Garth McGilvray
Fri, December 2, 2011 at 7:00
Stephanie Hunt in Coffs, Coffs Coast, Coffs Harbour, Garth McGilvray, Interesting, Jesse Taylor, MIPIK, Merrily Fitzgerald, Person, The Most Interesting Person I now

Garth McGilvray was one of Merrilyn Fitzgerald’s first bosses, and she thinks he’s the most interesting person she knows on the Coffs Coast.  “He’s a bit of a Coffs Harbour icon,” she explains.  “He’s done so many different things with his life.  He’s got fantastic stories.  There’s always just some amazing thing he has done or is doing with his life.”  I’m envious already, but I can’t wait to meet him.



Close your eyes for a minute and imagine the perfect life.  Can you visualize it yet?  Coming into focus?  You may just have had a peak at Garth McGilvray’s life.  He spends 6 months a year sailing in the Mediterranean, before packing up the boat for the European winter and returning with his wife Sue to their Camperdown Street apartment with its sweeping views of the harbour.  He and Sue love spending time with his four grown children and dote on their expanding entourage of grandchildren.  Between Coffs Harbour, Sydney, New York and the back of his sailing boat parked off a Greek Island Garth is keeping the mind sharp at the helm of Provet, a $300million veterinary supplies distributor, for which he is Chairman of the Board.  Many people would see this as a perfect life.

Yet, it’s not the life that Garth expected when he left the farm in the Riverina and headed to the University of Sydney veterinary school.  “I just got lucky,” he says.  “I never really set out to achieve anything other than to get to university.”  His father had warned him that study would pull him from the land, and the paternal foreshadowing proved correct.  With a degree in Veterinary Surgery under his belt he left the farm behind and headed out to see the world, signing on for a 90 day $99 bus ticket across the United States, before heading to England and Ireland to ply his new trade.

He says he would have happily stayed in Ireland, but when he came home to get married to Sue, who he’d met on a skiing trip in Austria, they never managed to pull themselves away from Australia.  For this Coffs Harbour can be thankful.  “At the time Coffs didn’t have a veterinary practice.  It seemed to be growing and it was beautiful with all the banana trees,” says Garth, explaining his decision to open a practice here over 40 years ago.  Ironically he wasn’t the only one to see the opportunity and two other veterinary clinics opened that same year.  But Garth did better than weather the competition.  Together with David Johnson, his partner who joined him in 1984, he expanded to branches in Sawtell, Woolgoolga and Coramba, firmly embedding Pacific Vetcare in the Coffs Harbour community where it remains to this day. 

Expansion into distribution of veterinary supplies changed Garth from regional vet to business tycoon.  Provet started out in 1982 as a collective of 5 veterinary practices with a vision to reclaim some of the proceeds on veterinary supplies back into their veterinary practices.  “We grew through mergers and acquisitions mainly,” Garth explains, sounding every bit the company director that he is.  Provet bought existing businesses in Victoria and WA, then started up new ones in SA, Darwin, Wagga, Tasmania, Auckland.  “After we had expanded the veterinary practices, this just seemed like the next step,” he tries to explain what drove him to go from a country practice to a multi-national concern.

Meanwhile he gained multi-national recognition in his industry.  Elected president of the Australian Veterinary Association in 1999, and then appointed Veterinary Surgeons Board President and Councillor of the World Veterinary Association, Garth immersed himself in the regulation of his profession.

With Garth running a busy practice, still wielding a scalpel in his veterinary surgery, contributing to his profession on the national and international stage and building an international conglomerate, you could be forgiven for thinking that he was one of those business tragics that lose sight of their family and their souls.  But you would be wrong.  From the beginning Garth seems to have had the scent of the perfect life.  “Sue and I had seven years of working 24/7,” he explains, “and then we decided to take in a partner and restructure the business to allow us to go away for 3 months every 3 or 4 years.”  They would pull the kids out of school as required, and head off to a new exotic destination with Toby, Gerry, Hugh and Annabel in tow.

And of course there was the sailing.  “I started doing the Pittwater to Coffs with some mates on a FARR 1104, and then we bought a FARR 40, the Sagacious V, and that’s the boat we did the 50th Sydney to Hobart on.” Garth looks like he can actually feel the sea winds as he speaks.  Then in 2000 his brother in law discovered a lovely little sailing ship in Dubrovnick, bought it and Garth went halves.  He and Sue have been on the Mediterranean for several months a year ever since.  They started in the Adriatic  sailing between Italy and Croatia.  The last four years have been spent in the Greek Islands and this year they move on to Turkey.

Slowly the sailing trips become longer and the business commitments become less.  In 2010, Provet became a publicly listed company and was ultimately purchased and reprivatised by US veterinary supply company Henry Schein.  Whilst Garth remains Chairman, the sale means he no longer carries the burden of business owner, and his bank account is considerably healthier.  He has pulled back on his commitments to professional associations.  Mind you, he’s still got his fingers in a number of professional pies.  He’s working his networks on behalf of the Australian Companion Animal Council (ACAC) to improve the statewide management of companion animal regulation, and has only just returned from a meeting with our mayor Keith Rhodes, and President of the Local Government Association, on this very topic. 

And now Garth must move on.  His meeting with the mayor took a bit longer than he expected and he still needs to pack for a trip to Sydney tomorrow, and make some final arrangements for his son Hugh’s wedding in Cairns this weekend.  His is a busy life, a life filled with friends and family, marked by achievement, weathered by the sea….in so many ways a perfect life.


Garth has a couple of people he wants to nominate for most interesting person on the Coffs Coast, but when I tell him it can only be one he fairly quickly narrows it down to Jesse Taylor, the manager of Headspace.  Jesse only arrived from New York about a year ago, so brings a different perspective to Coffs Harbour and Garth says it’s Jesse’s years of working in community services that make him really fascinating.  I’m looking forward to swapping ‘they’re a weird mob' stories with a fellow North American. 


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