Isabela Penagos: Leading with passion

December 31, 2021

Isabela Penagos: Leading with passion

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‘Good things come to those who wait’—you might be familiar with this say and have come across instances where you have used this phrase. But a leader must not fully give in to it. Rather harbor a perfect blend of patience with continuous hard work to achieve their goals. The term ‘fully’ refers to the fact that simply waiting for the right time to act may result in the loss of numerous opportunities. One can be patient while still seizing the opportunities that present themselves along the way. This ideology is a thoughtful depiction of Isabela Penagos, a spectacular female leader who transformed her love for animals into a successful business. As an entrepreneur, she suggests instead of waiting for the dream job one can “be an entrepreneur and create it yourself”.   

Isabela’s company, ISA, was founded to honor her grandfather’s legacy of becoming one of Colombia’s best cattle raisers. “He was a well-known entrepreneur,”  mentions Isabela. She always wanted to become an entrepreneur like him and thus created a mega cattle farm. When the first foundations of the company were laid, she was staying at Lille, France, and soon moved to Hong Kong. There she realized the efforts needed to manage a full-scale cattle farm were huge. Initially while being in France, Isabela had to learn to delegate work to staff that she trained, and manage them from different time zones. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without their hard work and love towards the company,” she adds.  

When a female leader thrives in business, many prejudices are formed against claiming success as a result of chance. Isabela opposes this discrimination and believes that luck is not the only factor in a leader’s success. She enlightens, “without dedicating every second to working and sacrifices, I do not believe only relying on luck will make you successful. Luck comes with diligence.” On the contrary, she considers herself fortunate to have the support of her exceptional team as well as her parents, who were instrumental in her growth. From a very young age, Isabela was fond of animals and was always eager to turn her love for animals into a business. Her grandfather gave her first cow which developed her interest in raising cattle igniting the spark of entrepreneurship within. At the age of 13, she started to sell baked goods to earn money and invested all her savings in buying more cattle. Thus, ISA was formed. ISA Cattle mainly consists of Simental cows, it is believed that this species are hybrids and produces the finest quality of milk and meat. She is motivated with quality over quantity and believes in providing exemplary products through her cattle farm. She says, “Conserving the environment, and taking care of our cattle is our number one priority.” Her mission is to raise more cattle in an ethical and environmentally friendly manner.

“Without dedicating every second to working and sacrifices, I do not believe only relying on luck will make you successful. Luck comes with diligence.”

Isabela grew up as a single girl in a family with two older brothers, surrounded by strong-willed men who inspired her to work hard to stand out and be heard in the crowd. “Additionally, when playing competitive soccer internationally, I was the captain of my team for two years,” shares Isabela. These life circumstances have helped her in becoming a proficient leader and most importantly a leader prerequisite for ISA. She follows two main leadership styles that are democratic and affiliative. She always prefers to seek her employees’ opinions before making a final decision. This engenders trust and promotes team spirit and cooperation from employees, allowing creativity to prosper and helping employees to grow. The affiliative leadership style pays attention to and supports the emotional needs of team members and Isabela strives to open pipelines that connect her with ISA’s team. She stresses, “Working on a ranch can be physically exhausting, therefore, I make sure every worker gets the time needed to take care of themselves.

 

Finding success in the male-dominated industry

ISA was formed with a philosophy to treat and respect animals. Isabela comprehends the efforts required by one to keep the ranch functioning. It requires attention to detail, and being the founder of ISA, she tries to work on changing the industry to a more ethical outlook through innovation combined with fun. She is disappointed to say that she has not come across any female cattle owners throughout her journey. In farming and the cattle raising industry, especially in the US, the men dominate the space. However, in Colombia, the number of male farmers is even higher. Isabela believes that this comes from the traditional mindset of a South American country and has been practiced to date. As the industry is undoubtedly male-dominated, Isabela worked her way through and created a trustworthy reputation in the industry. She says, “I have noticed that men have been more inclined to trust me over older men that might have a reputation for not being loyal business partners.” She has encountered various stereotypes while working on a farm, one of which is that women do not typically enter this industry. She feels grateful to be part of the family in the industry that has given her a lot of support and guidance. Isabela went on to discuss the biggest problem many farmers are facing today: soil degradation. She adds the main contributor to soil erosion at the global level is livestock farming. “Turning forests into pasture and overgrazing, or using marginal lands to grow feed, can lead to extreme loss of topsoil and organic matter that may take decades or centuries to replace,” she adds. This makes her ethical cattle farming business more important than ever.

“Working on a ranch can be physically exhausting, therefore, I make sure every worker gets the time needed to take care of themselves.”

Dare to Dream 

Because the return on investment is not guaranteed, any investment could be considered a gamble. Isabela found herself in a situation where she needed to invest all of her savings to set up ISA. She shares, “today, I am happy to say that I have recovered all the money invested and now our focus is to continue generating profit.” She hopes that in the future, ISA will be adopted as a family business to carry on her grandfather’s legacy. She wants the next generation to understand the importance of the business and to continue raising cattle ethically. All this was only possible because she dared to dream and demonstrated that a single woman can have a significant impact in any industry.

Colombia is a developing nation, and empowerment is a growing problem. Being a third-world country, it is very important to generate employment. Isabela highlights that the cattle farm industry is considered to improve farmers’ total income and boost their living conditions. To give an example, the produced animal waste can be processed to be utilized as manure for soil enrichment and as a source of biofuel. This proves to be great employment that would create opportunities for people eventually driving the country’s economy. She encourages people to grab such job availabilities and provide better service to the nation. 

Isabela’s journey has only just begun; she will now concentrate on pursuing her acting career. She currently resides in California and is on her way to becoming a fantastic actress. She appeared as the lead in three major USC productions before graduating from the School of Dramatic Arts in 2021 with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Honors. Isabela recently completed her first feature film, “Axe Grinder 4”, and starred in “Axe Grinder 5”. 

“Conserving the environment, and taking care of our cattle is our number one priority.”

– Isabela describing the her company’s mission

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