Even while working as a consultant for Diamond Management & Technology Consultants, Saq Nadeem ‘05
couldn’t shake a business idea he developed as part of a class at Kellogg School of Management. That idea, which he conceptualized alongside Johanna Newcomb ‘05, was to create a premier resort for cats and dogs to visit while their owners were traveling.
“I knew I wanted to do it at some point, I just didn’t know when. So it was put aside, but it was always at the back of my mind,” Nadeem says. It was still at the back of his mind when he had lunch with Kellogg marketing professor Julie Hennessy, who encouraged him to pursue the venture and expressed interest in investing.
“I’m always asking the question, ‘What could go wrong?’ But there’s also the entrepreneurial side of me telling me that this is something I really want to do and I can make happen,” he explains. “I respect and admire Julie as a mentor, so even though I was thinking about the risk, I was also thinking, ‘Who am I to disagree if Julie is supporting this?’”
Support didn’t just come from Kellogg. Part of what drew Nadeem to Diamond Management was the company’s entrepreneurial spirit, and when he shared his goal with his team they were incredibly responsive. Initially he was able to localize his clientele in order to minimize travel and focus on site visits, then he negotiated a flexible three-day workweek arrangement. He took a sabbatical before plunging in 100 percent, something that helped immensely in tempering his aversion to risk.
“I take one step at a time rather than going one to 100 overnight,” Nadeem reflects.
Such risk management has paid off. Nadeem opened the first Paradise 4 Paws
near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in May, 2008—one of the worst years for travel in two decades. Since the company primarily catered to pet owners who traveled, he scaled back on the original resort model. Still, he correctly anticipated that pet services was a mostly recession-proof industry and was able to expand to the full-scale model within six months of launching the company. The momentum continued from there and eventually he opened a second location near Midway Airport and was even able to bring on Newcomb, who had been consulting since Paradise 4 Paws’ inception, as full-time COO.
As the company has strengthened, so has Nadeem’s relationship with the Kellogg School. “I could never be where I am without the Kellogg network,” he says. "Post-Kellogg has actually been even more important because I’ve reached out to the network for market research and other resources. Even during an acquisition I reached out to Kellogg folks to get their feedback and to ask them to challenge me on things.”
After nine years and the aforementioned acquisition in 2016, Paradise 4 Paws has grown to 17 locations across the country and now encompasses facilities such as doggie daycare and training classes. While it’s thrilling, this expansion heralds its own challenges.
“When I had fewer locations I took a lot of pride in personally knowing all of my teams across the country by traveling to meet each of them,” explains Nadeem. “That starts being physically impossible with the locations I have now, so I’m learning how to still be effective with the teams, how to assure them that I’ve got their backs and that I’m involved.”
Though adjusting to a larger company is a struggle at times, it’s one Nadeem is up for. “I’m a believer in ‘no pain, no gain.’ We’re always trying to go to the next chapter and that comes with sacrifices, but it comes with a lot of excitement, too.”