Sheila Janakos, MPH, IBCLC, LE, RLC is CEO and Co-founder of Healthy Horizons Corporate Lactation Services and Breastfeeding Centers. Healthy Horizons lactation rooms are found in Fortune 500 companies and top workplaces in over 120 cities in North America. Their breastfeeding programs have supported over 1,000,000 employees and counting. Sheila is affectionately known as the “The Milk Fairy Godmother” to many families.
Sheila was inspired to start Healthy Horizons after her physician discouraged her from breastfeeding during her first pregnancy and found there was little-to-no support for breastfeeding at home and in the workplace. Healthy Horizons was a first-to-market corporate lactation-focused business 30 years ago and continues to be the industry leader in their trailblazing work promoting and supporting lactation benefits in the workplace today.
Healthy Horizons Breastfeeding Centers and Healthy Horizons Corporate Lactation Services™ was founded to empower new parents with the information and services they needed including parenting support, new parent education and overall chest/breastfeeding support at home and in the workplace.
Sheila works with a number of organizations to promote breastfeeding including, but not limited to, the US Breastfeeding Committee (USBC), California Breastfeeding Coalition, Breastfeeding USA and Nursing Mothers Counsel.
Sheila has her Master of Public Health (MPH) in Public Health Education from San Jose State University and her Graduate Certificate in Applied Social Gerontology from San Jose State University. She is also an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a Certified Lactation Educator (CLE/LE) and a Registered Lactation Consultant (RLC).
Check out more interviews with entrepreneurs here.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO GET FEATURED?
All interviews are 100% FREE OF CHARGE
Table of Contents
Let’s start with a brief introduction first. Introduce yourself to our readers.
Sheila Janakos: I started my career in public health supporting HIV/AIDS patients in the 1980s and 1990s after graduating from San Francisco State with a bachelor’s degree in Health Science and Community Health Education.
In the early days of my career, I worked in various roles relating to women’s health, reproductive health and adolescent health which prompted my interest in preventive medicine and health education. I continued my education and received my master’s in public health in Health Education from San Jose State University in 1993 and became an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in 1996.
Our audience is interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to become a CEO or was it something you were led to? Our readers would love to know your story!
Sheila Janakos: As a new mother, I realized that there was a lack of support and education around breastfeeding. I was given incorrect information from a variety of physicians-eventually connecting with a midwife in Scotland who helped guide me through my questions and challenges while breastfeeding. With the midwife’s guidance and the support of a peer-to-peer breastfeeding support counselor, I was able to nurse my daughter for 17 months. This success was the inspiration to get my lactation consultant certification to help other parents through their chest/breastfeeding journeys.
I started Healthy Horizons while in grad school, with my original focus on public health and education. I narrowed my focus to breastfeeding and support because when I started this venture, people were given adequate cigarette breaks, however lactating parents were not given time to successfully pump while at work in a safe, clean environment.
In the early 1990’s, Healthy Horizons started with clients receiving services from home-based locations throughout the Bay Area staffed by trained women who believed in my vision and mission of supporting lactating parents. Eventually a brick-and-mortar store front was opened as a full-service chest/breastfeeding boutique and center.
We now have two locations in Burlingame and Menlo Park, both in the San Francisco Bay Area. The centers focus on support for working parents, lactation education and back-to-work lactation support and we have a variety of equipment and products, such as pumps, chest/breastfeeding clothing and products as well as baby clothing and specialty items.
“Selfmade” is a myth. We all received help, no doubt you love to show appreciation to those who supported you when the going got tough, who has been your most important professional inspiration?
Sheila Janakos: My life’s work and mission is to help all parents as they welcome a new child to their family, and this naturally led to my starting Healthy Horizons Breastfeeding Centers. As more families contacted us for our services, we gathered an amazing team of lactation consultants and Healthy Horizons grew from a grassroots organization to a business with a focus on families. Rounding our services out we added our two retail locations, where we meet parents and make it a location for My role model has always been my mother.
She grew up during the depression and always had a side business. She was always my biggest supporter and was one of the first rental stations when Healthy Horizons started. She loved helping me grow my business, meeting parents, visiting with them and gifting them with cookies.
She had an amazing business sense that I am forever grateful to grow up and model with my own business and share with my children.
How did your journey lead you to become a CEO? What difficulties did you face along the way and what did you learn from them?
Sheila Janakos: When I first started out, there was no formal “corporate lactation support” industry or road map so Healthy Horizons filled that need and gap. At the time we began, the only support women had available for breastfeeding and pumping when returning to work were renting hospital pumps and access to personal pumps, accessories and related supplies was severely limited. Through our programs, retail stores, community support and corporate lactation programs, we have helped millions of parents access these necessities.
Society’s views on chest/breastfeeding and pumping is an ongoing challenge. As our view of chest/breastfeeding has evolved, we are seeing more chest/breastfeeding-friendly and pump-friendly laws supporting families. As chest/breastfeeding continues to gain more societal respect and becomes valued as a critical component in infant and family health, growth and development, Healthy Horizons has been able to stay true to its core values and continue to grow as a family-run, female-owned and operated company with the health of its families and babies as the gauge of success.
Tell us about your company. What does your business do and what are your responsibilities as a CEO?
Sheila Janakos: Healthy Horizons Breastfeeding Centers and Corporate Lactation Services™ works with new families to support them in their journey after welcoming a new child.
We work with parents as they begin to transition back to the workforce after family leave. We partner with businesses who recognize the need to support their returning parents by designing, implementing and maintaining clean and safe lactation spaces. I work with my team to ensure that the difficult decision for parents to return to work can be made a bit easier with the right support in place.
As CEO, I take great pride in being present at our retail locations providing insights into the curated products that are specially chosen for their quality and effectiveness. I do consultations with parents, and I offer classes and education on all things chest/breastfeeding and lactation related. I enjoy being a trusted advisor to our corporate clients and helping them shape their new parent and lactation policies.
What does CEO stand for? Beyond the dictionary definition, how would you define it?
Sheila Janakos: CEO means being a true leader and sharing my vision with my organization. To build a team of like minded people working together for the same goal. I am so proud of the team we have at Healthy Horizons, including my daughter Cassi who is our COO and Chief Engineer. From our operations team to our amazing lactation consultants and Lactation Room Technicians™, I am gratified that we are creating positive change in the world.
When you first became a CEO, how was it different from what you expected? What surprised you?
Sheila Janakos: I was in uncharted territory. I had to forge the path we would take into the future. I continue to be surprised as we have more two parent working families, that businesses and companies have not risen to support all parents in the workplace. Studies have shown that when employees feel supported, everything from their output to their outlook on their job or career increases and they have a more positive outlook.
We believe it is a win-win scenario when employees are supported through something like a corporate lactation program and the feedback we have gotten from our corporate clients and the parents we serve through those programs is proof positive that these programs serve their needs.
There are many schools of thought as to what a CEO’s core roles and responsibilities are. Based on your experience, what are the main things a CEO should focus on? Explain and please share examples or stories to illustrate your vision.
Sheila Janakos: I believe that the CEO should lead by example. CEOs should create an environment of support for their employees.
Employees who feel supported have increased productivity, increased emotional health and have a positive outlook on their careers and employers. Investing in employees brings incredible gains. An example is the inclusive and flexible environment we have created for working parents. We are an example of what we advise our clients to do when supporting families. We have policies such as a bring your baby to work policy, we provide hospital-grade breast pumps to lactating staff, 1:1 lactation support, access to parenting classes, and much more to our own staff.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Sheila Janakos: The decision to forge ahead during the beginning of the pandemic and pivot how we approached supporting our clients and our employees. Everyone stayed on payroll, and we made internal pivots to boot strap our company and protect our employees during such a vulnerable time. We knew we needed to be there for all of the working parents we support, and we wanted to make sure our team members were protected for the economic fallout during the darkest part of the shutdowns.
How would you define success? Does it mean generating a certain amount of wealth, gaining a certain level of popularity, or helping a certain number of people?
Sheila Janakos: For me, success can be found in how many people we can support. We have supported over 1,000,000 people across the US and Canada and look forward to growing both in acceptance and support of families in the workplace beyond North America. I was recently interviewed by a Japanese media organization regarding lactation support (or lack thereof) in Japan and how they can begin to support working families further. The more people we help, the more successful I consider myself and Healthy Horizons.
Some leadership skills are innate while others can be learned. What leadership skills do you possess innately and what skills have you cultivated over the years as a CEO?
Sheila Janakos: I believe that my ability to identify a need to be met is something instinctual. To assess a situation and start to create solutions is intrinsic. However, creating and refining processes comes from both education and experience, along with the ability to find others who create a strong and resilient team.
How did your role as a CEO help your business overcome challenges caused by the pandemic? Explain with practical examples.
Sheila Janakos: Retail Support for Parents
We shifted our focus and looked at ways to provide our products and pump rentals with local pick-up and delivery services, along with providing custom shopping experiences using virtual technology. We created the safest environment possible under the circumstances while still meeting the customers’ needs across North America.
Corporate Lactation Programs
We shifted from in-person corporate lactation support to hybrid support. We educated business leaders that they still need to support employees in a hybrid or fully remote environment, and our services evolved to support parents no matter their work location. In addition to virtual support, we support employers with the offices they have and provide services around having a lactation room and program to comply with laws and support parents when they come on-site.
Do you have any advice for aspiring CEOs and future leaders? What advice would you give a CEO that is just starting out on their journey?
Sheila Janakos: Take the risk! If you believe in your ideas, there is always the ability to bring them to fruition. It just takes that first step of believing in yourself.
Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with our readers! They would also like to know, what is one skill that you’ve always wanted to acquire but never really could?
Sheila Janakos: Luckily I am surrounded by exceptional talent, so any skills that I lack, I have been blessed to have people around me who are there to fill in any gaps.
Before we finish things off, we have one final question for you. If you wrote a book about your life today, what would the title be?
Sheila Janakos: “It all started with a Drop of Liquid Gold”
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Sheila Janakos for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Sheila Janakos or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
Did you enjoy this article? Check out similar stories:
Disclaimer: The ValiantCEO Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.