Glen Richards

Glen Richards Interview

“Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” ~ Anatole France

DIEDERIK: I’m here today with Glen Richards. Hi Glen.

GLEN: Hey, how are you Diederik?

DIEDERIK: Thank you for taking the time. I really appreciate it.

Glen, what ignited your passion to become a vet and at what age did that happened?

GLEN: I am from Western Queensland so I grew up on a sheep and cattle station and my family had three properties at the time I was going through high school and I was homed at a boarding school at between grade ten and grade eleven. I actually thought I was going to be an accountant. My dad and I were driving around one of the back paddocks and dad said, “What are you going to do when you finish grade 12?” And I said, “I’m going to do accounting, I think.” He said, “Why would you want to do that?” And I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Why don’t you do something useful?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Why don’t you do veterinary science? That’ll be useful if you decided to come back on the land or you might be able to go elsewhere for it.” And I said, “You know what dad? That’s actually quite right.” I was thinking I should develop business skills for running a sheep and cattle station, but at the end of the day, I’m open to the concept of veterinary science. So, I’ll start on that journey and see where it ends up.

So, that was it. My dad putting me up to it.

Was I really passionate? I was eager to be involved in the profession, but I don’t think I was obsessionally passionate about it.

DIEDERIK: You went into an alternate type career path and ended up with Greencross. What lead you on that journey?

GLEN: I always had a very strong interest in business, and growing up in a small business environment, the loans and the money we owed the bank as sheep and cattle station owners. I just always had this concept of keeping an eye on revenue and expenses and always chatted about it at the kitchen table. I think I would have owned my own business in some way. I was about to head back from London back to Australia and rang up a practice in Townsville and said to the guys, “Look, I’m interested in buying a practice. I’ve just had two years working as a companion animal vet in London. Are you interested in selling me your little branch practice?” It was Michael and Carrol Dunn. Michael said, “Look, well in actual fact, we want to sell our main hospital and our branch practice and we want to leave Townsville and head to the Gold Coast.” And I said, “Okay. Does anyone know that the practices are on the market?” And I think they said no. I said, “Look, how much are you wanting for them? What’s your turnover?” And we got into in a seven-minute conversation, I got enough info to say, “Look, you know what, I would like to buy them. Don’t tell anyone else they’re on the market, and I’ll be back in three months and we can finalize the negotiations and the deal.” And that’s exactly what happened.

So, I got on a train in Moscow to travel back to Australia to start negotiations on these first practices. And just before I got on the train, I rang my dad and said, “Dad, I bought vet practice in Townsville. I’d like for you to back me. I need a loan. I need you to help support my bank application to get the money.” He said, “Good. Let’s discuss that when you get back.” So I sat down on the Tran-Siberian Express and wrote a business plan for a vet practice in Townsville. By the time I got to the end of that seven-day journey on the Tran-Siberian Express, it had become rather than just one practice in Townsville, I had written a business plan for a network of veterinary hospital across Australia called Greencross.

I guess I always had that business plan, and it wasn’t until I met up with some other likeminded vets about, I guess, about seven or eight years into owning my own practice in Townsville, that we started putting together this idea of a network of hospitals and we went from a co-op play into the Greencross model that we ended up with sort of a more of a corporate model, but the original business plan was more of a franchise, developing a backend support for the vet hospital.

And I remember being quite frustrated with anyone I spoke to about this concept in the veterinary industry. I couldn’t get any traction. So, eventually, John Odlum and Keith Knight and I started meeting regularly and got quite exciting and we quickly evolved a co-op and then evolved into a corporate model with strong basis to the Greencross plan being my original business plan on the Tran-Siberian Express.

So, it was just an evolution, but you’ve got to seize the opportunities. Meeting up with John and Keith and Steven Coles in Melbourne was absolutely instrumental, I guess, in executing that business plan.

DIEDERIK: Very interesting. Thank you.

What didn’t they teach you at vet school that you now know retrospectively is really important to being a successful vet?

GLEN: I think they’re getting better, the veterinary schools. I think the feedback from people like you and I has been important. But I know in my day I think we needed a much stronger business backbone to where we are heading. I do reflect on the fact that I think as a graduate or an undergraduate, you really want to be competent clinically whether it’s in companion animals, performance animals or production animals. You want to be clinically competent. But at the same time, it can be a done within a framework of being business ready, and I don’t think any graduates are business ready or business aware. We graduate incredibly naïve on a whole range of things. How to put a bank application in, to get that right? How to manage a profit and loss statement and manage a business based around the real numbers coming out of it. So, I was a completely green business man when I bought my first practice, but I did spend a lot of time immersed in the books and immersed doing the basics; learning how to market myself, learning how to bookkeep myself. It probably would have been a lot better if I had had a bigger picture around things. it would have gone a lot faster if I’d learned some of those skills while I was an undergraduate.

So I think at the end of the day, basic business awareness and communication skills are vital. And I think they marry up nicely to the fact that whether you’re in research or whether you get your own practice, I think having some of those basic business skills is absolutely vital.

DIEDERIK: I agree.

What did they teach you at vet school that you now know is just incorrect or was a waste of time?

GLEN: It’s a diverse profession so I get we have to cover stuff that we never use again. Things like public health, meat science, whatever. It’s what they call a BVSc, bloody versatile science degree. I think that’s quite correct and it gives a pretty good grounding in life on a general sense. But, at the end of the day, my concern is there is not enough people in the education system, in the veterinary education system that are reasonable business people as well as being great clinicians. And you’re allowed to be both, by the way. And my concern for our academics is it’s almost rude, if not, obnoxious to even think about wanting to make money out of your profession. And perhaps if there had be a little bit more work from our academics around the importance of having some business awareness, a lot of these graduates would have been more business ready… It’s almost a culture that you come through with.

It’s never about the money, it’s about the profession, or about the clinical capability, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to put food on the table. I think there’s a lot of frustration in our profession because our graduates come out on a very low salary and they never work out how in their career path to get it all and be great clinicians and to have a fulfilled life and by the way, having wealth will be actually fine as well.  I’m big on fulfilment, and being a great clinician, but we should have been taught how to create wealth as well.

DIEDERIK: Yeah. I know. I agree. Thank you.

What are three things based on your experience that a new graduate has to do straight off the bat to get career ready?

GLEN: I think the first one is to absolutely accept a job where they get hung up on the location, get hung up on your first experience instead. So, you’re looking for a great mentor. So, you’ve got to absolutely go and find yourself a mentor within the profession or outside the profession that is going to be your sounding board as you make those pretty big career decisions; where you’re going to practice, what you’re going to practice in or are going to do a PhD or whatever. But I think having a great mentor is absolutely a must.

Battening down your clinical capability is absolutely vital. You’ve got one to two years of simply having to lock down all that theory and that little bit of practical experience that you got through your undergraduate years.

And then, as a graduate, become competent quickly, so that therefore…it’s an apprentice, you arrive in the world as a not-quite-work ready graduate, and you’ve got a couple of years of going through…an apprenticeship is the best way to describe it, to be work ready and competent, and then you can lift your head.

So, find a good mentor, build down your clinical capability, and the third one is, while you’re building those clinical capabilities, you have to learn the business side of life, where you’re going. So you’ve got to put some time into reading and up-scaling of yourself to make yourself more capable in the business world.

DIEDERIK: Cool. Thank you.

Is there anything that you believe they need to avoid doing?

GLEN: I think as a graduates, we overdo it, don’t we? And I think the young graduates are still the same. Their first year in practice, they burn themselves. And just try to have a good mentor in place to be a sounding board and slow them down a fraction. They’ll spend 12 hours a day at the clinic, go home and keep reading, and so they end up pretty tired, pretty frazzled and they’ll bump in to a few cases along the way that’ll absolutely rock them so that they’re quite distressed or frustrated that they’re not quite as knowledgeable as they thought they would have been.

So, at the end of the day, they’ve just got to be slowed down and know they’ve got to build their capability over their first year and not rush it.

DIEDERIK: Cool, great.

If you were starting again, would you in fact be a vet?

GLEN: That’s a good question. Really, I have had a wonderful career in the veterinary industry. Would I change it? Perhaps, but I tend to look forward rather than looking back, Diederik so it’s a hard question to answer. I have really enjoyed the profession. It’s given back a lot. I know I’ve put a lot into it and I would argue…I probably would, I’d probably do it all over again because working as a clinician, working as part of a community or a companion animal vet, where you are part of a community is just a wonderful feeling. You know, walking down the street and hearing “This is my vet.” Those emotional good feel things are important as you evolve as a human being anyway. So, I’d be a vet. I’d do it again.

DIEDERIK: Thanks.

What were two or three major challenges you faced?

GLEN: Look, I think the biggest one…I arrived back in Townsville and bought my first practice, and we had a branch practice. What I didn’t realize was when you’re a young vet and you’re going hard and you’re prepared to work your ass off, and you’re in a community of other vets, how jealous they could become of your success… We tripled turnover in the practice in the first two years I was in Townsville when I bought a fairly mature practice. It was the cheapest practice in Townsville, I raised the fees and turned up to my first group AVA meeting in Townsville, and the couple of the older vets told me I had to lift my fees and I said, “I’ve already done that. I’m now in line with everyone else, I lifted my fees 30% in the last three weeks”. One of them said, “Well, you’re still a dollar cheaper than me on puppy vaccinations.” You know, I wheeled around and said to another vet beside me, “What are you charging for a puppy vaccination?” and she told me, and it was exactly the same price as me. And I said, “You’re going to have the same conversation with her?”

So, the challenge I faced was this…I was prepared to work longer, harder and smarter than my competitors, but my competitors wanted me to treat them as more important than my clients. It bewildered me. I was happy to be collegiate, I was happy to be collaborative, but they wanted me to compromise my clients before I competed with them.

DIEDERIK: You’ve got three kids. How did you manage to balance your family, your career and fatherhood?

GLEN: I think if you spoke to my wife, I’m pretty sure she’d reinforced that we didn’t balance it too well.

It is a tough one because when you are working the long hours of a companion animal practice, getting there at 7 AM in the morning, getting out of it about 9 o’clock at night. As you walk in at night, my wife is keeping our little babies up just so I could actually see them. So they had a different sleeping pattern than most babies. You hold them awake and I can get at least half an hour with them each night, which was lovely.

But I can tell you it was…through the hard years, there wasn’t a lot of balance. It was all vet work, and then on my days off, it was all family. And even when we listed Greencross, I said my one thing, Monday to Friday, I’ll do whatever it takes for the company, Saturday and Sunday is family time. And no matter what happened, I never worked a Saturday or a Sunday when I was the managing director of Greencross. I think a workshop occasionally, but that was about it.

So, family time is vital, but what you miss out when you play that game is you miss out on time for yourself. So, I didn’t play golf. I went on a 7-8 km rum and that was it, that was my fitness.

But in terms of balance, we’re incredibly lucky. My wife and I, we still have a strong marriage. Because during the tough years, with our little babies, it was fairly gruelling for my wife, and you feel guilty as a dad when you arrive home, walk in, start to play with kids, the phone goes, and there’s that salivating dog about to go into a seizure because it’s got Cane Toad poisoning. Absolutely predictable. In fact, I think my kids could have answered….” Have you washed the dog’s mouth?” They were good days. But, I think we’re typical vets where balance is in the eye of the beholder, and I can keep arguing, “You know what, we have a balance…” but my wife would correct me pretty actively.

During my years as CEO, as I said, Monday to Friday, for the company, Saturday and Sunday is for the family, and that was pretty important. And I made that a very strong point that through that period we always had proper holidays with the family. Even while I was a companion animal vet, we’d lock out and block out our holidays a year in advance so that we had proper holidays together.

DIEDERIK: Cool. Thank you.

What does success look like to Glen Richards?

GLEN: I’m big on the balance of being healthy, good relationships with the family and friends, time for community, time for physical and mental health. But, look, at the end of the day, success is all in your own goals. And one of my goals was to be retired by fifty, or be able to be retired by fifty. So, I resigned from Greencross three months before my 50th birthday and moved from the Executive to a non-executive role. And then, that enabled me to spend to spend a lot more time with my kids as they’re finishing high school, a lot more time with them; more time for my family and more time for me.

I’m still working, but very much on my terms. We’ve set up our own charitable foundation, and we put a lot more time into the community.

DIEDERIK: Cool. Great. That sounds very good.

What are your biggest successes, and what were the keys to those successes?

GLEN: On a business part, I think having founded a listed company, and taken a little vet practice in Townsville, and did the politics and the planning and the execution to be a ASX 200 company. If you look at my tenure as a CEO from 2009 to 2014, we were in the top nine performing companies on the ASX, if you look at the records from the total shareholder return point of view. So, I’ve got many shareholders that were exceptionally happy with the performance of the company. We moved the culture of our company from mediocre to a culture of success so that our employees were exceptionally happy. And if you look at the net promoter scores and the surveys that our clients completed, they were exceptionally happy, very friendly, very professional, and most scored us nine or ten out of ten for the likelihood of referral. So, I think we achieved a lot as Greencross.

In terms of other successes, so that’s on the business part. I think on the family front; I think to have your family around you and not having gone through a divorce and having a really healthy and positive relationship with my wife and my kids is absolutely vital to who I am. So, we do simple things like making sure every night we sit down as a family and chat. Very little TV goes on in our house. We have exceptionally lovely family holidays every year and have done since the kids were very little. The wealthier we became, I guess, the more extravagant those holidays looked, but at the end of the day, we don’t see it that way. It’s just us wanting to have time doing stuff and having experiences together. So, that’s really important thing to me.

And then on the health part, I’m certainly not a loud one around being vegan or anything like that. I try to get reasonably healthy and try to exercise at least four times a week. And so, a bit of balance of a reasonable diet, sensible exercise and trying to get myself through to 80 and 90 years of age so I’ve got time to enjoy my kids as they get older too.

DIEDERIK: Sounds very balanced. You’re always motivated and focused, how do you stay that way?

GLEN: You know what, I think the important one is having inspiring people around you. I call them peer mentors. So, other friends that are fairly successful that let you bounce off them, I think, helps keep your motivation up and hearing what they are up to that you feel “I’ve got to keep doing stuff.” That I really enjoy through my network.

I think the other one is having reflection time. I go for an eight to ten kilometre runs pretty regularly, and it’s almost like a yoga session for me when I’m running, where your mind is sort of zones out. So, I’m always jogging and thinking and turning things over in my mind, so that helps balance things up and weigh things up.

So, peer mentors, running, and then of course having my wife who is a good sounding board, who I would be able to bounce things off and say, “This is the direction we’re thinking of going.” So, having those…. it’s reflection time and mentors to bounce off. As I said, my wife being one of those mentors, my dad when he was alive being one of those mentors.

Just throwing it out there, and while you’re talking, it’s come to the front of your head and you realize you’re hearing yourself. When you’ve got a bad idea, you hear yourself say it’s a bad idea. You know that path is not good. And when you get excited and passionate about something, you go, “I’ve got to pursue that.”

So, that’s the probably the best answer for that.

DIEDERIK: Thank you. That’s some good strategies. I like what Tony Robins says, “Hang around with people that make you look bad.”

GLEN: Exactly.

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

GLEN: I went to boarding school. I went to the University of Queensland Vet school where it was great interacting with a whole range of different young undergraduates across a whole range of professions. That was terrific. And a couple of years, locuming in London was just fantastic, fun. Probably a little bit long in companion animal practice, but I felt 13 years straight, or 15 years straight, as a companion vet was…that’s long enough.

What would I do differently?

I think the number one thing, if I had to look at the business side, the veterinary side, Greencross, I wish we hadn’t really listed in 2007. We were weighing up a number of options for our funding and we decided to go the IPO route. Because the only alternative at the time was private equity, and I think what I know now, I would have go and found a couple of likeminded individuals who had made it big, individuals to back my business plan. I’ve done that with four different businesses now in health and allied health, supporting young entrepreneurs, the industry insiders in their business, putting in money and helping them and mentoring them so we can avoid private equity and we can avoid an IPO and build up some really sound platforms way before people start watching us too closely. And I think I would have done that with Greencross.

We listed and smashed together 32 practices overnight and we had nothing. A year in the wilderness of trying to work out how to manage multi-sites, we couldn’t get to those sites quickly. So, the first year was just a nightmare for me, and by the second year, I started to get some traction and started getting some decent tools on how to manage my team and how to manage myself.

So, looking back, either we should have spent a lot longer unlisted and just quietly went about our business and got some decent intellectual property developed way out of the sight of the investment community.

DIEDERIK: Cool.

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

GLEN: It is one profession that I don’t think lift their vision high enough. For some reason, we don’t value ourselves as a profession. We think perhaps we’re poor cousins of the medical world, I don’t know. But at the end of the day, I think it’s a typical trait of small business as well as the veterinary industry where our line of sight is pretty narrow and our line of sight is pretty low. My view is we’ve got to lift our vision and start thinking a bit bigger and, by doing that, we actually achieve a lot more and challenge ourselves a lot more.

You know, the number of vets that look me in the eye and said, “Absolutely, you cannot consolidate this industry. It is an industry that you do not bring together a group of vets in one company or organization. It will absolutely not work.” I had a multitude of it. In fact, even only two years ago, I had a mate who’s quite successful, he said to me, “You know, you’re lucky. You got lucky doing Greencross.” And I just nodded and smiled and go, “You know, luck some…that I was able to do it, but at the end of the day, putting a team together, getting the funding, discussing the big vision and the plans with people interested in joining our network and selling their practices and coming on board, that’s not luck. That’s damn hard work.” And, I think the profession suffers from a serial position of not valuing themselves enough and lifting their vision enough because they’re not valued, and not seeing where they could get to. Be it with their own practice, be it with their own profession, be it with their career path. And you need to be doing what you’re doing and saying, “Look, there’s a whole bunch of successful vets doing really successful stuff in a multitude of places on this planet. You could be one of those.”

DIEDERIK: You talked about luck in that last answer, it brings us to the next question. So, do you think that luck or tragedy has played any part in you achieving your success? Or, as you said, just hard work?

GLEN: Diederik, I still remember Trevor Farmer, I did fourth-year ‘prac’ work with Trevor in Townsville. He had three good practices in Townsville. And Trevor said to me, “LUCK, labouring under correct knowledge.”  Labouring under correct knowledge, and I’ve never forgotten it, and I still quote him today, going “You’re right, you know!”

When you are putting passion and time and effort in the right direction, you create your own luck. And I do love the…is it the phrase, but I can’t remember who said, “The more I practice, the luckier I get”. And it’s exactly that, it’s just hard work. You work out where you’re trying to get to, or work out that big, hairy, audacious goal that you’re trying to achieve, and then it becomes easy because once you know where you want to head to, then you create all those little steps in between to get there. Most of us, unfortunately, never work out what that big, hairy, audacious goal is. It’s usually pretty small, and they stay inside their comfort zone and they don’t stand right out there on the edge, because it hurts. And most of us who are successful put ourselves out on the edge, and it hurts, it hurts others around you too. I talked to my family about the amount of fun we’ve had over the last few years in terms of time and effort and energy and having to do things, it’s labouring under correct knowledge.

DIEDERIK: I agree 100%. Thank you.

If you were helping someone else, a newish graduate, what are some pitfalls you’re going to tell them they need to avoid?

GLEN: A newish grad, someone early in their profession, I keep reminding them that at some point they’re going to burn out because it is a profession that is quite emotionally fatiguing so they’ve got to manage themselves. They’ve got to have good friends and family around them. They’ve got to have mentors they can bounce off when they’re having those bad days, just someone just to bounce off and reposition them. And I can’t tell you, the number of young grads that I’ve mentored over the years who I have just had to pull them back a fraction, “Yeah, you’re burning, I don’t want you to burn out.”

It is a profession that fatigues people. Every interaction you have, be it in performance animal, be it in production animal, or be it in companion animal, you are conscientiously giving a little bit of yourself in every interaction. So, it’s little wonder that over time, you do burn out, so you’ve got to repair yourself weekly, if not daily. You’ve got to repair yourself annually through your holiday patterns and pulling back from the brink.

So, my strong advice is making sure you have repair time, to be able to pull back, reposition yourself, cleanse yourself and come back on to the rugby field of practice or whatever you’re doing. You’re doing a bit of research, and then reapply yourself and stay focused.

DIEDERIK: I love the way you frame that.

What is your passion?

GLEN: That’s a good hard question. I guess my passion is I create a direction, when I find that direction I go hard after it. I can make it easy by saying my family is my passion, and everything I do is simply to create a better world for me and my family. To some degree, that’s true, but at the same time, for the purposes of this interview, my passion…I look for problems and I get excited by the problems I see and find. So, for me, having done ‘prac’ work and worked with a whole host of middle aged vets that hated being vets, I realized I had to work out how to try and solve that.

Some of the big motivation for Greencross was to create a better succession plan for the industry, to create a better workplace for young graduates to have better support, better equipment, better facilities, better education programs. So, I guess, my passion is finding problems that are annoying and trying to tackle those problems. And I think that’s from growing up in western Queensland where you bump into it, there’s no one else around you to solve them, you have to solve them yourself, and I worked at that over the years. It’s great when you work that out. The quickest way to solve problems is to assemble a team and get that team to work on those problems. So, my passion is, I guess, scaling up businesses and tackling industry problems that seem fairly big.

My belief is that Greencross has done a fantastic job, my team at the time, and it’s continue today, are doing a damn good job of solving some of the big issues that I saw as a fifth-year or a fourth-year vet student.

DIEDERIK: Our industry has a reputation, as you’ve already alluded to, what do you think has kept you sane?

GLEN: Friends and family and holidays. Red wine is a good one. To some degree, I think it’s having that outside influence and the ability to have a timeout. That repair time is what keeps me sane.

You know, I evolve when I have a day off. When I was in practice, and when I was a CEO, having Saturday and Sundays with the family and doing stuff and making sure I had good holiday structures well in advance so you had something to look forward to each time. So you knew you could burn yourself because you have to get the next milestone, and that milestone was repair time. I think that’s important, that you’ve got to have things to look forward to but you’ve got to be disciplined around… When people tell me they’ve not had a holiday for three years, I’m just mystified because everyone gets a holiday, can take time out. Whether it’s simply sitting at the beach, enjoying a surf or going bush walking. We live in Australia, we’re so luck that here is so much around us that’s free and accessible, so no one has got an excuse for not having repair time and cleansing themselves. Getting themselves refocused and back on the job.

So, I’m big on a holidays and repair time, be it weekly or annually.

DIEDERIK: You’ve already said that…talked about a number of things that you’ve given back to the community. Succession plan for practices, better working environment for vets and staff members, consistency of care for pets and farmstock or whatnot. So, what else do you think you’ve given back to your community?

GLEN: I suppose right now, I’m big on mentoring. I have a number of people, a number of young business people that I mentor. I have at least five hours a week going into mentoring young business people to try and achieve their goals and support them on that journey. My wife and I set up our own foundation and we have five different charities that we support. In 2017, the plan is to put more of our time and as well as contributing funds. And my children and my wife and I are all involved in that. We got to pick a charity each basically.

But certainly when you’re in business, when you’re a CEO of a public company, you don’t have that much time to be that balanced. But, we set up a pet foundation, Paul Wilson is the chair of that from PetBarn and myself. We’re driving a pet foundation as well as our personal foundation.

From a community point of view, I guess when you’re part of a school community, you put a lot of time into the school community and making yourself available. I look at the number of speeches and the number of people that I mentor, I’m doing a massive number of hours for free to help build business in this country.

DIEDERIK: Thank you.

Success. What do you consider to be two or three drivers or keys or attributes to success?

GLEN: Let’s start with vision. So, you’ve got to have a vision. We can all just turn up and keep doing our day job, we’re just spinning our wheels, but once you have a picture in your mind of where you want to get to, then it becomes easy to head in that right direction. So, the first one is a vision, and lift your sights, lift your goals, create some real challenges for yourself.

The second one is planning. Spend the time putting together a plan, a business plan, a marketing plan, documenting the thoughts you’re having, and then work out what is your strategy on trying to achieve that vision, what are the tactics you’re going to employ, what are those little steps you’re going to do.

And then a big one for me is dusting that plan off every single week to look at what you’re working on, and is it related to the priorities you’re trying to achieve. So, in Greencross, every 90 days, I reset the whole company. Because we were growing so fast. Every 90 days, we took a full day off and reset what our priorities were that we were working on so that they’re relevant to one of your goal we were trying to achieve, that are relevant to the five year forecast and plans, and they are also then relevant to the big, hairy, audacious goal of creating this network of veterinary hospitals across Australia. So, every 90 days, we reset, and then every month, we pulled our middle managers together to make sure they were all working on the right things, and every week, we checked in with each other to check our score cards, check that we were working on the things that we agreed to with the priorities to achieve our one year plans and our five-year forecast.

So, planning, vision, and probably the third one is people. Because at the end of the day, to really achieve, to really go exponential, you have to assemble a team, and you have to put time, effort and energy into culture and time, effort and energy into supporting your people. And once you realize that you don’t have to know everything, you simply have to find or form a good team, be it in a veterinary practice or be it in a big corporation. Once you realize you don’t have to be the hero, you have to be the person that supports everyone else around you, it becomes much easier. Hold them accountable, give them the responsibility for the job you want them to do and be there to support them.

So, vision, planning and people are my three big tips for success.

DIEDERIK: That will be a very useful information for a number of people, I think.

Was there ever for you a snap point, a turning point, a defining moment or a line in the sand?

GLEN: That’s a good question.

You know, there are opportunities…opportunities just keep rolling past your front door. And you will know when you’re game enough to leap out through that door and jump on one of those opportunities, and there are a number of really important points in my life at which that has happened, be it in personal life or in business life. You bump into that girl and you know you take a risk by ringing her because she might say no.

My wife was a classic… met her, thought she was a wonderful person, so I rang her at work and just said, “Could you give your vet a call. I need to discuss something.” I left a message with her at work; “Her vet had called and could she give me a call back?” but I forgot to leave my phone number. So, she had to then track me down. Those sorts of things create opportunity.

So, defining moments, Greencross; bumping into John Odlum and Keith Knight and Steve Coles and saying “Okay guys, we have a bigger picture for the veterinary industry. Let’s do this together.” So, being humble enough to know that you could use a team, and then to put that team together.

What else? Making those phone calls that are hard to make. Ringing from London back to Townsville and asking “Hey, can I buy your little vet practice down the road?” You look back and again you create those opportunities because you put yourself in an uncomfortable position, it doesn’t feel quite…It feels awkward but you’re willing to have a go.

So, defining moments, it’s about taking a risk, and the worst that can happen to you is someone says “No.” And once you realize that it’s okay when someone says no, you feel pretty bad about yourself, but, geez, if you don’t get out there on that edge, that edge that says “I’m going to have an exceptional life, I’m NOT going to have an average life,” then you’re not going to get to 90 and die with no regrets, and it’s all going to be very sad. So a strong message is the Robert Frost poem, the two roads poem, ‘I took the one less travel and that made the difference’. It makes a difference when you are willing to take a risk on the road less travelled, then you have a bloody…you’ll have an exponential life.

DIEDERIK: Very meaningful. Thank you.

Last question. What’s your vision for the future of the veterinary industry?

GLEN: Look, it’s a fabulous profession, and I only relate this to companion animals. The pet has moved from the backyard into the bedroom in western society, so we are well positioned as a trusted adviser to the community and to families across the western world. Our job is to take that seriously, and we take that seriously through making sure we have facilities, we have equipment, we have larger teams, and we have hospitals that are able to deal with proper full-service veterinary care. And I guess that I’ll never swing away from that. So, be it boutique veterinary hospitals or be it corporate practice, it doesn’t really matter, our job as a profession is to meet the expectations of society and that is to look after a pet that is positioned as a family member.

So, the future, we will continue to grow our practices, we’ll continue to use new communication tools be it virtual consult rooms, more mobile type activity to get the animal back to the hospital or whatever. We need to continue to skill up our profession so that we meet the expectations of people that now treat their pet like a human so we need to have human grade and human like capability at our vet hospitals, and we need to skill our people up to match that expectation.

I have a strong view of where the profession will be very soon going, we will have to have compulsory education. If you don’t do your number of hours, you’re going to get deregistered, and that’s an absolute. We’re going to have the profession complying with what the public expects at our hospital so we then know that our hospitals have minimum standards, a bit like human hospitals.

At the moment, there are a lot of subgrade, below par, veterinary hospitals, putting a shingle up that are competing against boutique hospitals and corporate practices that are spending the money to stay relevant. So I think compulsory inspections of veterinary hospitals, compulsory education and giving our consumer, our client, a lot more peace of mind that we are serious as a profession, to be a trusted adviser for the family pet who happens to be family member.

DIEDERIK: I think that’s an awesome place on which to finish. So, Glen, thank you very much for all your fantastic information today.

Key Take-Aways

  • For some reason, we don’t value ourselves as a profession
  • It is a profession that fatigues people. With every interaction you have, you give a little bit of yourself ‘away’. So, it’s little wonder that over time, you burn out, so you’ve got to repair yourself weekly, if not daily
  • As a new graduate you want to be clinically competent, but at the same time, it can be a done within a framework of being business ready
  • The profession suffers from a position of not valuing themselves enough and lifting their vision enough and not seeing where they could get to.
  • Most of us who are successful put ourselves out on the edge, and it hurts out there and that’s why so many won’t do it

“The most insidious disease in our profession is that of low self-esteem and poor self-worth. This needs to change”

Diederik Gelderman