Happy International Women’s Day!

Happy International Women’s Day!

Today marks International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate the achievements of awesome women and forge a better, more inclusive world.

Here, VetPartners CEO Jo Malone talks about her inspirational journey from practice vet to leader of a major European veterinary group while using her heart as her compass.

EVEN after swapping the consult room for the boardroom, VetPartners CEO Jo Malone still displays the same kindness and compassion that characterised her days as a vet.

The care of people, pets and animals is still the top priority for this highly successful businesswoman and entrepreneur who leads one of Europe’s largest veterinary and animal healthcare companies.

So much so, Jo recalls how midway through a board meeting with potential investors, she rose from her seat and explained she had something very important to attend to and would return in an hour.

For one last time, she pulled on her vet’s tunic and hurried to the home of a long-standing client with a Boxer called Louis.

Jo first encountered Louis when he was a boisterous pup, lifting him onto her consult table at Minster Vets in York for his first vaccinations. He returned for annual boosters, health checks and the occasional treatment for minor ailments, but now the much-loved pet had reached the end of his life, and his heartbroken owner needed Jo more than ever.

“My last promise as a vet was, when the time came, I would be there for this devoted owner and put her dog to sleep at home,” said Jo.

“He went very peacefully and I was glad I’d been able to keep my promise to his owner, although it did raise a few eyebrows in the boardroom!”

Jo’s dash from the boardroom provided everyone present with a powerful insight into the caring nature and commitment of those in the veterinary profession, where the treatment of animals comes ahead of everything else, and supporting clients, whether pet owners, horse owners or farmers, is paramount.

While she has no fears about confronting challenges facing the veterinary profession head on, or making tough decisions to ensure the profitability and sustainability of the business, Jo makes no apologies for being guided by her heart.

After all, VetPartners was established in 2015 because she was having sleepless nights worrying about her colleagues at Minster Vets after seeing them so unhappy when the practice was bought by another group.

For a small animal vet, armed with a dream and a book entitled Leadership for Dummies, her plan was a huge gamble, but VetPartners has far exceeded her expectations, thanks to her dynamic leadership and willingness to empower those around her.

From establishing the new group in a cramped office upstairs in her home practice in York, VetPartners is now made up of some of Europe’s most respected and trusted small animal, equine, mixed and farm veterinary practices and associated animal healthcare companies.

It employs 14,000 people across the UK, France, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.

 Becoming a vet was a lifelong dream

As a schoolgirl growing up in York, she wanted to be a vet for as long as she can remember, and later studied veterinary medicine at Glasgow University. Her solid, working-class roots instilled a strong work ethic and an understanding that nothing in life would be handed to her on a plate.

Her dad Robert was a sergeant in the Royal Army Medical Corps, while her mum Jenny raised Jo and her sister.

“We didn’t have a lot growing up but we were raised by my parents to respect others,” said Jo.

“My parents bought our first house when I was eight or nine. It didn’t have carpets, so dad painted the floor. He left a gap around the edge because he said that was ‘posh.’ I worked in McDonalds and waited tables in restaurants while I was at school, and during holidays, I did lambing and milking on a local farm as well as seeing practice at Minster Vets.

“I was a loner in school because I was bright and was teased about being a nerd. That developed resilience in me and a determination to succeed.

“I can’t remember wanting to be anything other than a vet. In class at secondary school, I said I wanted to be a vet. The teacher said it would be unlikely and then asked my classmates what they thought. They all shouted ‘Yes, she will!’ because they knew how determined I was.”

Commitment, resilience and kindness are qualities that were evident right from an early age, and they have served Jo well in her new life as a CEO.

Her background as a vet means she deeply cares about the profession and understands the things that are important.

“I love being a CEO as I love looking after people,” she said.

“VetPartners, like most businesses, is only as good as the people who work in it and they are also what makes it so special. I want to give people a great place to work. We don’t get everything right all the time, and we want to hear about it when we don’t, as we want to continue improving.

Making a difference

“To be successful as a CEO, you don’t have to be a cut-throat dictator driving the bottom line. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to have a profitable business – it needs to be because around 14,000 people rely on the business for their livelihood. I have seen previously how polished senior execs want to understand the industry by using spreadsheets or setting KPIs. While we may use these tools, and whilst they do give some insights, what really makes a difference is having a deep understanding of our industry and listening to people working in practices.

“I strongly believe that if you look after your people, provide good facilities and equipment, offer quality veterinary care and give clients the right options for their pet, their horse or farm animals that is the basis of a successful business.

“I am a born vet and I love everything about the veterinary industry. Kindness costs nothing and we are blessed with a profession full of lovely people. We have not allowed the growth of the business to compromise our culture and the values we hold so dearly.”

Away from work, Jo is married to Frank and has a son Connor, 21, and a daughter Molly, 18, both of whom are at university, and a Cavapoo called Tilly. Her passion is walking in the Lake District fells, especially Loughrigg with its grandstand view of Grasmere and Rydal water.

As her work is all-consuming, she admits she could not have done it without her proud family’s love and support, or that of the caring and dedicated team of people around her.

“I am very blessed to be surrounded by talented people across all of our European countries,” said Jo.

“We have some fantastic people in our business, and it is important that they feel safe, happy and valued. We show our care by ensuring they know we support their wellbeing, providing flexible working opportunities, and CPD and training to help people fulfil their own career aspirations.

“When I founded VetPartners, I was determined our culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone can thrive, would be at the forefront of everything. Being in the fortunate position of being the founder meant I was able to embed a culture I believed in, driven by my experience of working in the veterinary profession for more than 20 years.”

 Veterinary group of choice

Jo’s vision is to make VetPartners the veterinary group of choice across Europe, first and foremost for all of the people working in it, but also for clients, patients, suppliers and practices. There is potential for growth outside of Europe, too, turning VetPartners into one of the major global animal health companies.

As CEO, she has had to navigate the business through the global pandemic and cost of living crisis, as well as an industry-wide shortage of vets amid a boom in pet ownership placing an enormous amount of stress on professionals working in the sector.

But despite the challenges, Jo believes there is a bright future for the veterinary profession.

“I think being a vet now is different to how it was a decade ago because of client demand, but I still believe it is a fantastic profession,” she said.

“I want to continue building a great place to work, which is inclusive and diverse, and everyone has an opportunity to succeed. I believe groups are better placed to support team members with benefits like flexible working and ensuring managers have better support and training.

“There have been huge improvements over the past few years in a wide range of things, from sick pay to family leave to working hours. More needs to be done and improved, and I think it will be the larger groups pushing that forwards.

“As a profession we should celebrate the positive benefits of being part of a group and not only see them as negative. There is a place for independent practices – there always will be – and by working together rather than being adversarial, I believe we are better placed to safeguard the veterinary profession for the future.

“There are fantastic examples of veterinary groups, and I hope VetPartners can be a standard-bearer for the profession.”


For media enquiries, please contact Amanda Little, VetPartners PR and Communications Director at amanda.little@vetpartners.co.uk or 07970 198492