Strategy is wasted without empathy. People are starving for transparent, compassionate leadership. You can have the best strategy in the world, but if your people aren’t committed to it and wanting to work on it, you’ve wasted your time. Investing in your people is essential to building an empathetic culture. For example, as demographics shift, we are putting increased investment in our inclusion and diversity efforts to ensure all of our associates have the support needed to be their authentic selves in and outside of work. This includes launching four new diversity resource groups to drive connectivity and change across our organization. Making investments like these have helped lead to our lowest turnover ever while also helping us grow 4X faster than the industry these past 5 years. If you take care of your people, everything else will follow.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Garish, President, Banfield Pet Hospital. As president of Banfield Pet Hospital, Brian Garish oversees the largest veterinary practice in the United States, including more than 1,000 hospitals and 19,000 associates. Under his leadership, Banfield has pioneered associate-centered programs that include expanding available mental health resources, offering student debt relief for veterinarians, and creating a culture of inclusion that empowers associates to influence company strategy and growth. He has helped achieve a practice-wide all-time low turnover rate for veterinarians and the support staff — quite a feat in today’s highly competitive race for veterinary talent. Garish started working as a 16-year-old sweeping floors, stocking shelves, cashiering and unloading trucks, then advanced through management roles at Walgreens and senior leadership roles at CVS Health before joining Banfield in 2015 as chief operating officer.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My journey to the C-suite began stocking store shelves. After 6 months of college at 18 years old, I dropped out. At the time, I didn’t see the value of sitting in class to hear about business, I wanted to do the work. It wasn’t until about 7 years later when I was further along in my career that I realized I needed to go back to school and invest in myself. A mentor pushed me to think long-term and ensure there were no barriers to fulfilling my potential. This led me to understand the importance of rounding out my real-world work experience with a college education, providing me with more freedom to pick my path going forward. I’ve never sat in a corner office or followed a traditional trajectory. This unique path has pushed me to think differently about leadership and redefine what it means to be a social CEO — critical perspective I would not have received if I decided to finish college at an earlier age.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Since I started my journey at Banfield, I’ve been able to experience the true power of leadership at every level. An example of this, and one of my favorite stories, occurred during a visit to one of our hospitals. An associate asked me what happened to “Fun Scrub Friday” and was informed it had been “canceled.” I kept asking questions. What was it? “On Fridays, we could wear any scrubs we wanted.” Why did you like that? “It allowed us to express ourselves.”
After this conversation, we reinstated our Fun Scrubs program that allows our associates to wear scrubs of their choosing — from fun patterns, to funky colors and more, any day of the week. I like this story because it’s a reminder that as a leader, you have the ability to control culture and directly impact your associates’ happiness, in ways both big and small. This small change has resulted in an interesting and wonderful phase of self-expression at Banfield where our associates feel free to showcase their personalities within the workplace.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! We recently announced we will be closing all 1,000+ of our hospitals for two hours to facilitate an interactive training and discussion around mental health and wellbeing. Additionally, we are rolling out a new training, “ASK” (Assess. Support. Know.) that is designed specifically for veterinary professionals.
You might wonder why. In short, the veterinary industry is in a crisis.
According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 6 veterinarians considers suicide. The same study found female veterinarians are 3.5 times more likely, and male veterinarians are 2 times more likely to die by suicide than members of the general U.S. population due to the stress of managing unhappy clients and the financial burden of student loans.
In addition to training our more than 19,000 associates, we will make the training available as a free online resource for both the veterinary industry and veterinary schools. We are working diligently to help lead the industry in mitigating that issue and creating an environment where our veterinarians are cared for and can thrive.
At Banfield, it’s always our number one goal to deliver high-quality preventive care to our pets — but it’s just as important to extend that same preventive care to our people. Being a veterinarian is a calling, and our hope is that ASK raises awareness of the suicide crisis — globally but also across the veterinary profession — and continues to remove the stigmas associated with mental health topics. If we save even one life with this new training, we will have proven successful.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
People are starving for authentic, transparent, compassionate leadership. You can have the best strategy in the world, but if your people aren’t committed to it and wanting to work on it, you’ve wasted your time. Investing in your people is essential to building an empathetic culture.
For example, at Banfield we know that one of the most significant concerns for our associates is student debt as veterinarians average about $167K in debt post-graduation. Banfield is one of just 4% of companies across the U.S. that offers a student debt benefit. In its first year alone, the program contributed more than $4M toward helping veterinarians pay off student loans and we’ve helped provide lower interest rates, refinancing more than $10M in loans. Making this investment has helped lead to our lowest turnover ever, creating an environment where people are happy and want to stay longer.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
A disengaged workforce is detrimental to both company productivity and profitability. People want their voices to be heard. Even more than that, we need to hear their voices. This is not a favor to them, it’s about creating a two-way dialogue. It’s an essential part of effective leadership.
When associates feel cared for and valued by their company and its leadership, the more likely they are to be motivated. It’s crucial that companies work to provide not only a healthy and happy workplace environment, but also adequate resources for the health and wellbeing of each individual.
At Banfield, we’ve introduced a range of new health and wellbeing initiatives to drive culture change. This includes five key components: healthy mind, healthy body, healthy finances, healthy career and healthy community. We do everything we can to build up our associates so they can be their best selves both personally and professionally.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
1. Listen to the people that are closest to your consumer, not only those sitting in your corporate office. Starting my career working at a major pharmacy retailer, I was always frustrated when we’d have a visitor from the corporate office and they’d only talk to the store manager or pharmacist. As someone working the floor and talking to customers every day, my perspective was just as, if not more, valuable than theirs. Today when I visit one of our 1,000+ Banfield hospitals across the U.S., I make it a point to speak and listen to everyone to ensure their voice dictates the vision of our organization. With over 80% of our workforce being Millennial/Gen Z, I also use social media to listen at scale so when I scroll through my Instagram feed, I can see what’s actually happening on our hospital floors.
2. Strategy is wasted without empathy. People are starving for transparent, compassionate leadership. You can have the best strategy in the world, but if your people aren’t committed to it and wanting to work on it, you’ve wasted your time. Investing in your people is essential to building an empathetic culture. For example, as demographics shift, we are putting increased investment in our inclusion and diversity efforts to ensure all of our associates have the support needed to be their authentic selves in and outside of work. This includes launching four new diversity resource groups to drive connectivity and change across our organization. Making investments like these have helped lead to our lowest turnover ever while also helping us grow 4X faster than the industry these past 5 years. If you take care of your people, everything else will follow.
3. Offering hope, help and optimism are more powerful than any education or knowledge. Keeping people motivated and engaged is what creates a high performing organization. Doing so requires everyone being grounded in a shared purpose that not only gets people to work every day, but empowers their work to make a positive impact on society. At Banfield, we exist to make a better world for pets. Today in the U.S., there are 60 million pets that don’t receive routine veterinary care. When I speak with our associates, we talk about how we can help solve that problem and how we’re optimistic about a future where healthcare is available to every pet. You can have the most qualified workforce but if you’re people aren’t motivated by the same mission and aren’t provided the support to make a difference, you won’t make long-term impact.
4. You control culture no matter what your position is in the organization: I am keenly aware that culture matters and no matter your position, you control culture. I try my best each day to empower people to make changes and act like owners regardless of where they sit in the organization. Social media can be an invaluable tool for culture creation and connection, providing a direct, two-way dialogue that ensures everyone’s voices are heard. For example, each month I host #BanterWithBrian on Instagram to solicit and answer questions from our associates. Over the last year alone, I’ve received more than 5,000 questions from followers. The ideas, comments and feedback I hear and then activate on — whether that’s new scrubs policies or technology investments — are critical to not only the future success of our practice but the continued engagement of our workforce. The best ideas and solutions start within our 1,000+ hospitals. Being a social CEO means breaking down barriers to connect, listen and learn from our associates as individuals by creating a culture of inclusion.
5. Co-create the future together. We can and should go even further by including associates in the solution. What a great way to unlock inclusive possibilities and use inclusion as a growth strategy. When people have an opinion and express that opinion, enlisting them to be part of the solution gives them agency to exert their own influence on the organization. The power in having a voice is the power of being part of changing and improving the business — and maybe even the industry.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
At Banfield, we are focused on making positive societal impact every day and that really centers on how we treat our associates. Our goal is to be a beacon for how companies ought to behave. Whether it’s tackling student debt, putting our resources behind mental health awareness or supporting domestic violence victims with our Safer Together initiative, we are constantly focused on activating our associates to not only improve the workplace, but make a lasting, positive impact on society.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am particularly grateful for our associates at Banfield for continuing to share feedback and be willing to collaborate — whether it’s on Instagram or in-person. Through their shared insights, I’ve been able to learn and grow in my role to become more in-tune with the purpose of leading by listening, engaging and creating an environment where no matter your role, you feel empowered to use your voice to create change.
Can you please give us your favorite” Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Growing up, I hated being told “No.” I’ve always had a strong desire to have freedom and build a better life with more opportunities. I’ve never understood why the status quo was accepted and have always been driven to create and inspire change. I believe no matter your barriers, there is room to strive for opportunity and work to make your dreams a reality. This notion inspired my drive to pursue a career within the healthcare and veterinary fields.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
As the largest veterinary practice in the U.S., we are responsible for the care of over 3 million pets a year. And while that number is incredibly important, for me, it’s the 19,000+ Banfield associates that inspires me ach day. My why — what fuels my passion — is being able to empower and support our teams who are on the front lines of revolutionizing care within the veterinary industry. And my hope is to further inspire this movement beyond the veterinary industry to instill greater awareness around the importance of changing the world for the better through our strategy, actions and impact. Pets, people and society — we are all connected.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.