PetSmart CEO J.K. Symancyk to Speak at Walton College Commencement

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April 29 , 2024  |  By Jerra Toms

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J.K. Symancyk, president and CEO of PetSmart, will speak at the 2024 Walton College commencement ceremony held on Saturday, May 11th in Bud Walton Arena. From a seasonal associate at Walmart to North America's leading pet retailer, J.K. has had a storied career since graduating from the University of Arkansas. Check out our Q&A with him below with questions submitted by graduating Walton College seniors!
Q: What was the biggest lesson you learned as a recent grad when entering the workforce?
A: I joined Wal-Mart at a time of tremendous growth. It was fast-paced, which meant I got the chance to tackle a number of challenges for which I didn’t have any experience. It taught me the power of believing in myself when others saw capabilities and potential in me that I didn’t know I possessed. It taught me the importance of being brave enough to say yes when approached with new challenges based on that potential…to trust their instincts and investment in me to help fuel my growth. That lesson stayed with me and is part of what makes talent development and support so important to me, still today.
Q: What steps did you take that you noticed no one else around you took?
A: I can’t speak for others, but there are a few things that I feel were important to my development: always trying to show up as the best version of myself, focusing my efforts on how I can best support my team, and listening to those with experience or perspectives different than my own. No matter what role or level I’ve worked at, keeping those things in focus has helped me learn and continue to find new and better ways to deliver value.
Q: What advice do you have for future CEOs?
A: I learn every day and I’m reluctant to give advice because every individual, situation, and organization is different. Regardless of those differences, I think it's important for leaders to be self-aware and not self-important. That is especially true when you get to a level where you no longer have a peer in your company. You have to ask more questions and actively listen to seek real feedback to balance the confidence and humility needed to serve your organization well.
Q: What was a favorite memory from your time at the University of Arkansas?
A: Razorback basketball winning the 1994 National Championship was an incredible experience. The excitement and pride that we all shared in the greatness of our team and its accomplishment was phenomenal. It stands out among so many other wonderful memories because of how it pulled us all together to celebrate as a community, and the fact that it happened at the culmination of a wonderful 4 years at the U of A only made it more special.
Q: As the President and CEO of PetSmart, what pets do you have?
A: We have two dogs…a Great Pyrenees/Coonhound mix named Harper and a Havanese mix named Stella. We are also blessed with a Grand-dog, a Doxipoo named Murphy.