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.

 

Executing with excellence

But coming up with a strategy is only the first step. It’s the execution of that strategy where companies fail — not only with their own mission and vision, but also overcoming those unexpected challenges, Vasquez says.

You can stand up and speak to the masses, but it’s the actual filtering down — communicating and having people understand this is the most viable option, and then implementing that strategy — that can be difficult.

You need a homogenous team with people throughout the organization who are competent, substantive and have the ability to turn things around.
It’s also key to monitor the entire implementation.

Vasquez says in the case of losing the supplier, Henry Schein Animal Health measured on a monthly, and sometimes daily, basis how it was doing getting business from other competing lines. Every week, it looked at how it was performing with increasing market share in other areas of the company.

The result was a resounding success — the company replaced the business lost and actually increased profitability.

“You just don’t put out a strategy and say, ‘Here’s how you execute’ and then hopefully wake up a morning six months from that point and say, ‘Did it work?’” he says. “We focus and we finish.

“Focusing and finishing is paramount, and part of that is measuring and monitoring, and making sure that the strategy and the tactics that you’re putting into place are becoming a reality on a daily, weekly, monthly basis through tracking and monitoring that performance.”

Thanks to today’s technology, Henry Schein Animal Health monitors its performance for everything, at the product, sales territory, channel partner and product segment levels.

“That can tell us exactly how one customer out of 26,000 is performing against the previous year, and against a goal that we may have for them,” Vasquez says.

Henry Schein Animal Health also has consistent business review sessions to go over that data.

 

Manipulating mounds of data

Compiling data is easier than figuring out what to do with it, or how to get the most value. Investing in data analysis and interpretation is becoming more important every day.

Henry Schein Animal Health has an entire department, the sales operations improvement department, which does nothing but monitor data.

Vasquez says the leadership team comes up with ideas for benchmarks it wants to create and monitor every month, including what signals to send out once it has the information.

Then, the staff analysts create reports with views and data to enable the executives to make intelligent, substantive and creative decisions.

In addition, Henry Schein Animal Health has an executive director of the sales operations improvement department to ensure it remains a top priority.

“We make sure that our analysts are really in key positions,” he says. “This is not something that is with someone that is way on down the ladder.”

When the supplier pulled out, Vasquez says Henry Schein Animal Health already knew exactly what it was selling and where. This allowed the company to understand quickly what it needed to do to pick it up.

It also gave the team the ability to pinpoint the high profit areas that could help bridge the budget gap with a slight improvement.

“Everything we do quite frankly is data-generated,” Vasquez says.

It’s not a case, however, of paralysis by analysis.

“I have an MBA, but I tend to be more intuitive than anything else,” he says. “Well, data just confirms what your intuition tells you. And one cannot exist without the other as far as I am concerned.

“You cannot make baseline black and white decisions just strictly upon data, and you certainly can’t make effective decisions that are substantive strictly on your intuition,”

Vasquez says. “It takes a great balance of both to be able to arrive at the most effective solution, and that’s what we employ here.”

 

Takeaways:

  • Determine the response to any challenge with a deep dive analysis.
  • Execute new strategies through a consistent message and constant monitoring.
  • Set up timely reports with the right data to support decision-making.

 

The Vasquez File:

Name: Kevin Vasquez
Title: Chairman, president and CEO
Company: Henry Schein Animal Health

Born: Annapolis, Maryland

Education: Bachelor’s degree in marketing from Western Carolina University and a master’s degree in business administration from Central Michigan University.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? My first job was working in the tobacco fields of North Carolina at 9 years old. I learned a strong work ethic, the value of a dollar and the importance of teamwork.

My father passed away at 44 when I was 9, and my mother was left with four children at home ranging from ages 3 to 15 and no income other than Social Security. We all had to find our own way.

I’ve worked since I was 9 and put myself through college and sought out opportunities — only in America can this happen. What a great country we live in.

What is the best business advice you ever received? You can only achieve true success through the success of others. Hire good people, break down barriers and provide a pathway that allows good people to do good work.

If you weren’t a CEO, what is something you have always wanted to do? I wanted to be a fighter pilot, but poor eyesight diverted my interests — having 20/800 vision doesn’t help.

If you could recommend a leadership book to business owners, which one would you choose? I prefer to read books that focus on demonstrations of leadership throughout American history, military and otherwise, which in turn can be applied to leadership principles in business as well as our personal lives. I just finished reading “Revolutionary Summer” by Joseph J. Ellis, which chronicles the birth of American independence from March through October 1776. Much about strategy implementation, determination, commitment and leadership can be learned from our forefathers and applied to business.