Leaving vet nursing for a short-term sales role was a risk that paid off

Charlotte Covell

As managing director (MD) of a global animal health company, I lead the business, ensuring that Virbac continues to grow as a partner of choice to our customers, while ensuring that it remains a great place to work. 

What does an average week look like?

Like the rest of the industry, my average week has changed dramatically during Covid-19. Our inability to meet face-to-face means the majority of my time is spent on video calls with our customers, colleagues across the business and partners worldwide. 

Relationships with our customers have always been key to the company’s success, and they are important to me personally. I am looking forward to a time when I can once again meet with customers outside of a digital environment. 

At what point did becoming MD become your goal?

Our previous MD David Ellerton had been in post for 17 years and, although it was inevitable that he would step down at some point, the announcement of his retirement still came as a bit of a shock. 

As commercial director at the time, I began to think about the qualities and experience I hoped my new boss would have in order to understand and meet the needs of the business, provide stability for our teams, and allow the company to excel in a market that is in many ways unique in comparison to that of our global colleagues. 

Given my experience, both within the industry and at Virbac, I felt that I was in a strong position to take over the reins and was fortunate to have the support and encouragement of colleagues across the business who championed me for the role. 

Have you ever taken a risk to advance your career?

My very first role in industry was a three-month temporary sales contract with Fort Dodge Animal Health, selling a topical anthelmintic for cattle. Leaving a secure head vet nurse position to take on a temporary role when I had no experience in sales was something that my parents definitely didn’t approve of at the time. 

Leaving Fort Dodge eight years later, I reflected that it had been a risk that had paid off and I was fortunate to meet colleagues there that ultimately led me to Virbac. However, I am sure that some colleagues could provide stories of risks I’ve taken over the years that haven’t played out quite so well! 

Based on my own experiences, I always encourage our teams to have a go at something rather than do nothing, and to accept that failure often provides the best learning opportunity.

Have you ever had to make compromises?

As a working mother of two children aged seven and 14, like many working mums I haven’t been able to make every school play or sports match, which is something that inevitably always leaves me feeling guilty. However, by being a working mum, I am showing my children what can be achieved through hard work. In their own way, I think they are proud of me. 

What makes a good leader?

I have been fortunate to work under many good leaders during my career and there are many qualities that make a good leader. 

I put a lot of thought into the type of leader that I wanted to be. I believe it’s important to listen, to empower my colleagues and to lead by example. Having worked in many different roles across the business – territory manager, regional manager and corporate business manager before my promotion to commercial director with responsibility for the company’s sales in the UK and Ireland – I can genuinely relate to the roles and challenges my teams face on a daily basis. 

'I put a lot of thought into the type of leader I wanted to be'

What skills are crucial to succeeding as a leader?

For me, the main skill to succeed is the ability to wear many hats. Every business has departments with areas of expertise. As MD, it’s important to understand the role that each department plays so that I can guide them to perform to the best of their ability, both individually and collectively with the other departments across our business. 

What is your aim for the company’s culture?

I’m incredibly proud of our company culture. My colleagues are among the most motivated that I have worked with and I genuinely believe the engagement of our teams directly influences the strong relationships we have with our customers. 

Alongside ensuring that Virbac continues to grow, I want to provide each and every colleague with individual fulfilment. I am incredibly passionate about developing the talent we have within our business and I hope that more of my colleagues will choose to develop their careers within the company. 

What are your aspirations for the company?

Having taken the role of MD in the midst of a global pandemic and just as Britain left the EU, in the short term I’m focused on navigating our business through the unprecedented challenges we face as an industry. 

After that I would like to ensure that Virbac continues to grow ahead of the market, offering useful, lasting solutions that genuinely improve veterinary practice and the quality of life for animals. 

'Customers should be at the heart of any thriving business'

Do you have any tips for succeeding in a business environment?

Customers should be at the heart of any thriving business, so prioritising longstanding relationships and acting with integrity is crucial, particularly within the veterinary industry, which is well-renowned for its intimacy. It’s also fair to say that any commercial role requires a certain level of drive, initiative and dedication to succeed. It is these qualities that I personally look for in any candidate looking to join Virbac.  

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