East Belfast veterinary practice now owned by its staff

East Belfast veterinary practice now owned by its staff

Staff at Belfast’s Cornerstone veterinary practice now literally have a stake in the business after it transferred into an Employee Ownership Trust. safeguarding its future as an independent business.

The Castlereagh Road practice, founded in 2011 by Peter Herold, currently employs a 15-strong team who are all now practice owners and shareholders in the business.

After significantly expanding its premises in 2016, to incorporate the building’s first floor into the practice, it now offers three consulting rooms, a dental theatre, ultrasound facility, X-ray suite, in-house laboratory and operating theatre.

In 2021 Pennard Vets, which has seven practices in Kent, became the world’s largest employee owned practice, in order to protect both its independence and core values, which date back more than 125 years.

After reading about Pennard Vets, Peter, who grew up in East Germany, was inspired to explore how Cornerstone could become an EOT and contacted the directors  there who helped guide him through the process.

Peter, below, explained: “After starting Cornerstone 11 years ago, we have developed a longstanding, loyal and dedicated team who are all very popular with our established client base across Belfast and beyond. I genuinely love Cornerstone, and so do our team and clients, and although I’m not ready to retire yet, the end of my professional life will come in the next decade, so I wanted to start planning for it.

“The obvious option would be to sell the practice to a corporate chain, but I knew that would change how we worked. There would be much more emphasis on profit levels, and we’d be forced to make decisions that we were uncomfortable with. We have an amazing team who are full of ideas about how to make Cornerstone even better and to guarantee a successful future, the practice needs to continue growing in a way that works for its people, our clients and their pets.

“When I read about Pennard Vets becoming an EOT, it immediately resonated with me, and I hoped it could be an option for Cornerstone. I then attended a webinar with speakers from Pennard Vets, and I kept in touch with them afterwards. They explained the set-up and how it benefits their team, as well as putting us in touch with specialists in EOTs. Ultimately it was Pennard Vets’ knowledge and enthusiasm that convinced me it was the right route for us.”

Peter added: “Our senior team at Cornerstone are all very skilled and share common values in relation to customer service, veterinary care and client charges, and it’s this ethos that makes us popular with clients.

“Making the business an EOT will ensure this continues by safeguarding the future of the business, whilst giving each member of the team the benefit of being a business owner without them having to buy in. It also means I can continue to work as a vet, but share the management side of the practice with the entire team who can help to make the important decisions, which is an exciting prospect for everyone involved.”

Matthew Flann from Pennard Vets said: “We became an EOT to maintain our independence and give everyone in our team both autonomy and a voice, as well as preserving our core values around compassion, client focus and continually improving everything we do. This came at a time when it’s increasingly difficult for vets to buy into practices and the traditional partner progression model no longer works, which makes EOTs even more appealing and a positive step for the profession as a whole.

“It’s been genuinely transformational for Pennard Vets, and we now regularly hear from practice owners who are exploring becoming an EOT. There are now several other successful businesses currently on the journey and when Peter contacted us, we were happy to offer our help and guidance. Cornerstone is a successful practice, with a highly skilled and dedicated team, so its independence is worth protecting, and becoming an EOT will give it a bright future.”