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Entering a corporate partnership
  1. Tracy Mayne

Abstract

Veterinary nurse Tracy Mayne became a partner in a corporate practice just over four years ago. Here, she explains how things are going

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BEING a partner in a corporate is not everyone's cup of tea. Many view corporates as controlling and interfering, but if this were true, the people who are drawn to them would soon realise and move on, and the corporate models would crash and burn. However, as we have witnessed, corporate practices continue to grow at a steady pace.

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There is a great deal said about how much control a parent company has over what you do in your own practice. In our practice, we are free to choose the companies we buy our drugs and equipment from. Deals can be negotiated with these companies in the same way as in any business, and corporate practices take advantage of them in the same way as everyone else. However, as an individual practice we are free to choose a different company from the one offering the deal if we want to. It doesn't all come down to cost; it comes down to what works best for us in our practice.

Our corporate owners do not micromanage us, although we have the support of the management staff as often as we wish. When we are busy and have our backs to the wall we are left in peace, but, for example, when we want to set our marketing plan for the year, the relevant staff will come along to meet with us so that we can swap ideas and work out a plan, which they then go away to implement. Tracy Mayne is a partner with Redditch Vets4Pets

Joining a corporate

When taking a partnership in a corporate practice, you are relying on the expertise of the team as well as the strength and reputation of the ‘brand’. Think carefully when deciding which company to join. In my case, I particularly looked at the experience of the management team in supporting their veterinary professionals, and found it had a good record of supporting the partners.

I often get asked about how much control the partners have. This depends on which corporate you choose to work with. We have a great deal of control over what we do, including the day-to-day running of the practice, recruitment decisions, the services we offer, opening and closing times, as well as our budget and business plans.

Yes, direction is given, and advice and support are offered. Had we wanted to purchase half the kit on show in the commercial exhibition at BSAVA Congress after our first year of trading, I would have expected our financial team to provide us with some financial advice along the lines of ‘Are you mad?’ or, more likely, ‘Let's look at your current cash flow position and estimated turnover for the next 12 months to establish if the business can afford such capital expenditure at this time.’

It would be foolish not to consider the different corporate models, as there are significant differences. You need to understand the financial model that will be presented to you, and if you don't, you should seek professional guidance. It is important to understand what you are letting yourself in for. The same can be said of any practice partnership, not just a corporate scenario, so take time to understand what you are being offered and what's in it for both parties.

You need to know what questions to ask in order to understand the business model, what level of autonomy you will have in your practice, and what processes are in place should there be any conflict.

In my opinion, corporate models have a great structure; you just need to understand it. You do need to understand what is in it for them and ensure you are happy with that. You can't get a few years down the line and then decide that you resent paying management fees! Well, you can, but then it may be time to go your separate way, and leave the practice that you have built up.

Support team

The diverse skill base of the support team means that we have someone we can call or meet up with to help us with finance, marketing, human resources, IT issues, and so on. Most practices would have to employ the skilled services of external companies, which are not working to increase your turnover, but theirs.

Your management fees pay for these in-house services, provided by people who are employed by the same company and who want you to stay in business and make money. They have a vested interest in helping you to achieve your goals and solve your problems.

I find it very helpful to have a group of partners to call on if things are difficult. If I want support or advice on a clinical case, or to know how to change the ‘O’ ring on the centrifuge, I can e-mail the group, and within minutes I will have a flood of replies. There will often be other partners opening practices at similar times to you, and this can create a close bond between the practices. New friendships are created and problems shared really can be problems halved – or even solved.

Remember that it is a partnership, and all partnerships have pros and cons. If you want the skilled support of the vast corpor-ate team you will get it, but if you want to change the logo colour it is unlikely to happen!

Monthly clinical and management meetings are run by the partners. This provides a forum to discuss issues or ideas. The corporate model has the power to bring your ideas to life. I have had a few ideas of my own adopted and brought to fruition, and that has been very rewarding and unlikely to happen under other circumstances.

Partnerships are like marriages: they have to be worked at. You may not like everything the other person in the partnership does; you have to learn to compromise. I don't see this as being any different in a corporate practice than in a non-corporate practice. One difference I do see is that corporate practices have set lines of communication and that the business decisions that need to be made are made with everyone's financial interests at heart.

People often ask me whether I have any regrets: well, yes I do. I regret not going into this partnership sooner …

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