Setting up a pet insurance company
Although I enjoyed working in small animal practice, I soon found out that while many of my peers were eagerly comparing notes about the latest surgeries they’d performed or the new techniques they’d learned, what I found more rewarding was the time spent in the consulting room, where I was focusing on both the pet and its owner. Pets bring such joy to people and it is the power of these human/animal relationships and the value that pets bring to our day-to-day lives that I have always found deeply touching. And, after 12 years in practice and some time spent in industry, I realised that wielding a scalpel was not the only way to nurture these precious relationships.
Setting up pet insurance company
I’ve never been fearful of change and am prepared to be disruptive if I see an opportunity. In 2009, I did just that. I’d become interested in pet insurance and felt that the pet insurance models I’d seen were not fit for purpose. They were businesses and needed to make a profit, but I felt they could continue to make money while still putting the relationship between pet and owner first.
I did some research and then decided to set up my own insurance company, Vetsure Pet Insurance.
As with any start-up, we faced challenging times early on. I was working just as hard, if not harder, than when I was in practice and had to learn quickly ‘on the job’, taking advice when it was available and through the odd course here and there. These were largely regulatory courses introducing me to the compliance requirements of the Financial Conduct Authority, essential for a financially regulated company. I gained financial and insurance underwriting expertise by learning from the accountants and underwriters I employed. I learned that, once you get past the jargon, it wasn’t as challenging as I’d thought.
"When I watch my team in action, I can become quite emotional with pride"
We came through the early challenges and were stronger as a result. As a business owner, it’s the tough times that help you to learn and put things into perspective. I’m proud that, 10 years on, we have the highest customer satisfaction scores on online consumer sites. We work with more than 550 veterinary practices, have experienced our third year of growth in excess of 20 per cent and our forecasts for this year look healthy. We employ 25 people and have won industry awards for innovation and customer service. We are the only company to offer health plans alongside pet insurance and I firmly believe that the holistic provision of healthcare budgeting is the future. When I watch my team in action, I can become quite emotional with pride.
The power of human/animal relationships
It is the dynamic between pet and owner that still drives me today. In my career I have had the privilege of caring for dogs that have been trained to support the disabled; dogs that give people a reason to get up every day; cats that help elderly people deal with loneliness; and pets that have helped children, including my own, deal with the crazy stresses that life today throws at them.
It’s a sad indictment of our society that pets, for many, are replacing human/human interactions. Perhaps it’s easy to understand why: our pets don’t ask too much from us, never judge us and are generally always there for us. They are an antidote to all the bad aspects of 21st century life. Vets and the wider veterinary sector have a responsibility to help protect them.
Joining the VMG board
I joined the board of the Veterinary Management Group (VMG) in 2017, primarily to provide an industry perspective and insight. I am constantly inspired by its leadership team. Their dedication and commitment to drive up standards of veterinary management and leadership is absolute and, as volunteers with busy day jobs, they give a great deal for little personal return.
Leadership opportunities across the profession
I am concerned that a vacuum of leadership within veterinary practice could emerge over the next decade as so many experienced leaders are selling their practices to external owners and moving on. Because of this, being part of a team helping to develop the next generation of veterinary managers and leaders feels like an important thing to do.
We will avoid this vacuum if more of us step forward, so my message to my fellow veterinary professionals – vets, nurses, practice managers or support staff – is to do just that. Long gone are the days when the only owners were 50/50 vet partners who both worked in the business. Today, there are opportunities to lead and to innovate across the sector just waiting to be grasped and, whatever your role, if you are passionate and committed to your clients and their animals, you can become a manager, a leader, a shareholder and an innovator – whether in a practice or in industry. You might even want to set up your own business!
"We need a new generation of veterinary leaders and innovators more than ever"
The knowledge you need to take up a non-clinical role, such as running a business, can be learned – I am proof of that – but genuine selfless passion for our great profession and our clients cannot and both are important.
As the profession gears up to face the tough challenges ahead, we need a new generation of veterinary leaders and innovators more than ever. If you’re ready to step up and have the commitment to stick at it, you could be one of them regardless of how little you think you know now.
1994: Qualified from Cambridge with an MA in physiology
1995: Worked in mixed practice in Hertfordshire
1998-2001: Studied for a PhD in developmental orthopaedic disease
2001-2010: Various roles in small animal practice in Cambridge, Hertfordshire, London and a role with Hill’s Pet Nutrition
2009: Set up Vetsure Pet Insurance
2017: Appointed director of the Veterinary Management Group