Kevin Vasquez and Henry Schein Animal Health stay sharp in the face of challenges to remain an industry leader

Kevin Vasquez’s biggest fear is complacency. So he strives to maintain a sense of urgency as chairman, president and CEO of Henry Schein Animal Health — and it’s working.

“Being No. 1 is one thing. Staying No. 1 is quite another,” he says. “The only way you can do that is to keep sharp — to stay in tune every day to what’s happening in your business and what the competitors are doing to try to unseat you from that position of being No. 1.

“We’ve got a team that stays that focused and we’ve never rested on our success. Consequently we’ve been able to push our business forward.”

Under Vasquez’ leadership the company has grown its annual sales to $1.7 billion, capturing 37 percent of the U.S. companion animal market segment.

It also has been sold three times, most recently becoming a division of Henry Schein in 2009.

But when you represent 450 channel partners, selling 50,000 products to 26,000 clients, there are always challenges, Vasquez says.

“Sometimes you’re faced with challenges that you can’t do much about,” he says.

“But you can still respond to them. You can still make changes within your organization and within your own strategy and tactics to face those challenges that you really had no control over,” Vasquez says.

Here’s how Vasquez and his leadership team face problems, taking a step back and finding a way to turn the situation around — and remain the No. 1 veterinary distributor in the animal health industry.

 

Heading to the war room

No matter when it happens, losing a major customer is unfortunate, but it’s how you respond that tells how much effect it will have on your company.

Henry Schein Animal Health was blindsided when it lost a major diet food line after a supplier decided to eliminate distribution within the industry and go direct to the end user.

“They pulled the plug about mid-year of that particular year, ” Vasquez says. “It was going to impact our business very negatively because we were tracking to achieve approximately $100 million in sales with them for that year.”

Most recently, winter’s polar vortex reduced pet owner visits to veterinary clinics in the first quarter to the lowest point in 10 years. The number of warehouse “closure days” due to extreme weather also was more than the past 10 years combined.

It was two different types of challenges, but Vasquez says the response was relatively the same.

First, he assembled the leadership team to assess the situation thoroughly and collectively identified ways to overcome the challenge, through both internal and external strategies.

“I have always maintained that character is not created via adversity, it is actually revealed there,” he says. “This is where leadership is paramount.”

It takes a leader to pull the whole team together in a room, allowing everyone to throw different ideas up against the wall from their vantage point, and see if any of them stick, Vasquez says.

“We do a complete analysis with what this all means,” he says. “And then once we understand and get our hands around what the impact is if nothing is done at all — and we just basically let it happen, that’s one scenario — then we develop two or three other scenarios with different solutions to that problem or that challenge that can help lift us out of that situation.”

For example, when Henry Schein Animal Health lost $100 million in future sales, Vasquez says the answer to making that up wasn’t a one-system approach.

The company reached out to the competing lines of the supplier that walked away to develop tactics to try to capture that market share. It also examined its entire product portfolio to find other segments with high profitability to help offset the budget gap.

With the polar vortex, it would have been easy to accept the circumstances as out of the company’s control.

But Vasquez says it provided the company the opportunity to create business tools to improve internal performance as well as give customers communication strategies to improve client visits.