Bringing ideas, products and technologies into the vet market
Ten years ago, I started a new business, Nimrod Veterinary Products. I had worked in the veterinary pharmaceutical industry for 20 years. I knew how it worked and, equally important, I knew and understood my customer – the vet. The company where I worked had been sold, and there were new people at the top. They knew nothing about the veterinary world, but were not listening to what I told them. So when they proposed my redundancy, I was ready to seize my chance.
I had been instrumental in the re-modelling of a business for one employer and had created a new business for another. Now, I had the opportunity to create a business for myself, doing the things I enjoyed to the high standards I wanted to pursue. Our first products were speciality premixes to improve herd health. There was good evidence behind them, and we made the best formulations we could. I knew that was what vets would demand, and I take no pride in anything that is not of the best quality. Commercially, they were not a success.
Whenever a vet convinced a farmer of the merit of the product, the farmer would ask his nutritionist what he thought of it. The nutritionist would tell him it was a good idea, but that there was no need to pay a vet’s price for it. He would then supply an inferior version of our product. I had made a mistake, misjudging the vet’s ability to compete with nutritionists, even when the nutritional objective is herd health. The business was struggling, but what sustained us was a consultancy contract.
Turning point: A move into consultancy
At the World Buiatrics Congress in Budapest, I was reading a poster from one of the big companies. One of their vets walked up to me, and I asked him some questions about it. After a few minutes’ discussion, he asked: ‘Do you do consultancy?’ I knew the relevant technical and commercial fields well, and my answer was ‘yes’. The income turned my new business into profit for the next few months. We introduced a couple of niche products that we still sell. They are typical of what I wanted to get involved in: products that were too small to be interesting to big companies, but valuable to vets.
"For any vet who loves the subject of veterinary medicine, but also wants to be a developer and communicator of ideas, I recommend a career in industry"
My breakthrough was gaining distribution of the Selekt fluid therapy and clinical nutrition products in the UK. Selekt had been acquired by a multinational as part of a business it wanted to integrate with its own. I realised it was too small to matter to them, and asked whether they would sell it. The negotiations took a year to complete. By then, I was adding pharmaceutical products to the portfolio too. And having worked for many years on the Finnish competitive-exclusion microflora for poultry, Broilact, I persuaded the manufacturer to make Nimrod its distributor in the UK and France. Today, Selekt, pharmaceuticals and Broilact are the three divisions of Nimrod. Selekt is its heart, because we own it: the manufacturing, the specifications and the brand. We sell it in 18 countries, mainly through distributors. Everything else in our range has been developed by someone else, and we do the sales and marketing.
My career has taken an unusual course for a vet. How did I come to be able to start a veterinary products business? I have always enjoyed veterinary science as a subject. But, even as a student, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a practitioner. In my final year, I went to a talk about vaccinating calves against respiratory disease, given by the manufacturer’s veterinary adviser. I realised she was an expert on an interesting subject, and that her job was to talk about it. Then I knew what I wanted to do.
Experiencing new countries as a Veterinary adviser
After 18 months in mixed practice, I moved to a position as veterinary adviser at Beecham Animal Health, one of the big companies of the day. I learned a wide range of skills from my colleagues in other disciplines and from other vets. My boss, a vet, was professional, worldly, and passionate about good communication. I had recently won a writing prize for vets, and I thought I was a good writer. But he pulled my writing apart, and I learned from it. He also taught me to work out all the possible consequences of whatever I did. It was a great grounding for the rest of my career. That job gave me the opportunity to experience other countries and cultures too. My work took me to 16 countries on three continents. I enjoyed writing reports for colleagues in product development, sales and marketing. But I soon wanted to be one of the people who, after reading the report, decided what to do.
David with his sheep
Developing new business ideas
My next job was as a product manager. Suddenly, I had responsibilities for stocks, pricing, packaging, distribution agreements – everything. One day I would be telling the buyer how much raw materials to buy for a new product. The next, I would go to France or Italy to sell our range to integrated poultry producers. I was gaining experience very fast.
When the company was sold and I left it, I had some business ideas of my own. I approached a pharmaceutical-ingredients company, and they offered me a job. That was my first opportunity to create a new business, and it brought me more valuable experiences. I became an expert on an antibiotic growth promoter. When its use came under scrutiny, I worked with politicians, political strategists and a non-governmental organisation, and with legal and PR firms both in the world’s top 10 companies in the field. I learned more skills to use later when I founded Nimrod.
My career has been an adventure, and I still have ideas to pursue. For any vet who loves the subject of veterinary medicine, but also wants to be a developer and communicator of ideas, I recommend a career in industry. I hope my story may encourage others to try it.