How our MBA students helped Guide Dogs Victoria see into the future

13/06/2018
When Australia's most trusted charity needed to solve a complex business problem, it turned to Melbourne Business School for help.
 
Guide Dogs Victoria is famous for training assistance dogs to help Australians who have low vision or are blind – but running a veterinary clinic isn't part of its usual operations.


The clinic is part of a $20 million redevelopment of the charity's headquarters it has occupied in Kew, in Melbourne's eastern suburbs, since 1962.

Guide Dogs Victoria plans to spend $3 million on the clinic and open it in 2019 to diversify its revenue sources and make sure it can continue operating well into the future. At the moment, 90 per cent of the charity's revenue comes from donations.

To meet its revenue challenge, Guide Dogs Victoria General Manager Alastair Stott enlisted the help of Melbourne Business School – his alma mater – to help make sure the project is a major success.

Four MBA students – Nathan Spence, Henry Manning, Yan Liu and Paul Qiu – were tasked with investigating the viability of several different business models for the clinic that included employing its own doctors or partnering with a university veterinary science faculty to service pet owners.

For Henry, a former opera singer from the UK, forging a new path for a brand as famous as Guide Dogs Victoria was a tremendous responsibility.

"We gave them a fairly conservative but realistic idea of what they can expect and have to achieve moving forward,” Henry says. “By the time they open the clinic in 2019, everything should be in place for them to start off on the right foot and have a successful clinic."

Henry says he’s proud that he and his colleagues could help the charity's leadership team consider their options clearly.

"We found that they had to be a little bit more careful of some of the assumptions they had about opening a public veterinary clinic. But that's why they asked us to come in to do, so it was fantastic that we could fill that role."

For Nathan, a former Rio Tinto mining engineer, the experience was one of the best he had at Melbourne Business School.

"The great thing about it was we were able to make a really good impact," Nathan says. "We felt like everything that we did made a difference. They could see it immediately. Before we did our final presentation, they'd already started implementing our suggestions, which was really cool."

Over 450,000 Australians have low vision or blindness. That number is set to rise as the population ages and the incidence of vision-impairing diabetes increases, which makes the success of the new clinic as an alternative revenue source crucial for Guide Dogs Victoria.

The charity nurses around 135 puppies a year and spends two years and $50,000 turning each one that passes its rigorous 19-month training and assessment regime into a working dog.

Alastair says the students’ work to identify how to make the new clinic a sustainable revenue source was just what Guide Dogs Victoria needed.

"The students' research, analysis and insights into the business and service delivery models for our new veterinary clinic were extremely valuable as we seek to diversify our income streams and improve the health outcomes for our guide dog colony."