BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – When he was a teenager, Dr. George Robinson III for being fortunate enough to work with Dr. Clyde Raby, a black vet who practiced in Baton Rouge.
“He allowed me to come to his office and I enjoyed it,” said Robinson. That led him to decide to become a veterinarian at the age of 14 and embark on a career that took him from the LSU Veterinary School to a private veterinary practice in New Orleans and later as a senior executive at a number of national veterinary chains. That culminated in 2016 when Robinson joined a private equity group to form Heartland Veterinary Partners, which manages operations in more than 150 clinics across the United States
The interest in becoming a vet ran in the family. His father, George Robinson, the former dean of the Southern University College of Agriculture, wanted to be a veterinarian but got no chance.
“How many children have this opportunity in the African American community?” Said Robinson, a North Baton Rouge native who now lives in Florida and is grateful for meeting Raby. “You have to have this range.”
Robinson earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Southern and was accepted into the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine at age 19. He was the first Black Louisiana resident to attend this school. Forty years after graduation, Robinson made a great gift to the LSU Veterinary School to help increase the number of Black Vets. The scholarship for black students covers all costs of participation. The first student to receive the scholarship, Amber Fairley, will start next month.
“I appreciate the efforts that Dr. Robinson is doing to recruit minority students, ”Fairley said. “I can come to LSU and concentrate on training and studying and not worry about how much my debt will be after I graduate.”
The veterinary sciences haven’t done a good job of recruiting black students, Robinson said. He said a veterinarian was “the whitest profession in America,” and the numbers confirm him. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, blacks make up less than 1% of the country’s veterinarians. The LSU said of the 1,448 students enrolled in veterinary school in the past 14 years, 28 were black, an average of 1.9%.
“People are not exposed to African American vets,” Robinson said. “You are not in the foreground of your thoughts. … Veterinary medicine has made no effort to say to these people: ‘We want you to be part of our profession.’ “
Over the years, Robinson has donated more than $ 650,000 to LSU Veterinary School. While Robinson’s scholarship is a “transformational gift,” it pales in comparison to the fact that he was so willing to sacrifice his time to serve as an example and mentor to LSU veterinary students, said Dr. Joseph Taboada, who was deputy dean of the LSU veterinary school for about 20 years.
“That is probably his greatest legacy,” said Taboada.
Robinson has been a tremendous role model for students because of his diverse veterinary background, said Taboada, who met Robinson in 1988 when he began teaching at the veterinary school.
“He really shows the students all the different options out there and how it is possible to take advantage of the different options,” he said.
After graduating in 1981, Robinson worked in a private practice in New Orleans. He gave up this job after less than a year.
“I was sitting at home and one of my good customers called me and said, ‘Are you taking care of my dog or what?'” Said Robinson. That motivated him to open his own veterinary practice with home visits.
Robinson ran veterinary clinics in New Orleans from 1983 to 2002. He learned the basics of running a business and how to cultivate relationships. But he said it was difficult to maintain the work-life balance. “When I started I thought 70 hour weeks was the way to go,” he says. In addition to his practice, Robinson had other community interests such as the New Orleans City Planning Commission, the Southern University System Board, and a few candidacies for a seat in the State House in New Orleans East.
But all of these activities caught up with Robinson and he developed burnout. He sold his practice, moved to Atlanta, and took a job with a veterinary group. “I wanted a break,” he said.
Robinson enjoyed working in a veterinary group and just taking care of animals. After a few years he left the practice and moved to Florida under a non-compete agreement. While in Florida, he started working for Banfield Pet Hospital, a national chain of clinics, and quickly moved to the top of the board. “My path has accelerated enormously,” he said.
Two years later, Robinson became Banfield Medical Director for San Diego. He became responsible for overseeing other major markets such as Las Vegas and Orange County, California. When he left Banfield in 2009, Robinson was medical director for more than 180 veterinary practices in the west.
“I got my MBA from the Hard Knocks School,” he said. “I was hungry for information and I would just go to the source.”
In 2011, Robinson left Banfield to become Director of Division Operations for National Veterinary Associates, a group of 500 hospitals and 1,000 veterinarians.
Years of working with corporate veterinary groups and running multiple clinics, as well as his experience as a single-practice veterinarian, gave Robinson a perspective on how best to manage surgery. “I wanted to do it my way, to make a better mousetrap,” he said. This led him to found Heartland.
Heartland takes care of all of the backroom business operations that many veterinarians don’t like to do, such as: B. Payroll, Financial Management and Scheduling. This allows veterinarians to concentrate on caring for the animals. “We are vet centered; we don’t disrupt clinical autonomy, ”he said.
Heartland does not rename the clinics it owns and allows veterinarians to choose whether to be paid or paid on a production basis. “Starting a veterinary practice is like having a baby, and one baby is different from another,” said Robinson. “We don’t have a cookie cutter approach.”
After helping Heartland grow to more than 150 clinics and generate over $ 200 million in revenue over five years, Robinson sold the company to a San Francisco-based investment group in 2020.
“Stock groups set up companies to take them to a certain level,” he said. “As the company scales, it needs more resources. So a larger private equity group with more resources, more resources and more infrastructure will help them grow and stay. “
Robinson is now the Vice Chairman of the Heartland Board of Directors. He works as a consultant for veterinary practices and regularly visits veterinary schools to speak to students about financial problems.
“People need to understand that being a veterinarian is a business,” he said. “You have to be paid.”