Going the distance


Las Vegas - He wants a unanimous decision.

LAS VEGAS — He wants a unanimous decision.

This fight's title isn't about money — he's already earned that.

It's about holding on to the profession's reputation with the public, a deeper calling befitting a 61-year-old veterinarian who in 1998 cast the sole dissenting vote to keep boxing's notorious ex-con Mike Tyson out of Nevada's ring while in 2006 pledged $1 million to his alma mater's University of Missouri veterinary college for needed repairs.

"You don't get to be Jim Nave by always being nice," one onlooker says.

It is no secret this self-described farm boy from Protem, Mo., is now self-made. He has built a career, and it's resulted in positions of power inside and outside of the profession.

In the boardroom, he's rumored to be every bit as tough as Tyson. "But don't believe everything you read in the papers," he laughs.

In an hour-long interview with DVM Newsmagazine, Nave's slow-talking, small-town street sense foretells a DVM who loves a good yarn and the art of a great business deal. During the course of a career, he took a slice of Las Vegas, and just kept carving.

As sole owner to 12 veterinary facilities employing some 70 veterinarians in Clark County, Nave's career accolades spew forth like a slot machine that finally hit triple 7s on the Las Vegas strip. Board of directors, Nevada State Athletic Commission. AVMA president. Board, Western Alliance Bancorporation (initial public offering 2005). Board, National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues. Director, Station Casinos Inc. Board, Nevada Insurance Commission.

Nave thinks big, and he seems to win even bigger. What are his secrets? In a Q/A spar, five rounds of questions delivered these unanimous decisions.

DVM: What is the greatest professional challenge facing this profession?

Quick take: The pet-owning public makes this business work; protect the relationship at all costs.

A: "The biggest challenge we face is to maintain this love affair with society. If we lose that, we lose such a precious commodity."

And this interrelationship with society is complex and under increasing challenge. It translates between striking balance between the healthcare of animals and economics. In some cases it is showcasing philanthropy to the public, or becoming a key voice on all animal-health related issues.

"If we get to the situation that people think that other organizations, whether it is PETA or other humane groups, care more about pets than we do, then I think we are in trouble.

"Right now we are still considered the protectors of animals. Right now, we are still considered good people, people with big hearts. We have to keep that white hat on.

"I happen to believe that people who love pets are better than those people who don't love pets. So, I often say, 'We only work for the best people. Physicians have to work for all people.' "

DVM: What do you think herald the greatest changes in veterinary medicine?

Quick take: It's about medical delivery, and the evolving generalist/specialist relationship.

A: "I think that the delivery system itself is changing rapidly. Specialty hospitals are becoming much more a part of veterinary medicine out there. And I think that one of the keys to how successful we are going to be (will be decided by) the relationship between the general practitioner and the specialty hospital.

"In my mind, young veterinarians today, correctly so, are looking for a better quality of life than my generation had from the standpoint of working. I think that is good. As somebody who is father of a 26-year-old attorney who wants everything in life, I want her to have that balanced work life and a very successful career and be a wife and mother if that is what she chooses to do.

"I think young veterinarians today clearly are demanding that, and it is a positive. It puts pressure on us to understand business and to understand productivity and to understand that if you have an hour in that day, it has to be productive. And to be productive you have to have a good team that can work together, communicate together, understand together.

"I tell all of my young doctors that my personal belief is that life is just so many seconds. If you waste one of those seconds, you might as well not lived it.

"It is a situation where you have got to be more productive. We as a profession have done a pretty good job; I think NCVEI deserves credit for this, in getting fees up over the last few years."

The game has changed.

"We have to learn to produce more income in an hour's period of time with the same fees. To do that, you have got to communicate, work together, understand each other, and know the importance (of the job)."

Message: Build caseload. Create efficiencies with the same staff and with the same fee schedule. "I think that is the secret."

DVM: Are veterinary fees too high?

Quick take: Not sure. Start looking at productivity and efficiencies in your practices.

A:"I think for the most part, fees are a lot better than they used to be. Are they where they can be? I am not so sure.

"I think we are to the point where they need to look at other productivity issues and stuff. And I do believe that pet insurance is something that is critically important to our future. We need to understand that our clients are our ultimate bosses. I think we have an obligation to run an efficient business.

"We also can't run a bad business and ask this same class of clients to pay for it. If you make stupid business decisions and then you ask your clients to pay for it and charge them more and more, at some point, it will run out.

"Are we at that point? I don't know. I do know that we are at the point where we need to look at productivity issues. NCVEI looked at processes first. We had to do that. We had to look at low-hanging fruit. NCVEI needed to hit some singles as Howard Rubin (NCVEI's head) always says. Now NCVEI is spending a tremendous amount of its time on attitude and aptitude that Lonnie King [dean, Michigan State University (MSU)] started and Jim Lloyd (MSU) is continuing. We are also developing that communication and team-building tool that we think is so very important, and I think that practices are going to have to use that. Could fees be raised? I assume they can ... but does that mean we should do it and not test these other issues? I think the answer is clearly that we need to address these other issues."

DVM: Do you have balance?

Quick take: A good day starts at 6 a.m. seeing patients and ends with a flight home from L.A. after dining with World Boxing Council President Jose Sulaiman. Voice of experience: Work hard; new opportunities follow. Money is usually the result, and it helps defray the cost of the fun. Wax on/wax off Sensei: Remember, everything comes to an end, just make sure something else begins.

A: "There is probably not a veterinarian in the world who would want my life, but it is the life that I want. The proof is I have the ability to change it or choose not to.

"I have known people who have become so obsessed with work that when it's over, their life sort of ends. It is empty. I like to keep my life so busy that when one thing ends, you don't even miss it. When one thing ends, your life is still complete.

"My days in organized veterinary medicine are coming to an end. But my life will still be complete. Everything I had on the athletic commission ended. It ended at 5 p.m. in the afternoon. At midnight, I was sitting on a plane to Vermont to meet with a group of veterinarians as president-elect of the AVMA. A month before my AVMA presidency, the owner of Station Casinos asked me to go on their board to learn a new industry.

"I also think diversity is the key to all secrets. I think that we are an accumulation of our habits and experiences."

(Station Casinos recently opened a new hotel at a price tag of $1 billion.)

DVM: What determines success for Jim Nave?

Quick take: Ultimately ... clients. Advice: Be fair. Be professional. Now get out there and heal some pets.

A: "I think at the end of the day, when you brush your teeth before bed or you look in the mirror, you just have to feel that you did everything that day that you could do to be fair to everybody, that you did a good job at your job, that you tried to make sure that your clients and your patients were treated fair, that you tried to make sure you treated all of your employee's fair.

"I think you create opportunities if you do the best that you can at whatever you do. If you take that approach in life, other opportunities just happen. It doesn't matter if you are on an AVMA board or a bank board, the basic principles about how you conduct yourself are all the same. That is what carries through.

"I was accepted into veterinary school when I was 19 years old. I can't even think of what life would be if not being a veterinarian. That is all I know, and I would assume everything I have is because I'm a veterinarian."

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