A cut-to-the-chase animal doctor
By Peter DeMarco, Globe Correspondent
Health/Science, Feb. 6, 2006
When Dr. Larry Hawk became president of Boston's largest animal hospital and animal welfare agency three years ago, he could have picked any number of things to fix -- CAT scan machines were outdated, exam rooms were overbooked, and aesthetically, the animal shelter looked a bit like a bomb shelter. But in Hawk's mind, there was an even higher priority: changing the organization's 88-year-old name.
''We were called the MSPCA/AHES -- The American Humane Education Society. The business cards had little books on them. What was that?" said Hawk, who in 2003 became president of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and its sister nonprofit organization, then called Angell Memorial Animal Hospital.
Within weeks of taking over, Hawk led the charge to change the hospital's familiar but somewhat confusing name. Some people thought it sounded more like a cemetery than a health clinic -- to its more straightforward present name: Angell Animal Medical Center. He also branded every clinic, shelter, and branch hospital within the network as an Angell property under a simple-to-remember, ''MSPCA-Angell" umbrella.
''At the end of the day, what do I want people to know Angell as? Just Angell," Hawk says, answering his own question. ''I take my dog to the Angell. I take my cat to the Angell. When you want the best care, you go to the Angell."
If Hawk sounds more like a marketing guru than a veterinarian, that's because he used to be one. Yes, he's an animal doctor. In fact, he was a prodigy of sorts, graduating with a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Michigan State University at the age of 21.
But the business side of caring for animals was more appealing to him than dog and cat appointments. Leaving behind a successful private practice in 1985, Hawk became a traveling pet food salesman for Palmolive/Hill's pet nutrition. It was hardly a glamorous job, but Hawk saw it as a vital learning experience. One particular sales call, to a veterinarian in Florida, changed his entire approach to business, he says.
''The veterinarian wanted to know something specific about one of the diets that solved bladder stones. So we went through all that. That was about the first five minutes of the call," Hawks says. ''He wanted to know more about me and what I was doing, and he had the time, so I kept talking. At the end of the hour he said, 'Now, take me through that again,' " referring to the pet food. An hour of conversation, and still no sale.
I should have gone over the product ''in the first five minutes," he said. ''I should have repeated it over the second five minutes, and then I should have left," Hawk says. ''It's called focus. Deliver your message. Deliver the need. Make sure they understand it. Have them repeat it to you. And leave."Hawk's ability to focus is perhaps his defining trait. And it's more than just rebranding MSCPA-Angell, or waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. to start his day's work when he's too jazzed to sleep. Hawk's older sister, Kathy Nicosia, was a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to strike the World Trade Center during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Putting his own need to grieve aside, Hawk, who at the time was president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York, spent the next few weeks helping people retrieve their pets from homes near Ground Zero.
''He grieved at home and certainly showed those emotions," said Hawk's wife, Patti. ''For his staff, he was very focused. . . . He did what he needed to do to get things done, to get those animals out." Hawk's dedication to animal welfare was one reason MSCPA-Angell's board of trustees picked him to lead the organization. His knowledge of veterinary medicine was another. But his business acumen and track record as a change agent were equally, if not more, important.
''He's definitely a cut-to-the-chase guy," says Dr. Peter Theran, a former Angell vice president. ''He's not particularly warm and fuzzy, but he does listen, and he does like to get down to the basics and get decisions made and move forward." Hawk's serious nature hardly stops him from being an effective salesman, though.
Leading a reporter on a tour of Angell's new $16 million addition -- under Hawk's leadership, the backside of the hospital is being transformed into a more user-friendly entrance -- Hawk turns showman, pointing out a dozen new improvements that will finally bring the aged facility into the 21st century.
With another $2 million to go in fund-raising, he doesn't waste any opportunities. ''With the Globe's help," he says, motioning to an empty corner, ''this will all be turned into a physical therapy operation. We'll name it after the Globe. The Globe Animal Treatment Center." Adjusting his hard hat, Hawk laughs and walks on. But if my bosses are reading, he meant it.
Family: Wife, Patti Hawk. Children: Carl, 21, and Jennifer, 20, from a previous marriage.
He'd rather be . . . : Flying his single-engine Cessna 182. ''That's what I do on weekends. I fly out of Mansfield. I use it to visit our facilities on the Vineyard and Nantucket. A little bit of business, but mostly I do it for fun."
Latest challenge: Earning his MBA from Northeastern. He's been going to school part time and expects to graduate this summer. ''When you've been doing something for a long time, you need something to rock you off your center. It's done that."Pets: Tucker, a 9-year-old yellow lab who often joined Hawk at work, died of lymphoma two weeks ago.
The Inside Scoop: We had to cut some stuff because I ran long, again, on a meeting the minds piece. (Next one, one Dr. Fred Mandell, will be 750 words or I'll shoot myself.) The stuff we cut had to do with Hawk's firing of some long-time employees, as related to my by Diane. I feel badly that stuff wasn't in here, though her view of Hawk, which was fairly negative, wasn't exactly what I encountered. Not to say he doesn't have his bad side, but he seems to know what he's doing in regards to building and marketing the place. I am curious to see whether Diane will be right: that he's gutted his development office, a move that will come back to bite him. This was a tough one for sure. Plus, his pooch had to be put to sleep just hours after our photographer, Susanne, shot him. Still, Hawk said it was Ok to run the picture, which we did. (The dog above is just one up for adoption. Easy, Laura. Easy!)