Throughout her career journey, Dr. Linda Lehmkuhl’s focus has shifted.
You become a veterinarian to help puppies and kittens, the CEO says. But the first time you’re on the other side of the exam table, you realize it’s not just about helping the pet. It’s also about helping that owner preserve his or her special bond.
Lehmkuhl joined MedVet Medical & Cancer Centers for Pets in 2000, leaving her role as an academic cardiologist at The Ohio State University. In private practice at a specialty animal hospital, she had another aha moment, and her focus shifted to referral partners.
“They’re the general practitioners in the community that send us the pets and clients,” Lehmkuhl says. “They trust us with their pet and their client.”
MedVet — and Lehmkuhl — could deliver a greater impact by helping these referral partners. If they’re successful, MedVet can help thousands of patients and clients.
“Do I still love the patient and the client and care about them?” she says. “Yeah. But I realized my career, at that point, became, How do we help referral partners better? How do we serve them?”
When Lehmkuhl started leading teams — as medical director, regional medical director, chief medical officer and now CEO — her attention moved to MedVet’s employees. How could she deliver a great employee experience and ensure they were engaged and empowered?
“The focus of my career changed,” she says. “They’re all important to MedVet — patients, clients, referral partners and our team — but as I journeyed through my career, the laser focus moved.”
Each stakeholder has been there the whole time, but the way Lehmkuhl makes an impact is different.
Growing into the role
Lehmkuhl learned much of her managerial skills on the job, reading books and listening to others. MedVet’s former CEO, Dr. Eric Schertel, also prepared her to take his role — often without her realizing it. He exposed her to more of the organization, doing things like inviting her to meetings with the CFO and letting her take the lead on her idea of how to restructure the leadership team.
Lehmkuhl became CEO in January 2019, as Schertel moved into the executive chairman role and MedVet hired a president with the business knowledge to help the organization scale. With the transition, Lehmkuhl hired an executive coach.
“I had wanted to get a coach before,” she says. “I was an athlete. I really believe in coaches. A couple times I thought about it, and Eric would be like, ‘You don’t have time for that. You’re too busy.’”
The timing finally seemed right, though, and Lehmkuhl met with the coach every two weeks for a year, which included a six-month transition as interim CEO. He challenged her to pause and redefine her roles and responsibilities. What does success look like? What does MedVet need now, as opposed to when Schertel was in the role?
Today, she still sees him monthly because she finds it helpful.
“There are some things as a CEO that I might not want to talk to anybody about on the leadership team,” she says. “Maybe I’m struggling on how to support one of my executive leaders and I don’t want to talk about that to somebody else on the team.”