Glen Kolenc

Glen Kolenc Interview

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Diederik: Today, I’m here with Glen Kolenc from the Petersham Veterinary Practice. And I just want to get started with Glen on some general stuff.

Glen, when did you decided to become a vet and why?

Glen: So back in school, I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I was a science geek, I was interested in the medical side of things, and there was something in me that I wanted to do something that’s was valued help.

In the science flow, I didn’t want to be a lab dude, I didn’t want to be a researcher. I knew that wasn’t for me. And when it came to picking what we needed to select at University, considering those thoughts, veterinary science was the first thing that went into my mind.

Diederik: Okay. Cool. Glen’s in a very particular niche—I’ll call it—and I’ll let him explain that; Maybe it’s alternate career niche, even.

Can you explain when you went into this? What triggered it and all those sorts of things? Just give who’s reading or watching or listening an insight over what happened.

Glen: In about 2012, my wife announced to me that she wants to get a French Bulldog, and start to breed them.

Diederik: How long after graduation was that?

Glen: So, now we’re talking about 15 years from graduation.

I worked for 10 years, had my own business for about 5 years by then, and then my wife told me she wants to start breeding dogs. And once I got over the shock of that, we decided we’d have two litters, and just see if it was possible or not.

So, we got a French Bulldog; it was the only breed that we both decided we wanted. And, when we had our first litter, the pups, I just fell in love with them. I was absolutely smitten by the whole experience. And, I really thought I was going to hate it. I’d never been into breeding before, I hated breeder clients, but I was just totally in love. I was just smitten by the whole deal.

And, when we had our second litter, that’s when I started to discover Facebook and I got onto a few different French Bulldog groups; just a network of people that sold puppies. And, from the day I joined all those groups, I instantly saw that Facebook groups are the new Dr. Dolittle. People were putting all sorts of questions; “This is what’s wrong with my dog,” or “I’ve been to the vet.” And I could see that with the help they’d been given all by well-meaning people, or when people were saying, “My vet said this,” if what they were saying is true, I could see that in the vet world, the breeding world and the pet owning world, that French Bulldogs were a very misunderstood breed.

So I just started to answer people’s questions and put comments in to help them out. And I was giving big long detailed answers, the sort of answers that vets have don’t time to give people in a consult, and this is in several different groups on Facebook around the country. And, soon, when someone would put a question up about their French Bulldog, people were starting to tag me, and say, “Hey, this guy Glen seems to be helpful.” And I’ve been doing that day in day out, because I was a bit of a Facebook addict. I found that I was probably answering up to five to six people a day, and that soon doubled. And then one day, someone said, “I should come meet you instead of you helping me on Facebook. And I’ll just come and see you,” and I was quite flattered, because I was just doing it with the will to help. Then the next week, someone else came in, and then next week someone else came in. Then the next week, one of the people that had come in started actually recommended me on Facebook. “Don’t bother wasting your time getting help from people here. Just go see Glen. He was really nice. He helped me a lot.”

So that was mid-2014, and fast forward up to now… A few months ago, I checked and we had about 230 French Bulldogs on our list, and since then it’s probably spilled over 250. And, I’ve got a really big reputation across the country.

Diederik: What do they call you now?

Glen: I’m Dr. Frenchie.

That all happened in a very short time. Then I started a Facebook page and blog called Dr. Frenchie, which sort of ‘started, stopped and started and stopped,’ and it’s actually to start again soon, because my wife has put down her foot on me to make that happen. I have to do it properly or she’s going to kill me.

French Bulldogs are a breed that have a lot of unique issues that all happen to be in the areas that I was not very knowledgeable or skilled in such as; dermatology, airway surgery; they’re probably the two of the most common things I see. I couldn’t do airway surgery, I hated skin as much as everyone else. But I’ve been seeing so many of them and building up this reputation and calling myself Dr. Frenchie, I just had to master them, as much as I hated them, and no one wants to master something they hate or are scared of.

So, I went and learned dermatology properly, and I learned how to do airway surgery; I followed a specialist surgeon for a couple of days, and just started doing it.

I guess that’s where it’s at today, by focusing on just learning the skills.

I think probably now I would have seen more French bulldogs than anyone, and now that I’ve got…built up a lot of unique knowledge about the breed, that’s when I think it’s time to keep up on the blog and the Facebook properly.

Diederik: And you’ve got people coming from all over the state to see you?

Glen: All over Sydney, mostly. There’s a few people from…I guess the furthest I’ve had is from Newcastle, Perth, half way to Wollongong.

Diederik: Wollongong. I do a regular relief day and one of our clients is coming to see you – with a Frenchie with a skin problem.

Glen: And so, as far east as you can get. And I’ve also had a puppy flown to me from Rural South Australia, Whyalla. It’s a breeder that I’ve had a good long friendly relationship with on Facebook, and her puppy was sick, her vet couldn’t work out what was going on, and he said, “You should take him to a specialist,” and she actually said, “I’ve got to fly it to Glen.” So, she flew the puppy.

Diederik: And it all started because you were generous with your time.

Glen: Yeah. After work, when I done everything I had to, had dinner and put the kids to bed, I’d be there and answering questions. When I’m going to bed, “Oh, damn, I just remembered one.” There was a night I was pretty much falling asleep, and my wife said, “Hey, Glen, you said you have to answer someone’s question, and you didn’t get back to him” and she’d wake me up to answer their question.

But I did that all from a place of pure pleasure. I enjoyed it, I wanted to help and there was no ulterior motive… There was never “If I do this, hopefully people start bringing their dogs to me.” Never!

Diederik: I think every religious book or every religion, talks about ‘generosity’. Give and you’ll get back in greater abundance.

Glen: People will even put comments on Facebook, “This Glen, he must be genuine because I’ve seen him give really long helpful answers to someone in Melbourne, so obviously he’s not doing it for the money…” people would say that. I’ve answered private messages and emails from people overseas to help them.

That gave me so much pleasure to know that these French Bulldogs are now fixed up.

Diederik: Let’s move on. What three things, or two things, or one thing, did they teach you at University that you now know is just absolutely not true in the real world?

Glen: Most of it. That’s a very vague comment.

My thought is, not so much they taught me something that was incorrect, I just don’t think they taught us properly about what the real world was going to be.

Diederik: Okay, let’s go to the contrary of that, what didn’t teach you at University that they should have taught you to really fire your career up from day one?

Glen: They didn’t teach us how to be a vet in the city of small business.

Diederik: Yup. Got you.

Glen: They taught us how to be a vet in the city of specialist clinic where generally, by the time people get referred there, they know they’re up for a big bill, and by then, money is generally never an issue. And usually, people are the mercy of specialist just to do whatever they say. That’s not how it works in the real word, and that actually affects how, I think, you have to be as a vet.

Diederik: If you were talking to a new graduate, what are the three things that guy or gal should do immediately to really turbocharge their career?

Glen: I think they should try and get a job in a really busy clinic just to learn all the basic skills, all the basic day in day out stuff. Don’t focus on the complicated cases, let the boss sort that out.

Diederik: And that’s probably the thing that they don’t teach you at Uni. They’re teaching about all the stuff, the rarer diseases but that’s not the common stuff.

Glen: That’s right. I ought to have been an expert in Cushing’s disease at the University, but they see it once every couple of years in some practices.

But that’s the first thing, you just got to get grilled in the basics.

Next thing would be to learn business basics. If you can do that part-time in your first couple of years. That way, you’ll get your feet planted in that world. Sometime, you have to get a business established, and then as soon as you can, get your own clinic and hire ‘guns.’ Hire a fantastic team; make yourself the dumbest most useless technical person in the business.

And, I guess, part of my success in this business is to hire ‘gun’ medicine vets. If they can do surgery as well, great, but I’ll never hire a surgeon.

Diederik: And, again, the other side to that question for the new graduate. What are the three things that they’ve got to avoid in their first couple of years if they want to really get their practice firing, or get themselves firing?

Glen: Avoid working in a quiet clinic, or in a clinic where the boss doesn’t let you explore a bit. Avoid focusing only on improving your vet skills, also learn business skills.

Avoid focusing on learning only new complicated stuff – learn the basics. I would try and book into a business course or something like that, rather than advanced medicine – so use your conference time off to learn business. I think you don’t need to know advanced medicine, especially at that stage as a new graduate. Focus your time at work on learning the basics of Vet and of business. Any opportunity you’ve got to learn something else, make it business.

Diederik: They’ve got to really learn the basics. If you were starting again, would you, in fact, still be a vet?

Glen: No.

Diederik: No, okay. Any reason why?

Glen: For the majority of my career, I would have said no. Now that I’ve found my passion…

Diederik: That makes so much sense.

Glen: Now, that I am in my passion, if I could do it again, I would. I’d also be thinking outside the box earlier, being aware that there is a beautiful niche out there for me.

Diederik: Hopefully two or three years after graduation, but not 15.

Glen: Yeah, I missed a lot of potential passions within me because I wasn’t aware that there is something else or something I could focus on.

Diederik: And that’s one of the ideas/thoughts, I’m really looking again sharing with interviews like this – you sort of fell in to this, but someone who’s frustrated can actually ask themselves — “What am I passionate about and go looking for something?”

Diederik: How about we go now to the next question, the next question is what three or two big challenges have you had?

Glen: One challenge that I had at the start, was realizing that I’m not good at the problems that I was going to be seeing. How the heck could I stand there and say that I’m this French Bulldog guru when I’m not good at stuff. So I did have the fear that I might not be that technically good vet, able to manage ‘it’.

Another fear was, with the veterinary practitioner’s board. Well I ought to be careful with my wording – I can’t call myself a French Bulldog specialist or a French Bulldog expert – so I call myself an ‘enthusiast’.

That was a ‘little’ fear. But the ‘big’ fear was just from other vets, aside from people I know, especially from the local vets who were probably starting to wonder why I was getting so many of their French Bulldog clients.

“What is he? How can he say that he’s a breed expert?” They were part of my first challenges.

Diederik: So how do people watching overcome those challenges?

Glen: The VPB – by being very careful with my language and wording – I’m NOT a specialist. I am a breed enthusiast.

The other two, what other vets are saying about me, and fear of not being a technically good vet. Honestly, feeling that I couldn’t do the best job for the breed that I wanted to do the best job for. Made me feel like I couldn’t hold to my vision.

So I just mentally thought; Right, I’ve got to learn the skills. I have to just face it like a raging bull and learn how to do…

Dermatology was the real struggle, because surgery is my main interest. I knew that just by watching specialist do a few of them, that I’d master that. But, there’s a lot of things where I let the fears get to me…they’ve been in there and ‘things’ got put off a little longer than they should have.

Diederik: You’ve got a family, so how do you balance fatherhood, career, and business and family?

Glen: Sometimes it’s a struggle, but generally, I guess, one of the blessings in having your own business, is that when our kids were younger, I took a significant amount of time off work. I would just get relief vets so I could be there for those early, important days. I preferred to not put the money in my pocket. I wanted to be there…That’s one of the great things, I just made the choice.

I just wanted to be there with them, growing up, lying in bed with them, do whatever.

So, I don’t know if I achieved a good balance, but I had a very valuable experience. I did in fact take excessive time off, and then eventually, you realize you have to actually have money. So, then I spent time working a lot more, but I still made sure I had quality time at least… if I was on duty at the weekend, then I made sure I had this one day during the week off at home.

There were times when I was ‘in between’ vets, so I would work a couple of months straight, with only odd days off. But, bigger picture, I think for me, was the fact that I owned the business, I had that choice to take time out and see the kids. If I was an employee, then I could not do it….

Diederik: If one of your kids came up to you now and said, “Dad I want to be a vet,” what are the three or four pieces of advice that you’re going to give him or her?

Glen: Similar to what I’d advise a new graduate; work in a busy clinic, get your basic skills, learn about business, buy your own clinic, learn marketing and leadership, and be healthy. Live a healthy lifestyle.

Diederik: What is success to you? Paint us picture of success.

Glen: Here’s a business sense answer; having a profitable clinic that runs on autopilot, but the key part of that is with me working in the business only because I want to. That’s the key part.

Diederik: What have been your biggest successes in life or business?

Glen: In business, building up over 250 French Bulldog clients coming from everywhere in two and a bit years.

Diederik: The next question is what is or are the keys to these successes, and I think we already been through that. And I think passion is probably the most important one.

Glen: Getting into this niche, it’s the first time I’ve ever had a… “I want to get out of bed to go to work” level of passion

Diederik: The first time in seven or eight years now.

Glen: Nineteen years.

Diederik: Interesting

Glen: I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed being a vet, but for most of my career, I’ve always been thinking about what else would I do. There was never anything anchoring me deeply to the veterinary profession. The trouble is I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My other passion would to be a chef, but I couldn’t live with the type of work.

Diederik: What – working until 3AM?

Glen: Once I had my family definitely not. Before that, for most of my career, I’d be up watching TV ‘till two or three.

Diederik: What for you has been or have been the best ways to stay focus and motivated?

Glen: The big thing is changing to a healthy lifestyle. That keeps me more focused and motivated than you could imagine.

Diederik: Your wife’s fairly healthy…

Glen: We’ve both turned into health buffs. So, in terms of eating, exercise, meditation, that actually keeps me focused more than I thought it would.

Diederik: If you had the chance to do it all again, what, if anything, would you do differently?

Glen: I’d buy a business sooner.

Diederik: Rather than after nine years…

Glen: 19 years

Diederik: What do you think holds most vets back from achieving their goals?

Glen: Conforming to the norms of their profession, and a fear of just getting ‘found’ out.

Diederik: There’s a couple of other people that said exactly the same thing; fear of what other people might think of them.

Do you think tragedy or luck, either or both, had played any part in your success?

Glen: No. I think that’s a matter of taking the opportunity. I believe a lot opportunities come by and it’s matter of you taking the lot if you want.

Diederik: At what age did you start to look at business and clinical, and make a separation between the two?

Glen: It was about two or three years into owning my own business.

Diederik: So it took that long?

Glen: It took that long because it took a certain level of frustration to build up.

Diederik: Frustration with lack of income and not being able to do the things that you wanted to do?

Glen: Beginning to know I could take—like I said—play with my kids, take the time off. That meant we had very little money pretty much. It’s a sacrifice that I made, but after a few years, I actually realized I wanted both. I realized I wanted both and I learned that I could have both.

Diederik: Our industry has this reputation, what do you think has kept you sane?

Glen: I think, in a nutshell, I would say “I’m a vet, that’s my job, but that’s not me.” I’ve been able to see it as a job, I’ve been able to, somehow, I think, keep myself emotionally separated from the whole thing that this is. So, I soon learned that if clients were going to emotional or angry for whatever reason, as they do, I wouldn’t take it personally. And, I think I see the job as almost as a mechanic thing. I’m here for the day thus I’m going to do the best I can, while you, you do the best you can. We’ll shake hands at the end of the day and we both go home, and I’ve got my life.

Diederik: And to so many vets, it becomes their entity. Once it’s their entity, they can’t separate themselves from the job.

Glen: Now, I had that mindset both as an employee and as an employer. My favourite employees are the ones that come here to match it out to the best of their ability and then just walk out and go home.

Diederik: Because they do that again tomorrow.

Glen: They’re obviously happy with the job and the vision of the clinic. But there’s something that I see in some nurses, if they read a negative review about the clinic on Google, they’ll get really upset and they’ll take it to heart. The other nurses, like me, we’re just ‘Whatever’.

I’ve somehow emotionally separated myself from what it is to be a ‘vet’.

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

Glen: I guess dedicating a lot of my spare time to giving free advice and help.

Diederik: Three success secrets, takeaways, three lessons that you can share.

Glen: The first one is one that you told me, “If you say you can or you say you can’t, either way, you are right”.

Second one is in the setting of a veterinary consult room. You got to solve the problem that the client has in their mind.

  As opposed to what your medical brain is ticking away at trying to fix. You’ve still got to tick away, you’ve still got to work out what’s wrong with the animal and fix it, but do it all and work at it all from the point of view of solving the client’s problem.

Do you want to hear an example?

Diederik: Yeah.

Glen: You’re not preventing gingivitis and blood infections from bad teeth, most of the time, you’re getting rid of the dog’s really smelly breath.

Diederik: Yeah. Got you.

Glen: It’s very simple whichever way you word it, and you will get (and I’ve tried both ways), a huge increase in uptake of dentals if you have approached it all from their point of view.

And I think just in terms of general success in business, with client-care etc. they’re really not always right, but they never think that they are wrong.

Diederik: Yeah. Clients are NOT always right, but the client’s the client. I like that.

What do you think are three key attributes to success in vet, again, or in business?

Glen: I think you actually have to make a conscious decision that you ARE going to be successful.

I had never done that. I’ve always thought “Oh, yeah. I want to be the vet, and I want to have a successful business,” but that came from a very vague place of ‘no one’s going to say they don’t someday want to be successful.’ But no, an actual decision to be successful and then do something about it, not just a random wish.

“I hope these three years, the clinic’s really, really busy, and I’m having all the money now.” No. Switching from wishful thinking to a decision and a plan.

I think you have to have a powerful vision that backs that. And I think you do have to consciously want to be financially successful as part of it, but actually there has to be a key thing. I think you have to have some sort of powerful vision that’s driving you to do whatever it is that you’re achieving.

And the third one is discipline. Discipline. If you don’t have discipline, nothing else is going to happen.

Diederik: What’s your vision for the future of the veterinary industry? Do you have one?

Glen: I would actually love every vet to find their niche. Whether it’s in a certain breed, or whether it’s any problem to do with the elbow of the dog, whether it’s a skin problem, a neuro problem, or a broken thing, if you want to become a very small niche expert… I just think if every vet can find and focus on their, whatever it is that they love and flaunt it and get it out there, I think the bar will be raised big time on the standards of veterinary care.

And, with my example of learning the ins and outs of a ‘weird breed’, I’ve now learned so many unique things about the breed often I’m actually helping some specialists with aspects of cases that either I’ve referred to them or sometimes they’re calling me for thoughts and input, and that’s quite flattering.

Diederik: And the last question, you’ve already mentioned one example of this. Did you ever have a snap point, a line on the sand, a turning point, that defining moment of “I just won’t take it anymore?”

Glen: As I said before, I was two or three years in, realizing I had no money and much less time with the family, and before that I’d be flapping along happily, but no. It was finally too much and I realized that I could have both. I realize that I could create a better business that would allow me to have more money and also spend more time with the family. Once I realized that was a possibility, that was my snap point. If I don’t change, then I’m never going to get it. I changed….

Diederik: And I think that’s a perfect place to finish this interview. Glen Kolenc, thank you so much.

Glen: Pleasure

Diederik: Thank you.

Key Take-Aways

  • Overcome and master your fears and challenges
  • I hated being a Vet, until I found my dream niche, my passion
  • Vet is my job, but it’s not me
  • Get really good at the basics of being a Veterinarian and at the basics of business
  • Decide that you want to, are going to be successful

“Vets live in the ‘grey’ zone – where you’re not making enough profit to be happy, but you’re not so badly off where you’re broke. This means you can bitch and moan without really having to take action and do something about it”

Diederik Gelderman