Upon Tuck graduation, between his internship experience in Dallas, a fluency in Spanish from living in Mexico City from ages six to ten, and a diploma from Tuck, he was hired to join Bain Dallas as a consultant, where they managed all Latin American clients. Realizing he genuinely enjoyed working in retail through his involvement with PetSmart, he stayed for the tenure of his career—he loved watching customers see and feel a service and product.
Take risks, collect diverse experiences, and choose the unexpected route. “You never know how your choices will affect your path later on.” Lenhardt’s decision to join the senior team at PetSmart wasn’t without risk—in October 2000, the he stock at PetSmart fell to $2 a share right before he joined, in comparison to $40 a share several years prior, and many people felt the company was headed toward bankruptcy. “As a 31-year-old, you don’t get the opportunity to jump into a well-run business in a senior leadership role. You need to look for a business with opportunity,” he says.
Step out of your comfort zone. After working on the turnaround strategy with Bain, Lenhardt was offered a role on the senior team at PetSmart in 2000, with the opportunity to lead their grooming and pet training businesses. “As a consultant, you get to advise and develop strategies, but I was excited to take ownership and execute,” he says. After doing this for six years, he embarked on a store development experience. This entailed being a store manager for several months, then a district manager; overseeing eight stores. His initial reaction to this was “abject fear,” as he had no previous experience working in retail. “I wondered if I could do it,” he says. This experience stretched him. “It was completely different, and therefore scary. It exposed me to new experiences and allowed me to continue to grow at PetSmart.”
Practice every day—leadership is a contact sport. “There are opportunities to engage in leadership each and every day, regardless of what you do. Look for opportunities to inspire and engage with your team,” Lenhardt says. He credits his strengths in collaboration and his team-based approach to his time at Tuck, and encourages students to take leadership roles in class and team projects. Like any skill, leadership weakens without practice. Ask for feedback to build self-awareness. The more responsibilities he gained, the harder it was to receive honest insights. “As CEO, people often tell you what you want to hear. Develop an inner circle, person-ally and professionally, of individuals who share truthful feedback.”
How to Shake Up an Industry, with Tomo Cofounder Carey Schwaber Armstrong T’10
Carey Schwaber Armstrong T’10, cofounder of Tomo, is working to transform the homebuyer experience.Read More
How to Be a Successful Product Marketer with Meta’s Federico Queirolo T’14
Federico Queirolo T’14, product and go-to-market leader at Meta, shares his experiences and tips for successful product marketing.Read More
How to Be a Successful Operations Leader
To succeed in operations, says ZOE COO Nicole Xu T’11, you need the short-term vision to run the business day-to-day, but you also need to be able to think three to five years ahead to build for the future.Read More
Improving Financial Health in the COVID-Era
Prudential President Jamie Kalamarides T'94 on how to improve your financial health during the COVID-19 era.Read More
Melissa Llarena T’10 on Feeling Empowered Amid Uncertainty
As a career coach and host of the An Interview with Melissa Llarena podcast, Melissa Llarena T’10 is driven by helping marketers and creative professionals rediscover their sellable strengths.Read More
How to Create a Customer-First Culture
Alison Elworthy T’11, SVP of customer success at HubSpot, offers advice on how to put customers first—no matter the size of your organization.Read More
As the vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean, Andrei Belyi T'01 leads TechnoServe’s mission of providing business solutions to poverty in 11 countries.Read More
Michaela LeBlanc Weber
Several times a month, Michaela (LeBlanc) Weber T’15 trades in her business suit for a bright orange jumpsuit, hard hat, and steel-toed boots.Read More
How to Keep Your Company Data Secure
What Alison Connolly T’11 finds fascinating, most corporate leaders find terrifying. The director of strategic partnerships at DarkOwl is an expert on the darknet.Read More
How to Make a Successful Startup Pitch
In her seven years as a venture partner at LaunchCapital in Cambridge, Mass., Heather Onstott T’07 has heard about 1,000 pitches from startups.Read More
Marketing a Disruptive Brand
Together, two Tuck alumni, Kate Jhaveri T’03 and Michael Aragon T’01, led marketing and innovation at the growing global brand Twitch.Read More
Charles F. Preusse II
A partner at Ridgeway Partners, Charles Preusse, II T’95 is a matchmaker of strategic talent.Read More
After guiding National City Corp through the financial crisis, Peter Raskind D’78, T’79 found civic engagement in confronting two of Cleveland's public crises—for the sum total of $2.Read More
Christoph Böhmer T’96 is helping lead a 500-strong volunteer effort to resettle Afghan, Iranian, and Syrian refugees in Germany.Read More
Lauren Krostue T’10 tried working in other industries, but something about the hospitality world kept drawing her back.Read More
How to Promote Diversity and Nurture Talent
After Tuck, Suzanne Schaefer T’02 went into management consulting, figuring that eventually she might connect with a particular industry—to her surprise, she instead felt a strong pull toward recruiting and talent development.Read More
At Tuck, Jayne Hrdlicka T'88 learned to think deeply and challenge convention—skills she drew on as CEO of the Jetstar Group of airlines.Read More
Shawna Huffman Owen
If you think the Web made travel agents obsolete, Shawna Huffman Owen T’98 has news for you.Read More
Kathryn Baker T'93 is a true expert on boards of directors. She has served on more than 20 of them over the last 16 years, ranging from oil and gas companies to Norway’s Central Bank to Tuck’s own European Advisory Board.Read More
Over twenty years ago, Carolyn McGuire T’83 helped form Community Consulting Teams of Boston. It’s still going strong today—and facilitating a lot of good work.Read More
T'98 Victoria Levy’s post-Tuck career took off with The Monitor Group, an iconic strategic consulting firm where she became a partner by age 33. Now, the firm has been acquired by Deloitte and Levy is guiding the integration of the two practices.Read More
Not many people in ball bearing sales finish their careers in venture capital. For Mike Carusi T’93, now one of the most successful health care investors in Silicon Valley, that unlikely journey started with two eye-opening years at Tuck.Read More
Bill Achtmeyer T’81 has worked with hundreds of senior executives at Fortune 500 companies and shares five pieces of advice for managing a large organization effectively.Read More
On Establishing Your Personal Brand
Helen Kurtz T’97, chief marketing officer and senior vice president of Foster Farms, Inc. talks establishing your personal brand.Read More
Fluent in four languages and passionate about entrepreneurship, Michelle Mooradian D’95, T’04 went from her post-Tuck consulting job at Opera Solutions to spend almost five years working for McKinsey’s Rio de Janeiro office.Read More
Tips for Transforming Your Career
After positions of increasing seniority at Morgan Stanley, McKinsey, and JPMorgan, Kate Grussing T’91 decided she wanted to transform her career by helping others transform theirs.Read More
On the Rewards of Nonprofit Board Service
Amy Houston T’97 was inspired to attend Tuck after seeing firsthand how a board with for-profit management experience can help a nonprofit, and she kept this lesson in mind when she joined the Robin Hood Foundation.Read More
On Influencing Company Culture
In his six seasons as executive vice president and chief human resources officer for the National Football League, Robert Gulliver T’97 has helped manage the NFL through some major cultural shifts.Read More
Amy Feind Reeves
A consultant turned job coach, Amy Reeves T'92, was able to research, model, and project the successful future of her business using the skills she acquired at Tuck.Read More
In much of the Middle East and North Africa, cash is still king. PayPal’s Francis Barel T’05 wants to change that, and open people’s lives to the world along the way.Read More
How Small Businesses Can Use Online Marketing Tools
After gaining experience at several software startups, Gail Goodman T’87 launched her own in 1999. As CEO of Constant Contact, Goodman has helped more than a half-million small-business customers navigate a rapidly evolving industry.Read More
A new book on design strategy by Deepa Prahalad T'00, daughter of management guru C.K. Prahalad, was rated by Fast Company as one of the 13 best design books of the year.Read More