David Stasiuk

David Stasiuk Interview

“There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

DIEDERIK: I’m here today with David Stasiuk.

Good morning David.

DAVID: Good morning Dick. How are you?

DIEDERIK: I’m good. How are you?

DAVID: Good. Thank you.

DIEDERIK: So, what ignited your passion to become a vet, and at what age did that happen David?

DAVID: It was pretty clear. I remember almost the exact moment where it was cemented. I was in grade 2 and I had my crayons and I actually drew a picture of Dr. Stasiuk, age 22 and a massive syringe, dripping blood and I was standing on the consult table with a dog. And that was just obviously cementing the initial thoughts I had about ‘veterinary’ and the curiosity about science, and from there I just reminding, and I think that really help give me a goal throughout my primary and senior school years to achieve this dream of becoming a vet.

DIEDERIK: That’s awesome.

DAVID: I don’t know where that picture is now though, but I want it back.

DIEDERIK: So, what didn’t they teach you at the university that you now know is absolute crucial to your success as a practicing veterinarian?

DAVID: Look, I think the university obviously prepared us well to be technically brilliant, pretty disciplined to study and perform and study and complete all those exams they set for us, so there’s a lot of good points there with the university and the veterinary course. Obviously, what they don’t teach you, which is pretty critical when you do get out, is how to talk to people, how to communicate in trying to achieve what’s best for the animal. It sort of comes down to sales in that respect. But how do you identify two different types of people that come into your exam room and how do you communicate with them on their level. You’re both speaking English, or you’re speaking French and German, you know, it’s trying to get to that level playing field and trying to put forward your best thought for that patient. I think, yeah, the university didn’t prepare us for that. I mean that’s a bit of human psychology which I learned about in the last few years.

And then I guess business. You tend to do your MBA (on the job), when you start a business, I mean that’s probably the best way of doing it. I’ve done both, so I did an MBA in 2004, and I did not learn nearly as much as I did when I started the veterinary clinic. So, that’s been a good learning curve, and certainly reiterates that you should just get into it and throw your hat in the ring and just start doing what you want to do and you can learn along the way also.

Yeah, so probably the biggest thing is people skills, dealing with clients, dealing with employees, dealing with each other and being in a collective business where you’re a team, not just the individual vet working hard to achieve what they think is the best for the animal. That would be the take on for me.

DIEDERIK: So, what did they teach you university that now, retrospectively, you know is incorrect?

DAVID: Ooh, again, I don’t know if I’d say incorrect, but it might be just the application of what they taught us at university. Again, teaching us to do what’s best technically, academically, is much different to the real world where you’ve got to consider the individual clients, their priorities, their finances. So, not so much incorrect, it’s just application of the skills they taught us.

DIEDERIK: Based on your experience, what are three things that a new graduate needs to do as soon as possible to turbo charge their career?

DAVID: Good one.

So, I guess the most crucial part, let’s say they graduated, they’re happy, they’ve got their piece of paper, they’ve got to find—I think, your first job is crucial to building momentum. Finding a supportive clinic or a business which has a group of people, or even an individual that you can relate to and you can share and learn off. So, a mentor is absolutely critical.

In retrospect, I didn’t have that in my first two years. It was quite lonely and difficult at times, quite challenging, and that could have turned me off the career of veterinary medicine. I know plenty of colleagues that have gone down that path and given up after a year or two because it was miserable. So definitely finding a good supportive clinic which accepts that you’re a new graduate, that you don’t know everything there is to know in clinical practice, and to help lay down a nice pathway for you to follow and teach you the skills you need to learn about surgery, consulting, but also business—if they’re interested.

DIEDERIK: The other side of that coin, what are a couple of things that a new graduate needs to avoid doing as soon as they graduate to make sure that they get on track?

DAVID: Avoid doing. So, avoid the first job that comes along. It may not be the right job. Your interview is more about trying to find out if it is good enough for you and if they’re holding the right facility and clinic that you like to work in the right team. You certainly don’t want to enter the first job that comes along and end up in a really toxic environment with a bad team, no support. Make the right decision. That’s the first thing.

And I guess secondly, trying to just find that balance in life where you’ve got your work but also, you’ve got your friends and family and hobbies outside of work so that you can unwind and certainly de-stress, because there is no doubt, the first 12 months is going to be a really emotional and physical rollercoaster for you as a new graduate.

DIEDERIK: Great. What were three major challenges that you faced?

DAVID: When I graduated?

DIEDERIK: Well, either before graduation or after, or both.

DAVID: Trying to find a wife.

Three challenges. When I graduated, and again, I think it’s changed a little bit now because of the mentor program that is in placed post-graduation. But, I’d say, again, dealing with clients in the consult room. You go from having no real interaction with anyone wanting except your partner, family and friends and Uni friends, to having to talk to 30-50 strangers every day that you interact with, that you need to build confidence with and create a good impression that allows them to trust you. That’s something that you need to learn. I don’t think…some people rarely will have those qualities innately, but you do really need to learn that, and that’s something that a new graduate would need to acquire before they can feel really confident moving forward in a clinical setting.

DIEDERIK: Any other challenges that you had?

DAVID: So, working with people. I’ve had a good team to work with. Again, maybe we’re working pretty hard into a lot of after hours, so, certainly trying to find that balance. If you just keep putting everything into work, it can be a suffocating and quite depressing at times. Obviously, there’s a lot of compassion fatigue, which is a term that’s thrown around a lot, but you don’t really know about that until you start practicing, and there’s no way you can prepare for it, unless you’ve spoken to someone who can sort of give you the tools to help deal with those challenges of, you know, the three euthanasia you might do in a day or the client that’s really upset with you and calls you names. How do you deal with that? We don’t like to deal with it. But, you can acquire those skills so that you can manage those situations.

DIEDERIK: Considering what you’ve just said, if you were starting again, would you in fact be a vet?

DAVID: I think I would, absolutely. Especially now in retrospect, 15 years later, having built a good, successful business and working the hours I work, taking the holidays when I take them and having family time. The career has given me that. So, I think, yeah, certainly I would. Intuitively as a young kid, as a I said before, form a very young age it’s something I wanted to do and I think that intuition and my core desire is something you’ve got to honour to a degree. That can quickly become jaded though. In think once you start considering finances and trying to keep up with the Jones, trying to acquire all these things that you think you want and need. That can get in the way. So, ultimately, I’m happy being a vet.

DIEDERIK: Cool. Great. You mentioned balance a little bit earlier. So, how did you manage to balance family, career and fatherhood?

DAVID: I guess upon graduating, I started working. I quickly realized that all my time was spent working and worrying about work. And so, I quickly took up team sports, basketball, I took up life drawing and a I took up music again, lots of running and cycling, a lot of good times with friends and family, so getting out and going on holidays and planning concerts and parties and things like that. So, trying to organize my extra-curricular life. That was very useful.

DIEDERIK: Cool. That’s sounds like a really good balance.

So, what’s your definition of success? What does success look like to you?

DAVID: Success, the freedom to make choices I think. Choices, choices, choices. Having a business, I’ve got now choices. I have a lot of challenges but I have choices to work when I want to work, to holiday, to choose which team members I want to work, what team members we have, what type of clinic, how I consult, how I want to be perceived. I think choice, to me, is success. You could say freedom, but again, freedom might imply I just want to get away from it, but I don’t.

I think having the choice to work in the conditions I want to work with, who I want to work with. 

DIEDERIK: If you had to pick one or two successes, what would be the biggest ones you’d pick?

DAVID: The day my baby was born. In veterinary, it would have to be, graduating the course. That’s a massive milestone. You’ve absolutely flogged yourself to get there. Getting your first job seems to be a success, but it may not be. Certainly, acquiring my first clinic, I think that was a huge success. It did take two years of searching around to find that, but that patience paid off and the grit paid off.

So, I think the success of having the confidence to go and actually knock on doors and find someone that was thinking of selling and moving forward with the acquisition, having the confidence to pull it off and take on employees and all those responsibilities of dealing with a team.

DIEDERIK: Would you pick one or two or three keys to those successes? Are there any common keys in your mind?

DAVID: Common keys. I guess, if you know what you want, that’s the first step. Then having the self-confidence to move on that desire. So, speaking to people that are doing what you want to, if you can find one, two or three people that are doing exactly what you want to do, they’re already there. Speaking to them is critical, so a cup of coffee, phone call, if they’re into Skype, yeah, you can Skype. Get to meet people that are doing what you want to do, and finding the mentor who can help you get there. So, what’s the road map? How am I going to get from A to B. And then learning how to be a good leader. If it’s in a veterinary business that you want to get into, veterinary clinic; how to deal with people and lead people.

DIEDERIK: You’re always—or apparently, to me always up, motivated, focused. How do you stay like that?

DAVID: I eat well. I think having a goal in mind. Where do I want to go? What do I want to do? Why do I want to do it? It comes back to the ‘why’, which is a pretty famous question, that ‘Why’!

For me, finding that balance of work, satisfaction, with family satisfaction and physical satisfaction, it’s just that balance.

DIEDERIK: And for anybody that’s listening, I think you’re referring to the book ‘Start With The Why’, weren’t you? By Simon Sinik.

DAVID: Yeah, great TED talk too,

DIEDERIK: Yeah, great TED talk.

DAVID: We used that, in fact, I think with your advice, we’ve used that for all our induction programs for new employees.

DIEDERIK: Is that right?

DAVID: It’s a workshop, the vision-mission of the clinic.

DIEDERIK: Cool.

If you had the chance to do it all again, is there anything you’d do differently?

DAVID: I certainly think I would have liked to have started the veterinary clinic business side a lot earlier. So, time is important in the concept of compounding, etc. That can make a big difference. So, I would have probably have liked to focused on starting a clinic earlier. I think it was 34 when I started.

I spent some good years in the UK working which was great, but then I just fluffed around in Melbourne not really knowing what I was doing. I was being a good vet, but what did I want to do? I didn’t really think about going down the path of specializing, but I always knew I wanted to get into the veterinary business side of it.

So, yeah, probably time, just getting in early. If you really know what you want to do, just get on with it.

DIEDERIK: You mentioned business a couple of times then. So, when did you actually make the differentiation between the business side of vet and the non-business side of vet?

DAVID: Like when I was getting paid $35,000 a year to work 60 hours, and I heard business owners getting paid $160 grand plus in the early 90’s. So, to me, that was a question of why and how do they do it. And yeah, I sort of went in to look at learning business skills with the MBA at Monash in 2004. That was pretty early in the piece, but again, I felt like I was probably too young and inexperienced when really, I should have just gone for it. So, then I waited another six years before I got on with acquiring a clinic and getting on with, I guess, completing my goal and moving forward with what I wanted.

DIEDERIK: You’ve achieved a lot of goals. What do you think holds most vets back from achieving their goals?

DAVID: Anything. You can get distracted these days with anything. You can have a bad day in the office and you want to quit. But I think if you’ve got the why and you focus and you have literally a written goal, a one-year goal, three, five, ten-year goals; the longer the better. If you have something that you can strive for, you’ll definitely…nine out of ten times, you’re going to hold to that course. You’re going to complete it. And I think you need to have that long-term view.

DIEDERIK: Interesting. Documented goals. And I guess that’s common knowledge, but not many people put that actually into action.

DAVID: No, it’s surprising actually. I think the goals that work really well for me were the quarterly milestone, so it’s quarterly 90 day goals, but also having the one-year overview. So, being able to chunk it into smaller bite sized pieces so that it’s achievable, and that’s been really powerful. It’s amazing what you can get done.

I have skipped a quarter to see what would happen without any goals and it did make a big difference. I felt like a deer in the headlights running around not knowing what I was doing.

DIEDERIK: There’s a saying, most people overestimate that what they can do in a day, but they underestimate what they can do in a year.

DAVID: Absolutely.

DIEDERIK: So, do you think that tragedy or luck has played any part in you achieving what you’ve achieved?

DAVID: No tragedy, luckily. Luck? No luck, just determination. I think just getting on with it. If you want something, set that goal and figure out how to get there, and if you need someone like a mentor to help you, then do that. It’s worth every bit of your time.

DIEDERIK: If you were helping someone else starting out, what pitfalls would you tell them that they need to avoid?

DAVID: As a new graduate, again, so finding the job that suites them in an environment and team that suites them. It’s probably the most critical one.

Don’t be persuaded by the difference in salary or car or location. I think the most important thing is the people you’re going to work with, the people you’re going to work with. You may not be able to figure that out in one interview, but you can certainly spend some time with them to work that out. And maybe, again, working with your mentor to give feedback and discuss whether or not it’s going to be a good fit for you.

DIEDERIK: Our industry has a certain reputation, what do you think has kept you sane?

DAVID: Ooh, I guess when I come home from work, there’s nothing veterinary about my home except for the dog and cats and guinea pigs and the fish. So, having the family and friends that are outside of that circle have been really good to help me just because they have all their own other problems and interests and I can get involved with those, and it’s refreshing. So, family, friends, but also sport, coming back to physical exertion and exercise. There’s how many studies on that about how good it makes you feel and how it makes everything in your body work better, including your mind. So, to me, just being able to switch off to avoid that compassion fatigue, to manage the worry that your veterinary career, your work, might induce.

DIEDERIK: What’s the biggest thing that you’ve given back to your community?

DAVID: I’ve given out plenty of jobs, lots of jobs, managing all the staff and giving them a nice place to work. So, that’s the small community I’m talking about. So, making it a nice place, not just a job, but a nice place that employees want to come to and feel like they’re a valued member and that they’re making a difference. I’m lucky to have that at the moment. Nurses who are proud of everything that they do. The feedback they get, they let me know straight away. If someone said something nice, they tell us, and if they’ve done something they reckon that’s really good, or they have an idea, they tell us.

I think having that immediate community has been really important and I feel like we’ve been able to create that. So, yeah, it makes life a lot more comfortable and more fun.

DIEDERIK: Being able to go to work in a supportive environment.

What do you consider to be three key drivers to success in vet?

DAVID: So, I think self-confidence. You come out of Uni and you feel like you know everything technically, but it can be daunting, again, dealing with strangers every day. Also, the confidence to pursue what you want to pursue and to work in clinics you want to work in or in sectors you want to pursue. And having the confidence to, I guess, navigate your first job. Are you enjoying it? Are you happy? If not, you need to work out how you can change that.

I guess, again, people skills, learning how to manage, especially, clients, strangers, people you’ve never met before. How do you talk to them? How do you relate to them? How do you get on their level? You can deal with the animal’s symptoms and make suggestions and a treatment plan within five minutes, but to translate that and communicate that to an owner who’s worried, that requires another set of skills. So, people skills are really important. And then dealing with employees. How do you manage all the different personalities and characters and trying to optimize their relationships with each other and with yourself?

And then probably thirdly, just how do you…you need to learn how to reduce your stress, how to manage that stress and its effect on your life. If you’re going to push yourself to achieve goals, you’re going to be stressed, and that’s normal. Don’t feel bad about it, but learn how to manage that. So, again, talking to people that have done it, doing what you’re doing; mentors and coaches. And then putting those skills into practice. So, for me, that would be setting goals, that helps me reduce stress, because every time I get a goal, I feel good about myself.

Exercise, again. So, not just being in the books or in the clinic setting, but getting out and working the body, and then having, again, plenty of good times planned for friends and family to help reduce that stress.

DIEDERIK: I think there are some very sensible ideas there.

Was there ever for you a turning point, a snap point, a defining moment, a line in the sand? And if so, when was it? What was it?

DAVID: Snap point. I guess, again, I wanted to start, in retrospect, I’d liked to have started the business earlier, the clinic earlier. What really got me into action and knocking on over 40 clinics in 3 months, just knocking on every door to see who wanted to sell, was when I had my first child. That was a real kick up the bum just to get on with it. You know what you want to do, just why aren’t you doing it? You can imagine your daughter asking you, “Daddy, why didn’t you just do what you wanted to do?” “Well, I couldn’t be bothered. I was watching a good movie, or there were too many distractions”. But at the end of the day, you’ve got yourself to answer to, and if you’re not achieving what you want to achieve, then just take a step back and ask someone to help you get there.

DIEDERIK: That’s very interesting, knocking on 40 doors. I’m not sure there are many vets that would have the gumption or the wherewithal to knock on 40 doors. I think probably after five or six rejections; they’d just give up.

DAVID: Yeah, it just seemed like they were scary, and it was pretty daunting. I remember the first one, the business owner turned up, I was in reception waiting to speak to the business owner who was the vet there. And he came in just after me and he laughed me off, like “What are you doing here? I’m not selling a business. Go away.”

Yeah, again, I just had that baby taking to me, that “Get it on with it daddy. Come on, get it on with it”. It’s like dating, once you get over the first ten rejections, you’re pretty comfortable with a lot of rejections happening going forward.

DIEDERIK: I like it.

And the last question, what’s your vision for the future of the veterinary industry?

DAVID: Ooh yeah. It’s certainly changing, isn’t it? I mean especially in the last…it might a number that you have for me, but five…even since I’ve been in business, five years, where the human pet relationship has escalated. I know we’ve got each human…they’re all family. They’re all one and the same, so there’s a lot more focus on the wellness, the maintenance, the human behaviour aspects of their pet. It’s not just an outdoor pet anymore. And certainly, the service, I mean, you can’t just hope to get by running the same old clinic that’s been run for 30 years because you’re not going to make ends meet. I think you need to certainly work on differentiating your clinic, and providing an excellent service which fits the target market you’re after.

You did a good Christmas rant video on differentiation, didn’t you recently?

DIEDERIK: I did.

DAVID: That was really good. Really good. I was on the bike listening to that, and it made a lot of sense. Just trying to differentiate yourself and just giving stellar, stellar customer service, and good medicine of course as well.

DIEDERIK: That’s predicated, isn’t it?

DAVID: And it’s hard to do, I mean, again, you’ve got to work on it. How do you get everyone in your team, those 10-15 people, how do you get them all on the same page, providing that excellent service? Because really they’re not under any obligation to be stellar or excellent at their job. They just have to be there, but if they’re happy to be there and they’re proud of what they’re doing, they’re going to scream it out loud, aren’t they?

DIEDERIK: It all comes down to hiring the right person.

DAVID: Yes.

DIEDERIK: So, thank you very much David. That was a really, really interesting…you put some real nuggets of gold out there, so I really appreciate your time. Thank you.

DAVID: Thank you Dick. Much appreciated.

Key Take-Aways

  • You tend to do your MBA (on the job), when you start a business, and that’s probably the best way of doing it
  • Find a supportive clinic which has a group of people, or even an individual that you can relate to and you can share and learn off – mentoring is absolutely critical
  • You can imagine your daughter asking you, “Daddy, why didn’t you just do what you wanted to do?” “Well, I couldn’t be bothered. I was watching a good movie and there were too many distractions”
  • If you want something, set that goal and figure out how to get there
  • The goals that work really well are the quarterly 90 day goals, but also having the one-year overview

“Leaders who succeed in creating a practice that lives its ‘Why’ in all that it does, will have the unquestionable and undying loyalty of those that mirror those same beliefs and by that I mean staff and clients.”

Diederik Gelderman