Vet Business

The Power of Group Learning – More Tales From an EMBA


As we get older and set in our veterinary careers there seems to be fewer and fewer opportunities to interact with people outside of our profession or industry. When we go to CE events they are filled with other vets, or vendors of veterinary medical equipment and supplies. This familiarity is great for social situations and for learning about veterinary issues, but more and more I have found that in the business sections of conferences that it is vets, or people that work with vets, talking to vets and vet staff about vet businesses. I am sure this is a similar scenario in other industries as well in that we are comfortable with people like ourselves who share similar experiences and communicate in a similar language. The question I sometimes ask is if all we are doing is talking to people like ourselves are we learning anything new?

Jump ahead to the first day in my EMBA and we find out that we have all been assigned to groups of 6 for the term. Before we meet our fellow group members we hear our professors stating that “your 5 other group members are your new best friends” and “get ready to meet some new lifelong friends”. Those are some pretty lofty words for these people I haven’t yet met. Are we in cult? When do we start wearing funky robes and call each other by secret names? Still, I’m intrigued. I have read the bios for my classmates and I am very humbled by the depth and diversity of experiences. Starting a veterinary business with my wife doesn’t seem that impressive in the grand scheme of things.

Our group finally meets and in the group is an emergency room physician, a banker and others with experience in IT, the insurance industry, nursing homes sales and supplies, and a horse vet. I thought back to the last time I was in an assigned group and that was during vet college for junior surgery in 3rd year. At that time we were assigned alphabetically and because of our age the only experiences we had were from our university backgrounds. We didn’t have complimentary skills that would enhance each other’s learning. At Ivey, we are told that our teams are carefully thought out so that our work and life skills would enhance our learning. We all bring different backgrounds and skill sets to the table with the goal that we will help each other gain in the areas where individuals are lacking. Sounds good, since I am here to improve as a business leader.

So how is it working out so far? Simply put, I have a great group. Beyond the usual things that help make a group work well like respect, tolerance and patience we just get along very well. These are not people I would have met socially or have had any other reason to work with, but now that I am I couldn’t be happier for the experiences we are having. The influence of my colleagues is having an effect on me too. As we work over cases as a group I hear the questions and insights they have that would not have entered my mind. In one exercise, each of the groups had to work on a real world scenario of what we would do if we were on a plane that crash-landed on a lake in Northern Canada. We all survived but we were left with 3 minutes to grab necessary supplies from a sinking plane. Sounds ridiculous at first, but it taught us to evaluate all of the options and consider why we were making the decisions we did. 5 of us went into the meeting set on one approach and within 5 minutes the other group member convinced us to take an alternative decision. A different perspective based on experiences and education allowed us to see other options. It struck us all that this group work thing had its advantages.

I have come to appreciate other benefits of our group work

For one thing, I am starting to get the hang of Excel and, believe it or not, I look forward to the cases that require me to find a solution working with a spreadsheet. The other is that I am looking at real world situations with a different perspective. When I look at my own business I am asking different questions and options than I used to. I find that I am able to drill down to the core issues that we face while having a holistic view of our company as it relates to other industries, and the economy as a whole. What encourages me is that this is only after the first of 15 months. Right now I have enough knowledge to be dangerous, since I know that I am just scratching the surface of what I will ultimately learn. In other words, I wouldn’t do a cat spay on my own after doing one in my junior surgery class. I need a lot more guidance and experience with other things, like anesthesia, to make sure that my knowledge is comprehensive.

The good news is that EMBA program doesn’t appear to be a cult. We don’t have secret handshakes or passwords in order to enter a classroom, but we are learning to appreciate the value each of us brings to the program. Sadly, we don’t see enough of this in veterinary medicine. We tend to be suspicious of outsiders with the default phrase that “our profession is different”. Nothing could be further from the truth. I would challenge any veterinarian, or business owner for that matter, to seek opportunities to learn from other businesses or professionals in other industries. I am sure they will learn as much from you as you do from them. I know I am benefitting from this experience. So is my business.






  1. thanks Mike,
    I am looking forward to more posts from MBA world.

  2. Thank you Carol. I’m glad you are enjoying these posts.


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