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Building a veterinary empire

Alumni Stories.

Dr.AndrewMoffatt-CEO (1)With a long-standing ambition to become a veterinary hospital owner, Dr Andrew Moffatt (Executive MBA, 2011) was determined to make his dream job a reality. Although it was initially a challenge to get a foot in the door, Andrew persevered and is now the CEO of VetnCare, Inc., a veterinary management company, which currently owns and operates seven animal hospitals in California, USA. This number is set to at least double in 2020, following a new partnership with Petco, a national pet retailer with over 1,500 stores.

Find out more about Andrew, his time at Cass and his business here:

Can you tell me about your time at Cass?

My time at Cass, was a pivotal turning point in my professional career. Most of my experience had been in small business units (veterinary hospitals) until I started in May, 2009. I had no formal business training to support my entrepreneurial aspirations. I’d been wanting to go to business school since my late teens. All my studies had been in maths and science, which didn’t afford me time to obtain a formal business education. It was a couple of friends, who were considering business school who introduced me to Cass. I was in London working and it just seemed like the right time. I applied to the Executive Programme and was accepted. At the time, I believe I was the only veterinarian to have applied to the programme. At 26, I was also the youngest in my class.

With a complete lack of corporate experience and business knowledge, I just sat there in awe, learning through diffusion. We had a wonderful class. Thirty-three nationalities, a rich diversity of personas, experiences and views. Our class, was also social, friendly and supportive. It was an incredibly memorable time of my life. I wish I could do it all over again.

At Cass Business School, I developed a real passion for change management. The Entrepreneurial Centre also developed my primitive entrepreneurial flare into something more robust.

It was tough to balance my relationship, day job and business school at the same time. We didn’t have a lot of money in those days. My girlfriend (now wife) lent me her savings (10,000 pounds) to pay for my course one semester when I couldn’t afford to pay the tuition costs. She also supported me through the programme, which was all-consuming.

What happened after you graduated?

The confidence I gained through the programme gave me the strength to take on new challenges.

I’d always wanted to be a veterinary hospital owner. I worked as a senior clinician and multi-site operations manager at various hospitals in the UK while I was at business school. At the time in the British veterinary industry, there was a fierce consolidation battle occurring and I couldn’t get my foot in the door. Disenchanted, I was going to make the move into human hospital operations.

One day that all changed. I received a call from a friend from vet school, Dr. Jerob Leaper, who wanted to buy his great uncle’s vet hospital in Castro Valley, California (Groveway Veterinary Hospital). He didn’t have the operational experience to do it by himself, so we decided to take on the project together. Jo (my wife) and I immigrated to California at the end of 2011. Dr. Russ Hackler (the owner at the time) offered me a job at the start of 2012, and we bought Groveway from Russ in April 2012.

How did your business idea come about?

It was Russ’s incredible legacy at Groveway Veterinary Hospital which fuelled the concept of a larger group. Why couldn’t exceptional independent hospitals collaborate to improve their ability to compete with the big guys? Jerob, Jo, Teresa (Jerob’s wife) and I learned so much in these early days! We made lots of mistakes but never made the same mistake twice. I remember early on, we couldn’t afford to paint the interior of the hospital, so the four of us and many of the staff came in on the weekend and did it ourselves (nourished by pizza and beer!). So many employees (past and present) have contributed so much to get us to where we are now. Shortly after that, we purchased Pinole Pet Hospital. With the acquisition of our second site, VetnCare, the management company, was established by Jo and I in 2013. As the number of hospitals grew, so did the expertise of the VetnCare management team. We’ve got pretty good at this over the last eight years, but still have lots to learn. We thoroughly enjoy every opportunity we get to expand the VetnCare family and have lots of fun doing so!

What have been the biggest challenges?

The thing I found most challenging as the founder of a fast-growing business was getting the work-life balance right. I was so focused on the business and its success that I failed to give the necessary attention to my wife, family and friends. I forgot a lot of birthdays, anniversaries, date nights, weddings and births. I regret this. You can never get these moments back. Going forward I intend to get this right. Be present in every moment. Passionate for every person in your life. These things are so important. Success isn’t worth anything if you’ve got no one to share it with. I’d rather be loved and poor, than rich and lonely.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

The most rewarding part of the whole experience for me has been the way our team has come together. Unfairly, I get all the credit for the group’s success. In reality, it is the amazing efforts of our teams who have propelled the reputation and success of our hospitals. Hard-working people, who are energised and unified by a goal to provide our animal patients and their human parents with incredible, clinical care.

I have a real passion for education. We’ve always tried to provide opportunities for our colleagues so that they can advance themselves. We finance the education programmes for our nurses and provide advanced clinical training for all our clinical teams. Promotion in our organisation is based on the advancement and progression of skills and knowledge.

We have quite a few employees who have climbed our organisation’s ranks through hard work, determination and education. It’s a great feeling to have built the platform that allows these people to succeed. If all our team members can succeed and grow on this exciting journey, then we are on the right track!

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?

The following six principles have been pivotal elements of our success:

  1. Build a reputation in your chosen industry of excellence, fairness, honesty and collaboration.
  2. Become the employer of choice – to become this you need two things – the best HR team possible (best processes, best recruitment strategies), and the willingness to invest in your people – best education, best equipment, best leaders.
  3. Surround yourself with the most talented people you can afford (Accountants, Attorneys, Management Executives, Operators)
  4. Maintain accurate and timely financial statements. Keep a close eye on your business’s financials performance.
  5. Give to your communities and industry – if you give to these two groups, you’ll always get good karma back. Become a Centre of Education for your fellow professionals and students. Support schools and colleges. Give kindly to the charities and NPOs in your communities.
  6. Try to keep control of your company. Especially if you’re in professional services. Avoid private equity if you can. Always opt for a slower growth rate and control, than fast growth, and loss of control. Non-professionals will never prioritise your professional values and goals like you do. Instead, consider joint ventures, industry lenders, angel financing, family financing etc. There’s always a way to find the money!

Things I wish I’d done better:

  1. Hired talented executives to help me, earlier than I did.
  2. Invest equally in your family and relationships. Without them, you can’t be your best self.

Thank you to Andrew for sharing his story! If you’d like to find out more about VetnCare, visit: https://vetncare.com/

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