I’ve recently been involved in the development of a business plan as part of my role as the AVA Student President. Given my 'young grasshopper' status I found myself thinking, what does it take to be an entrepreneur in the veterinary industry? Do people just find themselves taking over the mantle of head vet/ business owner as a rite of passage? Is it a matter of luck, just serendipitously having the opportunity present itself, or can a fresh out of school veterinarian manifest it through sheer will power and effort? Personally, I’m still holding out for a small loan of $1 million from my parents.
To find out more I had a chat with Zachary Lederhose, a recent graduate who has stepped into the world of business ownership. It might be more accurate to describe his current success in the field as ‘hitting the ground running’ but he won’t claim as much.
What motivated you to start your own business, Zach?
Well, like just about every new graduate, I started out working as a general practitioner. Loved the job and was a fantastic learning experience. That said, the main thing that stood out for me was not being able to have as much say in the direction we took as a team that I wanted. It wasn’t that anything was wrong, it was a great atmosphere and we all got along really well. The sense of autonomy was what I sought.
Did it change much for your income?
I wouldn’t say it was the main driver behind my ambition to start a business. I was doing well in my previous role and could have very happily continued as such in that space. It all depends on what you, as a professional, value and where you get satisfaction in your job. For me, it felt like my earning potential was capped as an associate and that limited my opportunities. Being my own boss makes it easier to pursue some of the things that interest me. For example, being able to purchase certain medical equipment to provide niche services or the flexibility to attend conferences that interest me.
How do you find being responsible for a team?
I think I was very fortunate that in my first job I had a great mentor in Mike Mesley at Snowy Vets. Mike taught me a lot and we share similar opinions on practice management. With that behind me, I was confident in my abilities and I think that’s a big part of the equation, believing you can actually do it. I also invested a lot of effort into developing my communication skills and bring the same focus to my current clinic. It’s such an important skill – not just for interacting with clients and achieving the best outcome but to make sure we’re working well together. The feedback I get from my team is important to me.
As great as it is to have the constant loop of positives and 'yes men', sometimes I just need to be told I’m being a bit of an idiot. Keeping my team comfortable to be that voice of reason helps me take stock of what I’m doing and means they are engaged in the decisions we make for the clinic.
Do you find your age and experience level makes it harder?
To be honest, not a great deal. Sure, I’ve faced some challenges along the way but nothing that anyone else starting out wouldn’t come across. I would probably put it down to having a fantastic support network, including people from my private life. I can acknowledge I’ve been fortunate in that regard and it probably isn’t the case for many of my peers. In a lot of ways, it comes down to having someone you can relate to who’s been through the process. With a shifting demographic in the profession, I can imagine that’s not always easy. That said, I did have a client ask how work experience was going for me the other day…
Do you have any takeaway points for other new graduates thinking of starting a business?
If you’re thinking of doing something big and running your own business is something you want in your veterinary career, then you should do it! The Zachary Lederhose / Goulburn Vet Clinic important steps are finding someone who can act as a mentor, to spitball ideas and make sure you’ve thought it through properly. There’s plenty of people out there who have been through it and are more than willing to help. It’s very much a case of standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. I don’t think it’s possible to do something like this going it alone.
Another important point to acknowledge is it’s an ongoing road. The goal posts are constantly moving and there’s no concrete endpoint of success. If you keep an open mind and continuously build your knowledge and skills, then you’re on the right track.
I’ve certainly drawn some inspiration from my conversation with Zach. Hopefully for some of you reading it does the same, giving you that extra bit of encouragement to be brave and take a leap. Similarly, if you’re already a business owner keep an eye out; there are a fair few sharp minds coming through the ranks that could use your help. I’m fascinated by the prospect of more people like Zach taking steps forward in business and the impact their innovation has on the profession, even if it’s just one workplace at a time. All things considered, I should probably pick up that copy of Barefoot Investor that’s been sitting on my coffee table for the better part of two years.
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 Australian Veterinary Journal.