Even since the board embraced leadership training several years ago, it has filtered down throughout the organization, he says. This has helped the employees understand what it means to be a leader in the organization — not necessarily the leader, but a leader.
Along with that, Snyder says, it’s integral to be open to feedback and be open to listening to the reports of those who work under you. You have to listen to your people and what they need or feel strongly about, in order to develop this kind of a culture.
“Training our whole leadership team to have listening skills, self-awareness and the ability to critically evaluate their own role, and own their own role in the business, I think, has been key to our success,” Schertel says.
Relying on referral partners, employees
In addition to hiring the right people as it expands, MedVet has learned to rely on its referral partners and its own employees.
If you formally focus on the relationships that make you successful, you can capitalize on the competitive advantage they bring.
Schertel says less than 10 percent of patients come directly to MedVet without a referral, so they are careful to do only exactly what a patient needs before sending the animal back. That can be providing emergency support after hours and on weekends in support of community doctors or specific specialized care.
“We rely on our relationship with our referral partners to be successful. We steer entirely clear of their form of practice, which is more of a general health style of practice,” he says.
About eight or 10 years ago, the organization realized this relationship was a significant differentiator and started systematically focusing on it.
“We’re always welcome in a market, particularly when you’re focused on a trusting relationship with those local veterinarians that support exceptional service for clients; you immediately are embraced by the community,” he says. “I can’t say it will work for us every time, but it’s worked for us up to this point.”
And as part of its strategic planning process last year, where it identified its vision for the future, MedVet formally added its employees to the list of relationships it focuses on.
Snyder says another lesson they’ve learned is that aligning under a medical leadership so veterinarians drive the leadership across all locations helps the employees feel represented at the table, which is important for employee morale and retention.
This is different from other companies who are acquiring and growing veterinary networks, Snyder says, where an operations or finance person leads the business.
As a result, even though veterinary medicine has a high turnover rate for technical staff, MedVet hasn’t experienced that.
In fact, Schertel says the Dayton location had 20 employees when MedVet bought the practice, and 19 of those are still employed by the company two and a half years later.
“That’s a testament to the hard work and engagement that we have with our employees,” he says.
- Culture spreads through leadership that drives your values.
- Build up your infrastructure to better integrate acquisitions.
- Focus on the relationships that make you successful.
The Schertel File:
Name: Dr. Eric Schertel
Company: MedVet Medical & Cancer Centers for Pets
Born: North Edwards, southern California
Education: Bachelor’s degree in zoology, doctor of veterinary medicine in cardiopulmonary physiology, University of California, Davis
What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I bused dishes at a local diner and had a paper route in North Edwards, which required 10 miles of riding on a Stingray bicycle.
But probably the most influential experience for me was going off to junior college. I had a 1.86 grade average my first semester and quit because of it.
I went and worked for U.S. Borax. I was on the wrong end of a shovel for a good nine months. That really taught me that I needed to go back to school and focus on getting an education that would lead me somewhere.
What pets do you have now? We have two dogs — my dog and my wife’s dog — Cody and Jessie.
Historically, we’ve had three cats ever since we came out in a couple of cars from California in 1987. We traveled out with three cats, and we’ve always had three cats. We’re down to one right now, Gracie. She’s 18 and she’s the princess of the house. My wife tells me when she’s gone we’ll have to get three more.
How has your leadership style evolved? It’s evolved pretty dramatically. I’m a surgeon by training and have no business or leadership background.
I inherited the managing partner role at MedVet about six months after I joined as a partner. My mentor who helped bring me to Ohio had a heart attack and dropped out of the system for a while. (The good news is not permanently — I just saw him the other day.)
I was trying to lead the practice and be a surgeon at the same time, and it really pulled me apart on occasion. I lead like a hammer looking for a nail, and since then I learned that that’s not the best way.
It took us a long way, but in the end when you get to be this size of organization, you’ve got to develop some new skills. So, I’ve got one or two new skills.