An interview with: David Hillier - CEO - Independent Vet Care

Marijana Lawton 11.04.2018

Every recruiter in Bristol is aware of the huge success story that is associated with IVC; they are the fastest growing business in the South West and a market leader in their field.

I was interested to find out if the meteoric rise in the company’s profile and number of people they employ had changed their fundamental values from an HR perspective.

I met with David Hillier – CEO and a founder member,  to discuss the beginnings, the challenges and the future of the South West’s most prominent employer.

I would like to start by going back to 2011 and understanding how the business started:

We started in 2011 and I was one of the founding members alongside Amanda Davis and Stuart Caton. The reason we set the group up was that there was a real opportunity to have a business which put healthcare at the centre of its occupation, and was geared around clinicians’ needs and their ways of working. For me, that is the only way of running a successful healthcare business. We wanted to create the environment where clinicians are regarded as essential to everything we do and not simply as a source of cost.

We did our research and knew that no other veterinary group had this approach; there was a definite gap in the market.  

The name came from the notion that all our vets should be independent in the way they conduct their clinical work and not worry about running the business, which was down to us - Independent Vet Care seemed appropriate. This model runs through our entire business, we try to create the environment where people have flexibility to do their job well and enjoy coming into work.

Many of your principles seem geared towards creating a culture where people are happy and free to be their best selves, do you feel that you have managed to retain those values whilst experiencing a significant growth in number of people as well as locations/vet practices?

Good question – our values are:

  • Openness - not having barriers and not becoming a business that does not allow people to question things.
  • Dialogue – allowing people to discuss ideas and reach a decision that works for all.
  • Respect – treating people decently and understand individual needs.  
  • Engagement – it is about local engagement, if people feel that they contribute, they feel a part of the big picture.
  • Entrepreneurship – innovation, this is about not getting complacent, it is about being open to change.  

These values are essential to what we want our business to look and feel like. To answer your question, it is sometimes difficult to stay close to the business to ensure that everyone lives and breathes our values, but this is why we employ people who are aligned to those values. We have a definite IVC fit and when we are bringing people in, we would expect this to carry on no matter what size we become. We are a successful business and our ambitions are huge, but we do not want to lose our identity - this is something that our senior leaders all agree on.

We are hugely proud of the fact that all our leaders are still with us and we still get on really well and have the same vision for the business.

With many of your locations in Europe, will the Brexit affect your business?

Not directly as we don’t export/import goods ourselves, but our suppliers will almost certainly be affected. We will wait to see how things pan out.

What are your thoughts on gender pay?

Pay should always be based on capability. At IVC we employ far more women than men, reflecting the demographics of the veterinary profession, where around 75% qualified vets are female. Part of our plan when setting up the business was to give these individuals a different career path to the one they had 20 years ago. Traditionally, vets in the UK had limited options with little flexibility and frankly not everyone wanted to take on a practice and stay for their whole life, especially for women who wanted to raise a family alongside their career. We offer an alternative career path, which gives everyone a choice. So in short, gender pay for our business is about talent and not whether they are male or female.

If you could change one thing about your company, what would that be?

That’s a really interesting question, to be honest I’m not sure. We have done well and we have a lot to be happy about but if I had to pick something, it would be investing in IT and recruiting an IT team earlier than we did. Looking back on it, we probably did not realise how fast we would grow. There is a huge opportunity with digital and IT where we have not fully exploited these opportunities. We do have fantastic people, but they have joined us quite recently and in hindsight, we could have recruited them earlier.

What are you most proud of to date?

Without a doubt, launching our training academy, which trains young, recently qualified vets, and gives them the skills to be successful in the profession. We have seen a significant increase in retention and job satisfaction following their training, which was our goal.  

I see this training being rolled out to the rest of the business, nurses and leadership staff.

What does a CEO’s day look like?

Well, working hard, of course! I spend quite a bit of time outside the UK, visiting other parts of the group and attending meetings, visiting practices etc. It is a balancing act to ensure I am still close to the business but also to look at opportunities which will grow the business.

Finally - do you own any pets?

Unfortunately, I do not have a pet at the moment because it is difficult to have one when you are not at home much, but we do have staff who bring dogs to the offices!

How do you like spending time when not at work?

That is an easy one, I love spending time with my family, love cooking, and we love the outdoors and are avid walkers.

This meeting left me feeling impressed that we still have leaders like David. I found him easy and fun to talk to. He has a great sense of humour, he knows all of his employees’ names, even the person I placed with Amanda in 2011! No wonder his business has grown so fast, he seems to be fully engaged with making sure the company’s values are still intact. IVC are moving to new premises in the latest development in Cadbury House, this represents another phase in their growth.

Culture – Engagement – Staff Retention – Success - it’s a simple formula that, surprisingly, not many businesses seem to be able to follow. Luckily, for IVC, they have found the winning formula.

Marijana Lawton's picture
Manager | Human Resourcing
mlawton@morganmckinley.com

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