Name: Louise Stonier
Qualifications: LLB (Hons) Law
Current position: Chief Operating Officer, Vets for Pets
Little known fact: Louise is passionate about pet welfare having chaired the Pets at Home Foundation over a 16-year period, growing the charity into the largest grant giving organisation to animal rehoming centres in the UK and raising over £35 million during that time.
100-word biography: Louise is a graduate of the University of Nottingham and a qualified solicitor. She first joined Pets at Home in 2004 as Head of Legal and Company Secretary, and was promoted to Group Legal Director and Company Secretary in 2008. Louise subsequently held the roles of Chief People and Legal Officer from 2017 to 2019, and Group Chief People and Culture Officer from 2019 to 2022, before being named Chief Operating Officer of Vets for Pets in 2022. Louise was also the Chair and Trustee of The Pets at Home Foundation from 2004 until 2022.
How did you first come to be involved in the veterinary profession?
I joined the Pets Group in 2004 as Head of Legal and Company Secretary and in my early years, I carried out the legal work for Companion Care and our practice owners, which at the time was our vet business prior to our acquisition of Vets for Pets.
Since then, I’ve held various roles across the business, including General Counsel, Chief People and Culture Officer, and I’ve chaired the Pets at Home Foundation. Through these roles I have had the opportunity to see first-hand the brilliant work our veterinary colleagues and practice owners are doing to support clients and their pets and witness the crucial role they play in our business each and every day.
What does your role as Vets for Pets Chief Operating Officer entail and what does a typical day look like?
As with every role in this industry, no day is the same! My typical responsibilities include anything from supporting new practice owner partners in practice to overseeing the implementation of our differentiated clinical strategy to identifying opportunities to support our partners to grow their practices and fulfil their clinical ambitions within our unique joint venture model.
What do you enjoy most about the job and what aspects do you least enjoy?
What I most enjoy has to be having the opportunity to support industry professionals take the next step to become a practice owner through our joint venture partnership model. One of the highlights of my job is being able to get into our different practices, to spend time collaborating with our amazing partners as well as seeing the diverse range of complex clinical cases that they carry out.
In the past 12 months, a number of partners have been able to realise the value that they have created over the years by selling their practices in part or in full. As a result, we have brought in more than 40 new partners into our partnership model. We are continuing to see an increase in enquiries, particularly due to the unique opportunity for veterinary professionals to own their own practice and operate with owner autonomy, making the clinical decisions that are right for their practice and patients but with support from the group. It’s really rewarding to see our partners achieve their growth and clinical ambitions.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced during your time as COO?
One of the biggest challenges facing the industry is the barriers that students can face as they navigate completing their degree. The feedback we receive from across the industry tells us that finding and funding EMS is an increasing challenge. That’s why we launched our EMS bursary scheme, which was the first of its kind to be launched by a large-scale veterinary employer in 2021.
This year, we’ve doubled our commitment and will be investing more than £80,000 to help more veterinary students with their clinical EMS, a real sign of our commitment to developing future talent.
We have also significantly increased our award-winning graduate programme, giving greater access and opportunities for graduates to join our practices alongside support and development opportunities that are available within our estate.
The problems with recruitment and retention in the veterinary sector have been well publicised, what can companies like Vets for Pets do to help tackle some of these issues?
We are not immune to the talent challenges in the vet industry, but we are well placed to manage them because we put all the things that vets value highly at the heart of our proposition. Our group offers colleagues clinical freedom, ownership opportunities, a large support network and a diverse clinical caseload, as well as development opportunities.
We’ve introduced a number of new training initiatives for colleagues, including leadership development programmes to support better rota and diary management, and guidance to help our teams deal with challenging client behaviour, which is being delivered through VetLed.
We are also a purpose-led organisation with the vision of creating a better world for pets and the people who love them. Our values underpin everything we do, and we are committed to aligning these values and behaviours with the British Veterinary Association’s Good Veterinary Workplaces Code.
What are some of the key benefits of the Vets for Pets Joint Venture Partner model for those looking to move into ownership?
Becoming a partner with Vets for Pets gives our partners a unique opportunity to own their practice and so share in the value they create as they grow their business, which has exclusive access to, and support from our full pet care platform, and all this is underpinned by complete owner autonomy which includes clinical freedom. This route to ownership through our unique JVP model is available to professionals across the industry, including vets, registered veterinary nurses and practice managers.
Our partners have the freedom to make the best clinical choices for the patients they see and are highly skilled; we have a significant number of certificate holders, as well as highly skilled and dedicated general practitioners who carry out a diverse range of complex clinical cases. This means that our partners can provide a diverse clinical caseload for their talent.
We are also the only vet business that has exclusive access to a complete pet care platform that brings unique advantages to our partners. We have the best propriety data set in the industry, with over 10 years of data on eight million pet owners and their multitude of pets, meaning we understand the unique needs of pet owners.
Our partners benefit from the support we offer them, enabling them to focus on providing the best care possible. We aim to take the hassle out of being a business owner, handling a range of services and financial support when appropriate and helping them to invest behind the right growth opportunities.
What was the thinking behind Project Listen and do you consider the initiative to have been a success - will it be repeated?
The goal for Project Listen was to challenge the status quo across the industry and strive for a better working environment for all veterinary teams.
As part of the project, we engaged with over 700 vets, nurses and support colleagues to better understand the key challenges facing the profession and the potential opportunities to drive positive change.
The results showed the shared passion and dedication of veterinary professionals to provide first class care for our pets, as well as an industry-wide need for increased support and recognition.
In response, we made a number of commitments to better support the working lives of our colleagues and partners, and we’re continuing to deliver on those.
By publicising the results of Project Listen, we wanted to drive the conversation. We are not alone in seeking to make change and will continue to work with other parties across the industry so that the veterinary profession remains a rewarding and supportive career choice at all levels.
Are there any other initiatives or projects that you would like to tell us about?
In 2021, we launched our sustainability strategy, Our Better World Pledge, across the full business to align with our purpose to create a better world for pets and the people who love them. Over the past two years we have been delighted with the progress made under our three pillars of impact: Planet, Pet and People.
As part of this, we have introduced our in-store pet pouch recycling scheme to cut down on waste, which has collected over seven million pouches to date.
We were also proud to partner with The Woodland Trust to launch the Pet Memory Scheme, which recognises the lives of all the pets our vet practices have looked after each year, by making donations in their names to protect, restore and create woodland around the UK. So far, over £500,000 has been raised and 4,000 acres and woodland has been created, restored and protected.
In addition to these initiatives, our work through the company’s charity, The Pets at Home Foundation, has raised a total of £50 million since it formed in 2006. As part of this, we have rolled out pet food collection points to all 450-plus pet care centres, in partnership with the Blue Cross.
It’s a fantastic initiative and hugely rewarding to be able to give something back to the local community.
Are you positive about the future of the veterinary profession and why?
Absolutely – one of the things that really shone through the findings from Project Listen was the passion and dedication across the profession to provide the best possible care for pets.
My biggest focus is to support our talent and ensure our colleagues and partners fulfill their clinical and growth ambitions. We hear incredible stories from our practices and their colleagues who go above and beyond every single day. These teams really deserve to feel valued and appreciated for all that they do, and through initiatives from our bursary scheme to our commitment to mental health training, I hope to continue to motivate and inspire the future generation.