As a female executive, Kim Allen is a pioneer in the animal health industry
Kim Allen entered the animal health business 35 years ago, when cattle was king. Livestock products and services dominated distribution. The industry differed from that of today in another key way: The majority of veterinarians and sales reps were male, and female executives were all but non-existent.
“I have watched the industry go through a lot of transitions,” Allen says. Considering how much the industry has changed in a few short decades, she’s bound to watch a lot more.
Allen is president of the Commercial Division for Henry Schein Animal Health, with responsibility for sales, marketing, business development, special markets and strategic accounts. Her story is one of a love of animals and the industry she serves, and a firm belief that she can make a difference in animal health.
Born and raised in Southern California until she was eight years old, her father, Bill, an executive with IBM and then Xerox, moved the family to Connecticut; then Lexington, Ky.; and finally Franklin Lakes, N.J. Allen started riding horses when she was eight, and has owned horses almost all her life. (She continues to breed horses today, with a focus on Oldenburgs.) “Every little girl is horse-crazy,” says Allen, whose mother, Donna, had grown up on a 3,000-acre ranch with a number of horses. “And I always had a passion for animals. I had dogs, cats, horses, gerbils, you name it.”
While attending Rutgers University, Allen worked as a veterinary technician, and thought about going into veterinary medicine. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in animal science in 1981, she moved to Dallas, where her father lived, and responded to a help-wanted ad by Rugby Laboratories. The company, a mail order supplier of human generics and vitamins, was looking for someone to help open a distribution and call center in Dallas. It turns out the company was also preparing to open a veterinary division called Delta Veterinary Supply. They asked Allen to take the job. (Rugby Laboratories was owned by the Ashkin family, which still owns a percentage of Henry Schein Animal Health to this day, prompting Allen to note, “I’ve worked for 35 years for the same company, under different names.”)
In 1983, Rugby acquired the distribution arm of Burns Biotech from Schering-Plough, adding Burns’ strong sales force to its operations. Allen continued to run the call center in Dallas, but soon received a call from Rugby Laboratories President Richard Frankovic. “He said to me, ‘Congratulations, you’re in charge,’” recalls Allen. “I said, ‘In charge of what?’ He said, ‘The whole thing.’” Allen had been named general manager of Burns Veterinary Supply Eastern Division.
She was both happy and surprised. Few if any women were running veterinary distribution companies at the time. Plus, she was only in her mid-20s. By 1997, she became president of Burns Veterinary Supply.
In April 2005, Burns Veterinary Supply and the Butler Company announced their intent to merge, creating a distributor servicing 29,000 veterinarians in all 50 states, distributing 15,000 products on behalf of 300 vendors. Allen was named president of the Commercial Division. She continued to serve as president of the Commercial Division after Henry Schein and Butler Animal Health merged in 2009 to form Butler Animal Health Supply, and later, Henry Schein Animal Health.
A different industry
The industry was very different when she began her career, before the big parasiticide products were launched, says Allen. In the 1980s, one of the largest companion animal products was xylazine (Rompun) – which was approximately a $10 million line. The biggest flea and tick product line prior to topicals was Zoecon, with its flea collars, flea powder, flea spray and flea bombs. “Once that was our biggest booking of the year,” she says. “Look at that compared to the hundreds of millions sold in parasiticides today.”
She has seen the industry go through many cycles, as manufacturers draw closer to distribution, then pull back, then return. “Right now, we’re seeing a trend toward manufacturers wanting to be in distribution due to the greater number of touch points with the customer, service levels achieved and deep relationships with the veterinary clinics,” she says.
Allen was the first female AVDA board member and served on the board of the American Veterinary Distributors Association for 15 years, including several terms as president. “AVDA helped me a lot. It offered really good networking, and it’s a great place for younger people. You meet everybody in the industry at AVDA, and there were people who were very helpful to me there.”
Allen is also aware of the power she possesses to help the next generation of female executives within the industry, and she is optimistic about a newly formed organization called Women in Leadership and Management in Animal Health (WILMAH). WILMAH is intended to foster networking and mentoring for women in the industry. “I see more females taking leadership roles in the industry, and it is encouraging to see. It is an exciting time in animal health and there are many opportunities for women in leadership roles”.