We Need Ownership

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We’ve been asking the wrong questions for several decades, and we’re seeing the impact of it now in veterinary medicine and beyond.

Over the years, my kids would come home from school and say, “Today, my teacher asked me what I want to be when I grow up.” When asked how they answered the question, my kids would typically say, “I didn’t know what to say.”

That would lead to a discussion of what they want in life, taking ownership of their decision-making, and to find joy in exploring the opportunities presented every day. I intentionally avoided any discussion of what you want to ‘be,’ as I had learned that a focus on ‘being’ something has a high likelihood of failing to deliver what one wants in life.


I’d follow up our discussion by asking my kids if they wanted to have a little fun in the future with the same discussion when confronted with the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” With intrigue in their eyes, they’d respond ‘yes.’ I’d suggest that in the future when someone asks them “What do you want to be when you grow up,” that they should simply reply, “The Owner.”

When asked how their teacher responded, in all cases, my kids would say that the teacher was speechless. As a society, this simple interaction has the ability to transform the mindset of an entire generation, and it is a transformation we desperately need, including in veterinary medicine.

Transforming a mindset

We need to teach ownership. We need to teach taking ownership and responsibility for one’s situation and the path forward. We need to teach or coach the concept of not expecting someone else to fix our failures. We need ownership, now more than ever.

We need ownership. We need ownership at many levels of the veterinary industry. We need ownership in practices. We need ownership in universities. We need ownership in corporate aggregators that are purchasing practices. We need ownership among manufacturers and distributors. And we need ownership amongst our veterinary associate community.  Ownership is the solution to many of the ills of our industry.

The veterinary industry is experiencing major changes. Professional money has found our industry, and the access to capital is creating opportunities we’ve never seen before. Competition for ownership of veterinary practices has increased practice values, provided life-changing financial security for many veterinarians who invested their lives and took the financial risks towards building successful veterinary enterprises. This is an example of the fruits of ownership that we need to teach over and over. Insertion of professional money into our industry has increased the opportunities for new ventures in the animal space, which is an entirely different path for young veterinary talent, and one that wasn’t available to many until recently.

In practices, we need owners to be coaches to help teach younger veterinarians how to fully utilize their degree and skills to become exemplary veterinarians and even better servants to their customers. Practice owners have the ability to help guide young doctors in mastering their craft and in the possibilities and outcomes of ownership. Many successful owners have included their associates in their transition plans by ensuring at least a small portion of their practice is transitioned to loyal associates, who in turn can provide tremendous value to corporate practice acquirers, as local ownership is very important in the maintenance of growth and profitability of the practice. Even a small ownership stake in this situation has the capacity to provide a significant return to minority owners when the corporate entity transitions ownership of their group of practices in the future.

Amongst veterinary aggregators, there is a huge need for local ownership amongst their veterinary teams. Sustaining the practice growth and profitability needed to support their business interests is dependent upon identifying and developing veterinary leaders who will take an ownership mentality to work every day. And that can only truly be accomplished if those veterinarians share in the fruits of ownership with the corporate entity. It is incumbent upon these corporate aggregators to develop this shared ownership model, which in turn provides opportunities for many associate veterinarians to become shareholders and owners. Entities such as MAVANA have a shared ownership structure in place and provide opportunities to associate veterinarians that were not previously available.

At universities, we need ownership in the form of leadership, educators, and administrators who are willing to have honest and candid conversations with prospective and current students about the cost of veterinary education, and what will be required to repay loans taken to pay for it. If the market will not provide opportunities that are capable of delivering repayment of financial obligations, the universities should be very honest and transparent about the current economic situation. Universities should be accountable for educating students about the realities of repaying loans taken to pay for their education. And if there isn’t a financially feasible market for the product being produced by universities, they have an obligation to be both transparent and honest and to find a financially feasible model that works. If not, students should make the decision not to make the financial commitment to a model that is doomed to fail.

We need manufacturers and distributors to take a leadership role in supporting industry efforts to develop ownership skills and thought framework and providing professional coaching opportunities to support young veterinary associates in their quest to become successful owners, paying off debts, earning financial security, and contributing positively to their communities. We need ownership at all of these levels to ensure a sustainable future. There are several successful experts at coaching young talent, creating success-oriented cultures, and helping to build sustainable and energetic companies that attract and retain the people needed to serve a demanding clientele and to grow the enterprise. We need manufacturers and distributors to help support the education that is needed to teach this ownership mindset.

Amongst our associate veterinarians, any solution that delivers significant opportunity must be accompanied by some level of accountability and ownership for what is required to build and grow a successful veterinary enterprise. Developing this ownership mentality is crucial and is often what is missing in their development. One practice owner recently conveyed that “young veterinarians and technicians often demand exemplary ‘above and beyond service’ in what they receive, but they aren’t willing to provide that level of service to the clients that they serve.” We need to coach an ownership mindset to overcome this awareness gap. We need to teach and coach ownership, as if being in control of one’s future is at stake, and is what most people want, including our young talent pool. Candidly, associates will need to embrace ownership, as, without it, success is very unlikely.

Lastly, we need to revisit the concept of asking the wrong questions for decades. If veterinarians want to remain relevant to their clientele, all industry stakeholders must take ownership in looking at their value proposition from the pet owners’ point of view. We must transition from an inwardly-focused, ‘how does this affect me’ mentality, to a consistent view of ‘how does this affect my customers?’ Failing to take ownership for the desires and needs of our animal-owning clientele will lead to erosion of the veterinarian’s relevance and the demise of the traditional veterinary enterprise.

We need ownership!

istockphoto.com/Timplaru Ovidiu