Vet Business

You’re Smarter Than You Think – A Veterinarian in an Executive MBA Program



What do you get when you put a gold mining executive, 12 bankers, 2 physicians, a retailer in the Canadian Arctic, a politician’s media director, 2 HR specialists, a comptroller for an oil company, a realtor, an international project developer, 3 entrepreneurs, 2 veterinarians, a financial advisor, an insurance agent, an event planner and a builder, and many more in a room? This is just a sampling of the many different careers of the people in my EMBA class. On top of that, more than half the class of 53 was born outside of Canada and have become, or are trying to become, Canadian citizens. Did you notice that there are two veterinarians in my class? Having one is unusual, so it is certainly a sign of our times that two vets want to be better at running their veterinary businesses.

I was reading the bios of my class mates a couple of days before the semester started and I have to admit I was very intimidated. I’m a vet who treats horses after all!! What was I thinking getting involved with this? Look at the resumes of these people. They work in successful large corporations. I’m being eaten by flies at a farm as I write this. Some travel internationally to conduct business, while I drive a dusty SUV and some days I remove my clothes at the door because they stink so much. Thankfully, I don’t have as many of those days since I stopped shoeing horses. My wife kept reminding me of all the incredible things we have accomplished in the short period of time we have had our business, but my thoughts kept returning to one thing. Since I received my textbooks and first assignments due during our first week of residence I have been fretting about spreadsheet modeling in EXCEL!!! Have you had dreams after graduating from vet college where you are back in school, and failing an exam, or missing too many classes? Well I am having them again, only this time I was looking at a blank spreadsheet and had no idea what to enter. I was certain to be the dumbest person in my class. It was a given.

“trying to be better business people”

Imagine my surprise that when I showed up at the pre-EMBA tutorial, for those needing extra help with accounting, and almost the whole class was there. Not only that, but we all felt the same. That was my first eye opening moment of my EMBA; everyone here is getting their MBA because they are trying to be better business people. The other thing I realized is that every one of their businesses face daily challenges from competitors, other industries or our changing times…..just like our industry.

This sense of comfort lasted exactly one week until I started the official EMBA. To enhance our learning we are broken into groups of 6 each term to work on cases and assignments together. Next insight was that better business decisions are made with input from multiple sources and to that end our group is comprised of people with distinct strengths and weaknesses. Our first assignment required spreadsheet modeling to help us get an answer to a case. One of my team members can work a spreadsheet like I can treat a horse with colic. I have years of experience and have been exposed to many presenting variations of horses suffering from this so I am fairly comfortable when dealing with this. Unfortunately, when I saw the polished spreadsheet he presented to the group I felt so defeated. After the hours and hours of work that I spent on mine, what I had looked like a stick drawing next to a fine piece of art. I went to bed that night after 14 hours of class and group work as dejected as I felt in years. I was not alone in that feeling. Over drinks the next night everyone at my table felt the same way about their own efforts. That was my first inkling that I was going to be all right. They weren’t going to accept us into a class only to have us all crash and burn.

Out of this turmoil I learned 3 things that resonated with me.

Everyone has something to learn about business.

I meet so many people at veterinary business CE events that are intimidated by their lack of business knowledge. I realize that there is no reason for this since it is very likely that most of the people at the meeting know just as much (or little) as you do.

Every business, even Apple, is facing a significant challenge.

I don’t think there is an industry that is not looking over their shoulder wondering what is around the next corner that is going to rock them back on their heels. Businesses facing this can either try to be on the offensive and try to get a bigger piece of the business pie or retrench and be on the defensive. Most vet practices default to the latter. How is that working out you?

Use the resources around you to make better business decision

Even if you are a solo practice owner there is no reason to rely solely on yourself as your business advisor. Involve other people whether they are accountants, lawyers, family members or colleagues to bounce off ideas or to solicit ideas. Someone outside of your situation might have an insight that you have never thought of that might be the ticket to help your business.

I survived my first week of the EMBA with more knowledge than I expected. I am cautious, though, with my few new business smarts. Just because I know a dog’s tooth needs to be removed doesn’t mean I’m up to extracting it yet. I need some more skills and foundation knowledge just like I need several more classes before I’m about to make plan for the future of our business. In the meantime, I’m reading more cases, trying to improve my Excel skills and meet with my learning group.

I don’t regret my decision to take an EMBA. I’m enjoying the ride so far.

We’ll talk soon.


  1. You have the right attitude, Mike! Excel scares me to death, too. We become so accustomed to thinking laterally, to “seeing the big picture” in order to build businesses and make decisions and then wham! Here’s Excel, wanting little micro bits of detailed information that seem so disembodied from the whole. Excel creates a different sort of a whole, and I suspect you will learn to love it. They call it “Excel” for a reason!

    1. Fran,

      I have to admit that I am starting to get Excel. I’m not quite there to “loving” it, but hey who knows what might happen.

  2. Mike,
    Congratulations, and enjoy the new journey/adventure. I felt the same way you did in your blog going back to school at this stage of our careers. I have to admit that one time in the middle of my first year I had one of those terrible dreams that I missed an exam too. In addition, I got out of bed one morning showered, got dressed, and then started driving to school and half way there realized that it was Sunday. Oops 🙂

    Have fun, learn lots – you are really going to enjoy the next two years! My hat’s off to you. Bob

    1. That cracked me up. I will be sure to post if something similar happens to me.
      Thanks Bob

  3. Hi Mike, Very open and honest blog!. You are embarking on a very exciting journey. Thank you for letting us go along vicariously on your journey.

  4. Vets are great minds. You will make it. The mistake would have been feeling no need for greater effort (complacency).

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