Interview with Tony Thelander

Tony Thelander has been a prominent figure in the Australian veterinary industry for more than 40 years. Starting out as a veterinarian, he has taken on multiple roles in both the business and management side of being a vet. We asked him to share some advice, from what he has learned over the last four decades from both a career and business perspective. 

Q1. Tell us a little about your Veterinary career.

  • I graduated from University of Queensland in 1970.  My first job was with a well-known Brisbane small animal practitioner who turned out to be a very good mentor. After two years, I became a partner in a practice at Chermside (which is where I stayed until I sold the practice in 2007). 
  • In 1997 I completed an MBA. I saw the need to run veterinary practices (mine included) more professionally as a business.
  • I became friendly with Dr Jim Martin who seemed to be exhibiting his veterinary equipment at every veterinary conference I attended. Jim had started a veterinary practice valuation company called ValuVet in 1996 and he asked me to accompany him on one of his practice visits. I ended up buying the company in 2006 and running it for the next 15 years.
  • I sold my practice in Chermside in 2007 to concentrate on the consulting work with ValuVet – I balanced work at Valuvet with regular locum work
  • I sold ValuVet in 2018 and I continue to do regular locum work to this day

Q2. With your background and experience in running practices and valuing them, what 4 things do you think that owners commonly get wrong?

The major areas of practice management that owners miss when trying to build their practices are (in order)

  1. Missed or low fees – as a profession, we simply do not charge enough for the high-quality service we provide. 
  2. We fail to re-invest in our businesses, leaving us to offer our clients and our patients an often sub-optimal service. 
  3. Through lack of skill or otherwise, we do not look after our staff as well as we should, thus creating all sorts of HR problems for the practice owner, and branding our profession as a poorly paid, high-stress workplace. One could say that the consequence of problem #1 (low fees) has a direct bearing on #2 and #3.
  4. Practice management has emerged as an essential part of running a business –there is a need in today’s business environment for larger practices to employ a ‘practice manager’ to allow the veterinary practice owner to practice their trade.

Q3. Why did you sell the practice?

I had always hoped that one day, my practice would provide for my retirement. The closer I came to the end of my full-time practicing career, the more I began to focus on the ‘bottom line’ of the business – in other words, I became a better business manager. My ambition (as it was for my ValuVet clients) was to sell my business on my terms and at a time of my choosing. I have no real regrets in selling my practice – I think I went out at the top of my skills and have been able to enjoy my after-practice time thus far. 

Q4. Tell us about life post-sale

My wife Ros and I have been fortunate to spend time travelling the world, participating in our children’s and grandchildren’s lives and activities (I have become a rowing coach at my grandsons’ school). In the quiet times, I am able to help a couple of my practice-owning colleagues out by locuming and training their staff in veterinary dentistry.  I am also a mentor to young veterinarians starting out in their careers.  Is this retirement?  Probably not, but to me it is fulfilling and flexible enough for me to pursue life at a pace of my choosing – I consider myself fortunate to still have so many options in life without the burden of owning and running a business.

Q5. From its beginning and to this day, ValuVet has always been owned and run by veterinarians.  What advantages do you think this gives ValuVet in valuations?

My clinical expertise assisted me enormously in communicating with my colleagues when I visited them with my ValuVet hat on. Understanding exactly how equipment is used, the complexity of different tasks and having first-hand knowledge of the operations of a practice creates a depth of understanding that an accountant or general valuer cannot match.  As a veterinarian I was able to greatly minimise the assumptions that non-veterinary valuers are required to make when valuing veterinary practices.  A practicing veterinarian observing from the outside can easily identify and uncover a practice’s risks, opportunities and strengths and at the same time, understanding our clients’ needs – I believe this has always been a core strength and is what differentiates ValuVet from other veterinary valuers.

Q6. Looking back at your career what Career Advice do you have for Vets starting out?

  1. Become involved in your professional association – you get back far more than you ever put in! Membership in Veterinary professional associations helped to keep me stimulated and interested in what was happening in our profession. It also led to my:
    • becoming a founding director of Provet Supplies (yes, it was started here in Brisbane in 1982 with five Queensland veterinarians as directors) and the first Animal Emergency Centre in Brisbane. 
    • becoming a hospital inspector for the ASAV hospital accreditation scheme for 10 years.
    • holding leadership positions in my chosen professional associations, becoming an external examiner for final year veterinary students at my own University, building two accredited hospitals and to have a second career as a veterinary business consultant – all of which I enjoyed immensely.
  1. Develop a hobby or an external interest as you go – don’t wait till you retire to do it.
  2. Build your network of friends and colleagues as you go – they will be there to grow old with you when you retire.
  3. Maintain your professional skills and your business right to the end.
  4. I am amazed at how time flies, so don’t waste time with the wrong people in life and take your opportunities as they come along.