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Pivoting is key to veterinary leader’s success

Long Beach, California convention center

George Robinson, DVM, MSPH, spoke to Fetch dvm360 conference attendees about overcoming failures to reach his goals, in a morning keynote address

Dr George Robinson, DVM MSPH

Photo: Kristen Coppock Crossley

George Robinson, DVM, MSPH, delivers the Day 2 morning keynote at the Fetch dvm360 conference in Long Beach, California on December 2, 2023.

When success seems elusive, you need to pivot and try to reach your goal in a new way. That was the main message shared by George Robinson, DVM, MSPH, founder and vice-chairman of Heartland Veterinary Partners in Chicago, Illinois, during his morning keynote on Day 2 of the Fetch dvm360 conference in Long Beach, California.1

Robinson also peppered throughout his talk “the 4 P’s” more commonly associated with achieving success: preparation, persistence, perseverance and passion. He said pivot should be the fifth P. “I truly believe that failure is not an option,” he said. “I was always prepared to pivot.”

To drive home his point, Robinson shared some of his lifelong experiences with failure and success that led him to pivot as he built a career in veterinary medicine. “It’s an interesting path that’s laced with a lot of success, and laced with a lot of failure,” he said.

Prior to founding Heartland Veterinary Partners, a veterinary support organization for which he is a former CEO, Robinson owned and operated private veterinary practices in Louisiana, and served in leadership positions with National Veterinary Associates in Agoura Hills, California, and the Banfield Pet Hospital organization based in Vancouver, Washington. He is a former political party representative for the state of Louisiana, and currently sits on the board of directors of the Louisiana State University (LSU) System Foundation.

Robinson began walking attendees through his career trajectory with a story about his experience as a Boy Scout. In his quest to earn the coveted Eagle Scout status, he initially failed a weekend-long outdoor skills test when continuous rain presented challenges that he was unable to overcome. “Everything went really, really wrong,” he said.

Denied the Eagle Scout status, Robinson said he was depressed. However, he wanted to try again. “I knew only one thing: failure was not an option,” he said.

Robinson said his community quickly rallied for 6 weeks to help him build the skills would need to pass the outdoor test. He cooked over an open fire in his suburban backyard, he received instruction on how to swim, and a nature professor taught walked with him and taught Robinson about plants, along with others who supported his goal in a variety of ways. “With that combined community effort, I realized that I had to pivot,” he said.

Given the opportunity to test again, the outcome was much different than the first attempt. “I became the first African American Eagle Scout in the state of Louisiana,” Robinson said.

After graduating from the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine in Baton Rouge, Robinson was a graduate student at Howard University in Washington, DC, where he sought approval from the experimental program committee. The process typically took months, he said. However, in a meeting with university’s president of research, Robinson noticed an affiliation with the Boy Scouts and his Eagle Scout status earned him favor. “He approved my study that afternoon,” said Robinson, who went on to earn his degree in only 9 months, crediting preparation and persistence.

He also spoke about struggles as a private practice owner when he learned a hard lesson early on. “I made one of the biggest mistakes I think a lot of us in private practice make… You love everything that you do, but you don’t give your people the respect that they deserve and need, and you’re not patient,” he said.

Robinson said he had been treating his employees without empathy, and acted “fussy” about their work, expecting his entry-level staff to know more about veterinary operations than they did. On Christmas Day, his entire team quit, leaving him to handle many patients without professional support. As a result, he pivoted and persevered. “I changed my attitude about employees. I changed my thought process on their development, and things got better” he said.

Robinson closed his talk by encouraging attendees to embrace all of the “P’s”, not to be afraid of setbacks, seek out support, react to change with courage, and simply move forward. “And be prepared to pivot,” he said.


Robinson G. The Pivot. Presented at: Fetch dvm360 conference; Long Beach, California. December 1-3, 2023.

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