Courtney Post: Welcome to Let’s Vet Together. Before we dive into our conversation today, which I am so excited is going to focus on one of our Suveto pillar’s ownership, I want to turn the microphone over to Dr. Erica Esser to introduce herself. Tell us a little bit about herself and also share her favorite local or just personal treat as she shares a little bit about herself and again, her, Let’s Vet Together treat of choice. Dr. Esser, welcome to Let’s Vet Together. We’d love to hear a little bit about yourself.
Dr. Erica Esser: Oh, thank you much for having me. Good morning, I’m Dr. Erica Esser. I’m the medical director and managing partner at West Loop Veterinary Care, Streeterville. We opened about a month ago, and I’m thrilled to be doing this interview to share some of the excitement around that. I brought a treat in today, which is Tapped Maple Syrup, and it is an infused maple syrup. There are lots of different flavors, cardamom’s my favorite.
The reason I brought that in is because for a big chunk of my career, I practiced in central Wisconsin and there are a lot of just really fantastic, thriving small local businesses that I learned a ton from both in the friendships I made with the people who own and run them, as well as the business side of those enterprises. Tapped is a great example of that. It’s family-run. It’s delicious. It’s a really high-end, niche product and I thought it was a great example of something that I personally love and also something that represents the type of strong community and strong local business that I want to represent.
Courtney: I’m going to check that out, Dr. Esser. Cardamom syrup sounds fantastic. I’m really into a local cardamom-infused coffee with a little bit of sweet cream over ice for the summer. It’s one of my favorite things. What do you put that on besides the traditional pancakes or waffles, what have you used that for? Just curious, more as one–
Dr. Esser: Pretty much everything. It’s good in coffee, it’s good on ice cream, it’s delicious in smoothies, pancakes. I could go on and on. Some people use it in alcoholic or mocktail-type drinks.
Dr. Esser: Probably pancakes are my main go-to, but it’s very versatile.
Courtney: I’m going to have to check it out. Wisconsin to Chicago to West Loop Streeterville. Can you give us a little bit of your backstory, Dr. Esser? How did you find yourself as this exciting managing partner of Streeterville that just opened? This is just such a great time for us to reflect back to your journey to where you are today, and we’d love to hear a little bit about that path.
Dr. Esser: Yes. I grew up in Chicago and this is where I’ve now returned to, I’m back at my roots here. I was really brought up in a learning education-based family and environment. We talked about business around the family dinner table. Some of the things that I learned growing up, I’m getting to apply on a day-to-day basis in my new role. After I graduated from high school, I went to Cornell University and studied animal science and natural resources there, and then followed my seven-year-old dream and went on to vet school. I went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison for vet school.
Courtney: Oh, fantastic. that’s how you stayed in Wisconsin then?
Dr. Esser: Yes. After vet school, I moved further north. I’m a woodsy type of person, I loved being in a just really beautiful natural environment. I actually started off as a large animal veterinarian, primarily focused on equine. I also worked with wild bears and wild fishers and have some fun stories there. Probably for another podcast.
Courtney: I would like to hear some wild bear stories. We were just watching a fun TikTok video last night of a bear out on a putting green, playing with a flag hole. I’m always game for a good bear story.
Dr. Esser: Well, mine centered more around anesthesia and I helped some researchers with putting GPS collars and conducting other studies with the bears. I ran the anesthesia for them.
Courtney: Oh, that’s fantastic. That’s super exciting. Large animals and bears back to small animal and practice ownership. When did that shift happen?
Dr. Esser: Sure, I really fully used my DVM degree to its full extent. The beautiful thing is when you graduate from vet school, you have a license to work on any species besides humans. I’ve really explored that. I believe in 2014, I left large animal practice and started a year of teaching at a veterinary technical college, so I taught vet techs for a year, and that was a super valuable experience.
It let me reteach myself for small animals as well as really learning the value of my technical colleagues and just really — I respect so much the schooling that they go through and the skills that they have. That was a fantastic experience, and I like to bring some of those teaching skills into my current role as medical director and even previous to that as an associate veterinarian.
Courtney: Yes. What a great way for you to, like you said, shift back to small animal medicine in a really safe place as a teacher. I have so many friends that are veterinarians that do worry about staying current and using those skills. When you go to make a shift, especially with the very overachieving personality that all veterinarians have, it’s nice to be able to create space for yourself to get comfortable again, and what a great place to do it teaching technicians.
Dr. Esser: Yes, it was a fantastic experience and then I did transition to small animal after that. I’ve been doing small animal practice ever since then. I started up in Wisconsin at a great practice at Kronenwetter Veterinary Care, which is a local general practice, but because it’s– I had really built its reputation and was fairly isolated from other referral-type institutes, we saw a huge range of cases, and I had fantastic mentorship there. Dr. Chris Bleifuss was the owner and my mentor, and he just really embodies the type of leader that I want to be. He was caring, a wonderful mentor, really, just ran a fantastic business. I hope to work towards half of that as my goal.
Courtney: Dr. Esser, at the time that you were working in Wisconsin and had this fantastic mentor, were you starting to think about practice ownership? When did that really — has it always remained a goal of yours or when did it become a goal of yours? Just interested in your journey to really stepping into not just a leadership role, but an ownership role as well.
Dr. Esser: Yes, I would say it was definitely on my mind, but I was also a new mother and just really figuring out small animal practice. It wasn’t something I was ready for at that time. But like I said, even just growing up in business and learning and education and leadership, those were dinner table conversations. That’s something that’s always been in the back of my mind. While I wasn’t ready yet, I thankfully am now.
Courtney: Yes, talk to us about that. When did you know you were ready? Fast forward, you made your way back to Chicago and working at West Loop. At what point did it become a reality to you that you had this opportunity to become an owner, a managing partner in Streeterville? Was that two feet in right from the beginning or did you have to get comfortable with the idea of that? Just curious.
Dr. Esser: Yeah, I moved back to Chicago in 2019 and joined West Loop Veterinary Care at that time, and I really admire the practice that Dr. Gonsky founded. The focus on growth and training and learning and high-level care were things that I really admired about that practice and admire still.
After kind of getting my feet wet there and realizing that even though I was in a different city and no longer in a rural place, I could still hold my own, that I still really loved practice and loved growing and learning with it. I just realized that I was ready for some more leadership, and I would say it took a little bit of evolution and conversation back and forth with Dr. Gonsky, and we kind of nurtured the idea for probably about a year and then he said he was ready to expand along with Suveto and I was ready to join that next step.
Courtney: It’s really exciting. Suveto is strong because of individuals like Dr. Gonsky really leading the way and having phenomenal practices and developing fantastic people like yourself, and our pillars of ownership, growth, and well-being, we want to lean into those becoming a reality and all of us have been so excited for you at Streeterville that you are experiencing an ownership opportunity through West Loop and alongside of Suveto. We’d love to hear what the first weeks have been like, really unlocking the door every day and seeing new patients come in. I would love to hear a little bit about that feeling of seeing your first patients at this location.
Dr. Esser: Yes, it’s been super exciting. Even since day one we’ve had clients on the books every day, growing in number each day. I feel like we’ve really been able to provide a service that was missing in this neighborhood. We’re hearing from a lot of clients that they were looking for West Loop Veterinary Care service and were either driving over to West Loop or were driving to other neighborhoods to try and get that level of care and now we’re here in their backyard.
I’ve loved being able to provide that care right here in this neighborhood. Definitely, lots of things to order. I’ve been astounded with the number of just supplies and medications and all the little details down to the drawer organizers and Q-tips.
Courtney: Absolutely, it’s like moving into your first apartment and realizing you only need a can opener every 90 days, but you’re like, “Oh, man, I don’t have a can opener.”
Dr. Esser: Yes, absolutely, that’s been small but expected challenge and we’ve been starting the day off with team huddles and really trying to establish a great team atmosphere and really positive culture here, so that’s something that I’ve been really loving in these first couple of weeks.
Courtney: Yes, that’s fantastic. Can you tell us what the structure of the team huddle is? How do you kick off the day? What is the conversation? What is the goal of the team huddle and how long do they last and what do you all typically talk about?
Dr. Esser: They’re about 10 to 15 minutes, and we start with a good morning and typically share any announcements for the day, anything that I have to share with the group or anything that the group would like to share with the rest of the team, and then we pick a different topic each day. Sometimes it’s something like, “Hey, how was your Memorial Day weekend?” Share something fun from that, and sometimes it’s a little bit more focused like share a story from last week that exhibited our core values and how we saw it with the clients or something more specific. I’ve been trying to mix it up and kind of a mix of fun and specific or more focused.
Courtney: Fantastic. What has the journey been like for you, Dr. Esser, again, in the last year or two, and actualizing this ownership aspiration in Streeterville? How have you continued to find harmony with your personal life and well-being? Because I know that’s something that for years as I’ve worked with aspiring owners or current owners, you speak about this huddle and the culture you’re building with your team and that’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of effort, it’s a lot of emotional investment. How have you intentionally taken care of your personal well-being and created space for yourself there?
Dr. Esser: Here’s where I have a very sincere plug for Suveto and for the partnership I have with West Loop Veterinary Care that I’m a single mother, I’m sort of a risk-averse, not super entrepreneurial person and I’ve just been so appreciative of the partnership because there’s a whole network, sort of both internal with West Loop Veterinary Care, the partnership I have here, as well was with Suveto to help support some of those mechanics behind running a practice.
I’ve been able to focus on my team. I’ve been able to focus on my clients and patients and I really appreciate that support system that I’m a part of. Also, I think pretty good at setting clear boundaries, and here are my work hours, of course, I’m available for my team by phone when things come up, but when my day is over, I make sure that things are set to run without me and then I go on and pick my daughter up from school and go on to the rest of our days. I feel like I’ve so far been finding a good balance. I hope I can maintain that going forward.
Courtney: Yeah, good for you and that was not planned folks, we were focused on the personal and well-being side because it’s in the back of everyone’s mind of you have really successful, overachieving individuals and you want to make sure that you are personally well and finding some healthy balance. We’re here for you, Dr. Esser. I think you know that and to everyone else listening out there, there’s usually a team of people that are willing to help you, so ask for help and establish those healthy boundaries, so fantastic.
What piece of advice would you give someone that is like you that maybe sat around the table as a child talking about business? That it was always a dinner conversation that maybe is interested in either being an owner completely independently or in partnership like you have with West Loop and Dr. Gonsky as well as Suveto. What is that kind of rearview mirror advice that you would give someone that may be thinking about that?
Dr. Esser: I would say similar to what I was just mentioning that really make sure you have a support system in place, both for the business itself and also for your personal life so that there’s kind of that team to work up towards the next goal with. I certainly got a certificate in veterinary business, and I’ve been doing research and learning to prepare myself for this but also, I feel like I have a lot to look forward to and learning. I realized I don’t have to know it all on day one. I can work towards learning those skills and building on those skills that I already have.
Courtney: That’s great advice, to not have to have the answers day one, that they will come to you, that you will continue to look for resources and surround yourself with individuals that can help and you’re going to learn along the way, it’s a continuous journey. Dr. Esser, what are you most excited about for Streeterville’s future? What is it that now that the doors are open and it’s a reality and you have your team of people as well as the clients you’re serving, what excites you about the future?
Dr. Esser: I’m really excited about being able to grow the practice, being able to serve more pets and people in Streeterville, being able to establish our reputation as a super high level of care in veterinary medicine, and not only growing the team for our clients and for their pets but also for our team here. We’ve got a fantastic and a base team that started off the practice and we have two more doctors joining us this summer, more support team coming on as well and I really want this to be a place where they can grow their careers and personally grow.
Courtney: That’s really exciting. Any other things that you would share with our listeners, any podcasts you’ve listened to that you’ve loved, or books that you’ve read that you’ve loved, that have motivated you along the way?
Dr. Esser: I am definitely a news junkie, so I listen to NPR on all my car rides, read the New York Times several times a day. I like to just kind of stay attuned to what’s going on in the world. I do like listening to the podcast How I Built This and that definitely is a relevant one for business. They had a nice micro series during COVID of How I Built This: Resilience series and I liked hearing about that because it was a lot of businesses that had gone through ups and downs or major challenges and how they were resilient through those episodes, so that’s probably one of my favorites.
Courtney: Yes, we share the interest in that podcast. I love that podcast, I always have. It’s a great one to walk to or take a car ride to. It’s motivating, very interesting. Businesses that span every industry you can think of, that’s why I like the diversity of guests that come on that show.
Well, thank you much, Dr. Esser, for joining us. Best of luck to you and everything at Streeterville. You are really a beacon of what we are building here at Suveto and we couldn’t be more excited to be in partnership with you, so thank you so much for coming on Let’s Vet Together.
Dr. Esser: Thanks for having me, it was a lot of fun.