Areas of Expertise
+ Laboratory animal science
+ Experimental surgery
+ Animal health and welfare
+ Animal welfare legislation and regulation
+ Veterinary services
What are your responsibilities at Envigo?
I’m responsible for the health and welfare of our animals on a global level and the quality of our products. I also oversee the attending veterinarians and make sure all the animals are receiving the appropriate care, are kept healthy, and have the appropriate environmental enrichment.
What inspired you to pursue a career in science?
I always knew I wanted to be a veterinarian and work with animals. I would frequently visit the animals at our neighbor’s farm in Austria and met their attending vet when I was about five years old. He was so enthusiastic and passionate about his work. I immediately knew I wanted to pursue a veterinary career. My mother studied human medicine and I was fascinated by physiology, which helped influence my decision to pursue a career in science.
I worked in academia after graduating university and was very much engaged in a scientific role - and to some degree, a clinical role - performing experimental surgery and developing new animal models for surgical research. I then worked in a small animal practice, which I absolutely loved. Envigo was then looking for someone with experience in experimental surgery and I applied. The position was to develop the surgical capabilities within the veterinary team and department. This opportunity opened up a new world to me of animal welfare - making sure animals are well cared for and to do a harm/benefit analysis whenever you perform work on or with animals.
What are some of the key attributes of being successful in your role?
Clearly you need to have a love and an understanding for animals because that's, in a way, the company’s consciousness. You have to make this continuous analysis about what is the benefit and what is the welfare cost on the animals, what is acceptable, what isn’t acceptable, what could cause animals harm, what doesn’t cause them harm, and how do they feel most comfortable. You also have to support the team and the technicians in their daily efforts to deliver this ever so important culture of care towards our animals.
I see myself a little bit as the advocate of the animals within the business and put it all into context of what we do and what we’re actually trying to achieve. It’s not just about the business sense, it’s also about ethics and making sure the animals are actually used in an appropriate way. You need a kind of pragmatism toward it. You can be completely drawn into a world where you just see regulations and what you want to achieve with the animals. But, at the same time, you need to be grounded enough to say what is and isn’t achievable and how you can chip away at it while making the animals’ lives continuously better.
This is not a process that’s finished at some stage. It’s a continuous process that you have to revisit all the time in a continuous manner. You will never achieve everything at the same time. So, you need to make sure you know which step is first, what is the most important thing to do at any one time, and what can actually sort of wait. Where you can make some compromises and where you can do something very different to achieve the same goal.
What are the best parts of your job?
I like working with a team and seeing them develop. I also enjoy helping people understand what is important in regard to animal welfare and make sure they balance it right. That they understand how animals feel and the big commitment and sacrifice they make for the better good for humans. That’s really where I do love to work with a team - be it my veterinary team, the technicians, the business side, or sales people. Educating them on what is important for animals. How can we improve on this welfare aspect? How can we improve on the quality? How does it all interact? Better animal welfare provides better science. Healthy, well-looked-after animals make better models for the science our customers try to conduct.
I also love interacting with our customers because there’s so much you learn. I love being part of this bigger picture of creating a healthier and better world through this little brick in this overall building that makes it so much better for all of us. Hearing our animals have participated in studies that led to some breakthrough in medicine - let’s say Parkinson’s Disease with some treatment that works really well. You know that you’ve been part of that and you've made sure that the animals are well looked after during this process. That really drives me. That makes it, for me, so much more important.
Which career achievements make you proud?
I think what makes me really proud is seeing my team develop and seeing people change their minds about animals in science. If you go back nearly 20 years when I started working, it was clear through many conversations it was more the science that mattered. I’ve seen this transition of people through education, through continuous conversations and making them understand how important the well-being of the animals is that they suddenly understand and see not just the data in front of them, but actually see an animal in front of them. This is not just raw data. This is an animal standing behind that raw data. Changing those attitudes makes me really proud.
Also, going through the process of coaching our staff into positions - whether it’s becoming technicians, partaking in research, or sales. Helping them understand the principles of our world, of the health of the animals and how to look after them makes me extremely proud.
What are some of your favorite things to do outside of Envigo?
I do love to go back to Austria. In the summer, you’ll find me on a lake either water skiing, swimming, or just lying in the sun. I also like to hike in the mountains with my three sons. In the winter, we go skiing together. That’s absolutely my favorite time of year - when the four of us are just up there somewhere, spending quality time together.
I love spending time with my dog, Socks, and newly acquired chickens - Babs, Mac, and Ginger. I’m really drawn to them. I didn’t expect them to be social, so interactive with me and so tame. They jump onto my lap in the morning when I go into the garden and open the gate. That really makes my day.
Please contact us if you have a question for Helmut or would like to learn more about our veterinary services.