Jeff Gascoyne, a veterinary industry stalwart and managing director of Kent-based Pennard Vets, believes that having business acumen and good commercial awareness is just as important as strong clinical skills for graduates entering the veterinary profession.
Jeff Gascoyne has been volunteering his time and teaching the business module to fourth year vet students at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science at the University of Nottingham for the past 10 years. The University launched its vet school in 2006 and four years later in 2010, was the first year that the fourth-year students received their business skills training.
The module spans a month of lectures covering finance, marketing, human resources, valuations, business planning, entrepreneurship as well as leadership. It also covers how the veterinary industry has evolved over the past 20 years, technology innovations and the evolution of the veterinary business model, such as member only practices and employee ownership.
Alongside Jeff, Alison Lambert, founder of OnSwitch, delivers lectures including marketing, pricing and the customer journey. Both Jeff Gascoyne and Alison Lambert have allowed fifth year students to do a two-week Business Extra Mural Studies (BEMS) programme within their businesses to gain a greater understanding of veterinary business.
Jeff Gascoyne, who was born and raised in Nottingham, explained: “Working closely with the veterinary industry’s future talent offers a valuable handle on new graduates’ ambitions. At Pennard Vets we have developed an 18-month graduate support programme, and have several opportunities each year for these positions. Plus, being an employee ownership trust (EOT), means our entire team are now practice owners and shareholders in the business, which fits with the aspirations of today’s graduates, who want control over their careers, both clinically and commercially.
“A key part of our ethos is about encouraging the talented people in our ranks to share their industry knowledge; however, what started out as a short-term voluntary role has developed into a passion that has lasted 10 years. It’s hugely rewarding to see the next generation of vets coming into the industry, especially when they understand the true cost of their time and value themselves.”
Jeff Gascoyne continued: “The reality is that vets can be the most gifted clinical professionals, but it can be about much more than surgery and medicine, without a solid understanding of the business workings, their career prospects may be limited.
“At the end of the business module, we divide the students into groups, and they pitch business plans for a new practice, to the lecturers in a format inspired by Dragons’ Den. We question them about funding, team development and other aspects of their plans, before marking them on their presentation skills, leadership and whether the idea is commercially viable. Many of the students are still in their early twenties, but the way they handle the process is hugely impressive, and they learn a huge amount from it. At this stage they are aware of what it takes to run a successful practice.
“It’s also very rewarding to form connections with students who keep in touch, they’ll sometimes ask for help and guidance, and it’s great to see them growing in their careers and even building their own businesses.”
Dr Karen Braithwaite, head of operations from Nottingham Veterinary School, said: “From an early stage, we recognised the importance of improving the business readiness of our students and engaged both Jeff Gascoyne and Alison Lambert as experts in their field. Over the last decade this has evolved, and the business module has become a genuine highlight of our course.”
Dr Emma Drinkall, assistant professor and module convenor for the teaching, said “I was lucky to benefit from this teaching in its original form as one of the first cohorts through Nottingham.
“Having been out to practice and now finding myself as staff taking care of the module, it’s a privilege to keep evolving what we do and I believe it’s essential for the well-being and competency of our future colleagues that we do this in consultation with a team of experts and employers, such as Jeff Gascoyne. We are also very grateful to have this team also join in teaching to not only educate but inspire our students.”
Jeff Gascoyne joined Pennard Vets last year from Scarsdale Vets, where he spent five years as a partner, executive director and latterly, executive chairman. Prior to that he worked for 12 years at Vets4Pets as operations director and then business acquisitions director. Jeff holds an Honorary Associate Professorship in Veterinary Business Management from The University of Nottingham School of Veterinary Medicine and Science.
Pennard Vets has seven practices in Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Maidstone, Allington, Borough Green, Langley Park and West Malling. In 2021 Pennard Vets became the largest veterinary practice in the world to become employee owned, through an Employee Ownership Trust.