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. Truly listen to all associates and make sure they feel seen, heard and part of the process.
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Brian Garish. As president of the industry’s leading provider of preventive care, Brian’s top priority is creating a high-performing, inclusive culture at Banfield Pet Hospital’s 1,000+ hospitals for its 19,000+ associates across the country. Brian believes that pets, people and society are all connected and is passionate about ensuring Banfield is making a positive impact on the world at large. Brian brings more than 20 years of healthcare leadership to the organization, and since taking over as president in 2017, Banfield has achieved the lowest turnover in its history while simultaneously growing four times faster than the broader veterinary industry.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Brian! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
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. This notion inspired my drive to pursue a career within the healthcare and veterinary fields.
I began my career stocking shelves, sweeping floors, mopping and cashiering at a major pharmacy retailer. I was always frustrated when we’d have a corporate office visitor as they’d only talk to the store manager or pharmacist. As someone working the floor and talking to customers every day, my perspective and our team’s perspective was just as, if not more, valuable.
Having these experiences as I worked my way up through the company, I felt first-hand how much it meant to me when my voice was heard. This truly shaped me into the leader I am today, realizing those closest to the customer have the best insights on what’s working or what’s not working. I’ve never sat in a corner office and it has really made me think differently about business and what it means to be a true leader — something I doubt would have happened had I decided to take a more traditional path.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Both Willpower and The Power of Habit are two books that have made a long-lasting impact on how I live and lead. Each reinforced the importance of cultivating the right behaviors, using discipline to maximize my ability to make the right decisions.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“We can evade reality, but we cannot evade the consequences of evading reality,” Ayn Rand. For me this means always being in touch with what’s really happening within an organization, ensuring that I am listening at scale so that the voices of our associates are dictating the vision of our organization. Strategy without empathy is a wasted idea, so understanding the reality of our associates on the front lines is critical to all of our decisions and our ultimate success.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Caring for a person’s pet means that we’re also caring for that person. Caring for so many people gives us a unique opportunity to impact society, extend care into our communities and be a beacon for how companies ought to behave. This motto is what we live by at Banfield Pet Hospital and what I’ve tried to instill across our organization because I equate true leadership with making positive societal impact.
With that in mind, I’m incredibly proud of the work we’re leading at Banfield in partnership with other veterinary organizations to increase diversity within our industry, and I look forward to sharing more with you about new commitments we’re announcing to help increase equity, inclusion and diversity in the veterinary profession.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
It’s so important to rest and recharge on a regular basis. For me, that means being physically active, meditating, listening to music and spending time with my cats, Ashin and Kenji, who often keep me on my toes. The human animal bond is so important and has only gotten stronger through COVID-19, so I am very grateful to have them in my life.
Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
Important conversations about equity, inclusion and diversity have been happening for decades, but over the past several months it has become increasingly clear that the United States has so much more work to do when it comes to addressing the pervasive racism and discrimination that still very much exists today. Racism has no place in our society, and silence is not an option. We know to affect the systemic change needed, it’s going to take collective effort from all of us — individuals, communities and organizations of all sizes. We also recognize the urgency and responsibility we have as a company our size to help drive the changes we want to see and take ownership of the problem, moving from ally to activist.
We have made a concerted effort over the years to increase equity, inclusion, and diversity within Banfield and the veterinary profession. We’re incredibly excited about new initiatives and commitments we’re taking action on to help create the veterinary profession of tomorrow.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
At Banfield, we never take for granted that pets, people and society are all connected. We also understand thatour industry is not in a silo, and that our actions — and inactions — impact those around us. It is our responsibility as leaders to look critically at how we can address some of the most important call-to-actions happening in our communities today. As we take a step back, there are two critical issues facing the veterinary profession that we must act on now.
New research from Banfield reveals an estimated 75 million pets in the U.S. may not have access to the veterinary care they need by 2030, with an important factor being a critical shortage of veterinarians. Further, with nearly 90% of veterinary professionals identifying as white according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need to not only increase the number of veterinary professionals in the U.S., but also diversify the talent pipeline is an important focus area we’re discussing today at our 19th annual Pet Healthcare Industry Summit.
To address these issues head-on, we are committed to the following initiatives to increase the pipeline of veterinary professionals and build a more diverse industry:
- Increase representation within Banfield by ensuring 30% or more of our veterinarian and paraprofessional population are Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) by 2030.
- Strengthen the pipeline of Black veterinarians by partnering with Mars Veterinary Health, Royal Canin and the Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine to launch the Banfield & Royal Canin Student Support Fund with an initial 125K dollars gift to help Tuskegee veterinary students who have financial need.
- A 1 million dollars investment over the next year in equity, inclusion and diversity efforts to increase representation, offer training, and support industry efforts to improve the diversity pipeline.
Understanding that systemic issues require systemic solutions, we are also announcing a new coalition — the “Diversify Veterinary Medicine Coalition” — to ensure efforts to increase equity, inclusion and diversity (EI&D) among veterinary professionals are ongoing and industry wide. I’m thrilled to share founding coalition members include pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim as well as veterinary leaders from other Mars Veterinary Health practices, Royal Canin, Antech Diagnostics, the National Association for Black Veterinarians, the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) and the Multicultural Veterinary Medical Association, aiming to add partners in the future to strengthen the talent pipeline of tomorrow. The coalition will work in partnership with a commission that is being established by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the AAVMC, the Veterinary Medical Association Executives and others, together aiming to drive equity, diversity and inclusion across the profession.
We view this coalition as an important piece of the great work and conversations that have already begun to really help push the profession forward. As we set the coalition’s goals and align on focus areas, we will continue to convene regularly to listen, learn and adapt our actions to ensure we are generating the most impact in service of the BIPOC veterinary community.
Pets are here for us, and as veterinary professionals, we must be here for them by ensuring the talent pipeline grows and diversifies to meet the evolving needs of pets, people and society. This work can’t be done alone, and we’re proud to continue to partner with the industry and amplify the important work that so many BIPOC veterinary professionals and organizations have already been doing. With so many great industry decision-makers from across the veterinary industry supporting this work, I’m hopeful and excited about the impact we will make.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
At Banfield, we believe a culture of health and wellbeing starts with celebrating the different backgrounds, stories and experiences that reflect our individuality as veterinary professionals. Looking across our own Banfield senior leadership team we’ve made a concerted effort to ensure gender balance and ethnic diversity. Being a responsible leader means prioritizing diverse workforces that reflect the world we want tomorrow — one that is more racially inclusive and forward-thinking. Within our organization, we are taking steps to listen and meet this moment. We believe our culture of inclusion and our humanity is made stronger by being here for each other. Over recent months, the POWER network — a community of Banfield associates that provides tools and resources to attract, retain, develop, and elevate Black talent — have led powerful discussion forums that have engaged 250 associates per weekly session. These conversations have been a vital addition to our organization’s efforts towards equity, inclusion, and diversity and I am grateful to every one of the associates that participated. Our collective voices are vital to our growth.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Inclusion is a choice. Don’t just talk about diversity, put intentional effort into hiring diverse people and developing the diverse talent that already exists within your organization.
- 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. Truly listen to all associates and make sure they feel seen, heard and part of the process.
- Understand that systemic issues require systemic solutions. Partner with other leaders in your industry to ensure that the work you’re doing isn’t just a moment in time, but ongoing and industry wide.
- Listen to the people that are closest to the client — not only those sitting in the corporate office.
- Ensure you understand the unique backgrounds of your customers and serve them in a personalized way. For example, Banfield implemented interpretation services across our 1,000+ hospitals to ensure we’re helping to deliver culturally competent care for our clients.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
Yes! We are in a unique position to create real and meaningful change. I am encouraged by so many industry decision-makers partnering with us and supporting our efforts from across the veterinary industry, I’m hopeful and excited about the impact we will make. With cultural demographic shifts, the demand for action now and future generations using their voice to drive societal change, resolving our current issues is a necessity for businesses and leaders alike.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!