After nine years as CEO, Ron DeHaven is ready for what’s next
Posted July 13, 2016
It was a homecoming of sorts when on Aug. 9, 2007, Dr. Ron DeHaven assumed the responsibilities of executive vice president and CEO of the AVMA. He had departed Washington, D.C., after 28 years with the Department of Agriculture to oversee day-to-day operations at AVMA headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois, not far from the Chicago suburb of Mount Prospect where he grew up.
Dr. DeHaven took the job expecting to stay with the AVMA for five years at most. He was off by at least four years and three days. His last official day in the office is Aug. 12, following AVMA Convention 2016 in San Antonio. If requested, Dr. DeHaven has agreed to remain as the Association’s chief executive officer until his successor is in place.
“It’s been a wonderful ride during some tumultuous times but has always been an absolute honor to serve the profession in this capacity,” he said.
Dr. DeHaven has guided the AVMA through periods of growth in both membership and influence. The Association currently has more than 88,000 members, and its advocacy efforts have elevated the visibility of veterinarians and the many ways they enhance animal and public health.
Dr. Ted Cohn was in his first year on the AVMA Board of Directors when the Board elected Dr. DeHaven to succeed Dr. Bruce Little as executive vice president. Dr. Cohn—now the AVMA immediate past president, his time on the Board ending—called it an “honor and privilege” to have worked with Dr. DeHaven throughout his entire AVMA tenure.
“Immediately upon his arrival, Ron instituted policies to promote the open participation by staff in discussions with volunteer leadership,” Dr. Cohn recalled. “This inclusion of staff perspectives and ideas had the effect of creating camaraderie and a sense of team throughout our Association. It also meant that staff was more intimately aware of those strategies devised by the Board, House of Delegates, and other AVMA volunteer entities.
“One other significant change, for which I am particularly appreciative, is Ron’s continual striving to evolve the Board of Directors from one dealing with many operational or tactical aspects of AVMA to one that is increasingly strategic and visionary.”
There was no specific moment when Dr. DeHaven knew it was time to go. He and his wife, Nancy, had discussed his retirement on and off for nearly five years. Dr. DeHaven said he’s ready to put the more-than-60-hour workweeks behind him and is eager for more time that he and Nancy can spend with their children and four grandchildren.
“The job is wonderful, but it also is really all-consuming. As the chief executive officer, you can’t really have a life outside the AVMA. Besides, leadership change is good for an organization, and I think AVMA will benefit from a different perspective that only new leadership can bring,” he said.
“If we’re going to be successful in the future—whether we’re talking with the public, media, Congress, or our own members—we really need to show that we care, that we’re in this profession because we have strong feelings about animals and our profession, and only then provide the science-based solution.”
When Dr. DeHaven came to the AVMA, he spent the first three to four years advancing the Association’s strategic priorities of animal welfare, quality veterinary education, and advocacy. By 2010, as many veterinarians were struggling through the Great Recession, the AVMA’s attention had turned toward the profession’s economic health. Partners for Healthy Pets was created to encourage regular wellness visits, and soon thereafter, the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division was established.
“While we can’t say Partners has increased the frequency of visits, I think we have started transformational change within the profession to focus more on preventive care,” Dr. DeHaven said. “I’m hoping we’ll look back five to 10 years from now and see that Partners really did start a trend.”
“Standing up the economics division has been a huge success,” he continued. “The challenge is taking the mountain of information they’ve collected and breaking it down into bite-size chunks that the profession can apply to their day-to-day life. We’re starting to do that with some of the tools we’ve created and with the practice management program at convention.”
In 2014, AVMA leadership responded to a decrease in the percentage of U.S. veterinarians who were Association members by implementing the first stages of a Strategy Management Process aimed at turning the AVMA into an organization focused on meeting the needs of veterinarians across every discipline.
“We’ve laid the groundwork for this transformational change through our SMP. My focus for the past year has been implementing that change,” Dr. DeHaven explained. “Most of the efforts have so far been directed at internal improvements, and I think in the next year or so, the SMP will be far more member-focused.”
Dr. DeHaven wishes he and the Board had begun the process sooner. “It’s become apparent since we started the SMP that we’re trying to be all things to all members. Not only can we not be everything to every member, the members are largely unaware of most of what we’re doing for them,” he said. “If I were to do anything differently, I would’ve started down the path we’re on now—of narrowing our focus to those programs, services, and activities our members are telling us are most important to them—sooner and done a better job of marketing the value of those to our members.”
The former federal administrator is proud of the AVMA’s successes in the political arena, including passage of the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act in 2014 and, so far, preventing passage of the Fairness to Pet Owners Act, which would federally mandate prescription writing by veterinarians.
Among Dr. DeHaven’s most memorable moments over his nine years with the AVMA was representing the U.S. veterinary profession at the inaugural meeting of the Chinese VMA in October 2009 in Beijing. Dr. DeHaven had known the association’s new director—Dr. Jia Youlin—since 2004 while each was the chief veterinary officer in his respective country, Dr. DeHaven as director of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Dr. Jia as director of the Veterinary Bureau of China’s Ministry of Agriculture.
||Representing the U.S. veterinary profession, Dr. DeHaven speaks at the inaugural meeting of the Chinese VMA in 2009 in Beijing. (Courtesy of the Chinese VMA)
Dr. DeHaven is proud to have chaired the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Ad Hoc Group on Veterinary Education for the past five years. The international body establishes core competencies and a core curriculum for veterinary education in developing countries. He is equally proud to have mentored a number of veterinary students and recent graduates while CEO. And although he didn’t start the Association’s Future Leaders Program, he considers it an essential initiative and is happy the program thrived during his tenure.
How does Dr. DeHaven hope to be remembered as the AVMA’s chief executive officer? “Hopefully, people will say it was a time when we started to create the new AVMA that was member-focused, that it was the beginning of a transformational change within the profession to focus on preventive care first, and that I was totally devoted to the profession,” he said.
Dr. DeHaven believes one of the AVMA’s greatest challenges concerns one of the Association’s greatest strengths. “Most members recognize that advocacy is the most important thing that AVMA can do for them, but they also realize we’ll continue doing those things even if they aren’t members themselves,” he said. “And yet, it’s only because we represent such a large percentage of the profession that we have a strong advocacy voice.
“More than the dues dollars, we need their membership, so when we talk to the media or we talk to the Congress we can say we represent 80 percent of the profession. That’s a strong voice. Veterinary medicine is a small profession, and we need a strong national organization.”
||In 2013, Dr. DeHaven testifies before a congressional subcommittee regarding the AVMA’s support for the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act.(Photo by Molly Riley)
What advice would Dr. DeHaven offer the AVMA’s next executive vice president and CEO?
“Let’s continue this effort to narrow our focus and do fewer things that provide the most member value,” he said. “That’s going to be a challenge. We’re going to have to slaughter a few sacred cows and only keep the best of the best programs. I would hope that my successor, in that same context, would really follow through on implementing our SMP, to finish the job of re-creating the AVMA.”
He continued, “We pride ourselves on being a science-based organization, and that’s important, but I think we need to transition and be value-focused and informed by the science. My favorite quote is ‘Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.’ As a science-based profession, we tend to respond in a very technical, nonemotional way to issues that are usually very emotional.
“If we’re going to be successful in the future—whether we’re talking with the public, media, Congress, or our own members—we really need to show that we care, that we’re in this profession because we have strong feelings about animals and our profession, and only then provide the science-based solution. That’d be part of what I would want my successor to do, to shift from being science-based to value-focused and informed by the science.”
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