Jonathan Stirling is managing director of the Pet Vaccination and YourVets group of practices that specialise in cost-effective primary care. The company employs around 100 full-time staff and is looking to expand.
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How and why did you move from general practice into management?
Everyday general practice was not satisfying the creative side of my life and I needed something mentally challenging. I took the opportunity to join Hill's as nutritional adviser when it first came to the UK in 1986. It soon became apparent that this wasn't for me although, in hindsight, I learnt a lot about corporate life that has proved to be of great value to me.
I then joined CVS, where my education into all things managerial and corporate took off. It opened my eyes to the world of business with all its challenges and opportunities, and I left determined to bring some of that newly found knowledge into a business of my own.
How did you get to where you are today?
A colleague and I purchased the Pet Vaccination Group in 2005. We have spent five years consolidating the business, learning its strengths and weaknesses, and testing the results of that learning on a new branch, with a new brand name.
We now have a group of private shareholders, including key people from our head office and practice management team, as well as a restructured board to ensure that best corporate governance is maintained. I now have the discipline of working closely with my chairman and his board, which concentrates the mind in ensuring that every decision is carefully thought through. It is our intention to widen our stakeholding to accommodate giving ownership of some kind to all the staff. I find this prospect exciting, while being quite a challenge.
How do you spend a typical day?
I divide my time between my home in Cornwall, the head office in Solihull, and visiting the practices. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I am able to keep in close touch with the office.
I have a fantastic support team and we meet up for management meetings about once a month. The day-to-day running of each practice is carried out by our practice managers and the senior veterinary surgeon, so they have a strong sense of ownership.
What do you like about your job?
We employ a lot of people and we are responsible for creating a good working environment for them, as well as providing excellent customer care. Most of our working focus is spent on personnel and associated issues and, although we never get things completely right, we certainly put in a huge amount of effort in this respect. The resulting smiley faces are a real pleasure to me.
Sometimes our professional staff get frustrated that we provide only a first- opinion service, but there is a tendency for modern graduates to over-complicate things, with the result that clients can be served with huge bills when a simpler approach might just as easily produce good results.
I like the challenge of trying to get our staff to take a more down- to-earth line. I also love the constant challenge of doing things better than we do now. There is always better still, so everything we do is under constant review, and it is that sense of constantly striving for perfection that excites my team. Complacency is not part of our mantra.
What don't you like?
All the petty stuff that the meddling politicians keep thinking up to make life more difficult. Life would be so much more fulfilling if we didn't have so much red tape, and some of the employment law is so counterproductive that it makes things worse for those that it is supposed to help.
My other beef is that the colleges turn out graduates with far too much academic emphasis, and little understanding of the practicalities of life. We have actually been told by a new graduate that working for a primary care group was damaging to her image and career as a veterinary surgeon. Some common sense and a certain amount of humility at graduate level is essential, otherwise the profession may be lost in its own self-interest and detachment from reality.
Why is your job important to you?
It is vital that the public have access to quality primary care that is realistically priced and know they can rely on my company to provide a level of service that they can trust and afford at all times of the day and night. We have a saying that the welfare of the pet should not be put at risk by the cost of veterinary services.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar career?
Learn as much about yourself and your profession as you can, and develop as wide a portfolio of skills and experience, before you attempt to manage the careers and aspirations of others.
Learn to be a good listener, and always consider carefully the other person's point of view. Never chase the money, but always chase the people and the ideas – and never be afraid to surround yourself with those who may be better than you.
What has been your proudest moment?
Sharing the pleasure of all our staff at our first company ‘X Factor’ evening. We call it ‘Z Factor’, and everyone from each practice performs live on stage. The first evening was brilliantly bad in terms of musicality, but magnificently good in terms of enthusiasm and morale building.