Dr. Ackerman founded Ackerman Group (formerly Business Transitions Services) nearly 20 years ago in order to help veterinary practice owners successfully navigate the complex process of business transitions and transactions. Gary is an industry thought leader in corporate consolidation sales with renowned multi-discipline expertise that includes veterinary practice ownership, business growth and management, real estate and tax mitigation planning strategies, practice transition strategies, due diligence, practice valuations and negotiations. Gary developed a proprietary process to help veterinary practice owners sell to the corporate market, gaining maximum value of their practices.
Gary earned his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Georgia. He founded and operated a multi-doctor, multi-location veterinary practice in Virginia for 20 years before selling his practices to a corporate buyer in 2001. Gary is well known in the veterinary practice industry for his knowledge and success across multiple fields and disciplines. He is a licensed commercial real estate agent and investment advisor. Gary’s experience includes negotiating and finalizing veterinary practice sales and practice start-ups; assisting commercial real estate transactions; planning and directing hospital construction and renovation; overseeing facility leases; supervising practice mergers; negotiating group transitions to corporate buyers; assisting with structuring partnerships, purchases and sales agreements; tax mitigation strategies; and planning all aspects of veterinary practice sales.
Gary is also an active speaker in the Veterinary Industry and is an approved continuing education teacher for numerous realtor, accounting, and legal firms on real estate and business sale tax planning. Ackerman Group is licensed as a school to teach state and nationally certified continuing education courses. He has authored articles on real estate issues of healthcare professionals and practice transitions in multiple trade magazines and management publications. Gary lives in Richmond VA with his wife Brenda and has two children in college. When time permits, he enjoys water sports and an occasional game of racquetball.
Rich Lester – Co-CEO
Rich has spent the past 14 years in the veterinary industry primarily partnering with veterinarians to ensure their financial success. After a few years as President of BrightHeart Veterinary Centers, Rich was the Founder of Veterinary Practice Partners in 2011, the first group that exclusively focused on co-owning veterinary hospitals with local veterinarians. Rich led VPP as CEO from a start-up idea to 65+ hospitals and he stepped down as CEO in 2020. He remained an advisor to VPP through most of 2020 and is now excited to join Ackerman Group to work with veterinarians to help secure their financial futures. Rich enjoys advising practice owners on the sale of their practices to corporate groups and he knows the space well having spent 10+ years having been a buyer of practices.
Prior to being in the veterinary industry, Rich work in senior management for 15 years in human healthcare primarily at DaVita, a multi-site operator and consolidator of dialysis clinics. Rich has an MBA from UCLA and an undergraduate degree in Finance and American History from the University of Pennsylvania. Ric is married to his wife Rachel, they have three children and he loves to ski, golf and spend time with his family.
Jeff Hooper – Chief Operating Officer
Jeff has had a successful financial services career that has spanned over 30 years and is a skilled professional with a diverse background that includes operations, business development, asset management, financial planning and commercial real estate finance.
Prior to joining Ackerman Group, Jeff was a management consultant and investor in the real estate industry. Jeff has been involved in capital formation and acquisition strategy consulting for golf resorts, condominium projects, retail developments and multi-family tax credit housing projects.
Jeff co-founded and served as Managing Partner of Gulfstream Capital Partners LLC, a strategic advisory firm, which worked with companies within the Financial Services and Technology sectors in the areas of operations, strategic planning, capital formation and business development. Gulfstream Capital was responsible for the business development strategy at FinancialCampus, which lead to its successful acquisition by Reuters.
Prior to forming Gulfstream Capital Partners, Jeff worked as a consultant to the financial services industry, helping companies successfully build and implement online strategies to deliver sales, marketing, training and education capabilities to their employees and partners.
Jeff began his career in financial services in 1986 as a Financial Advisor with Edward Jones. His career spanned 17 years as a financial consultant in Richmond Virginia. Jeff lives in Richmond VA with his wife Beth and has four children and two granddaughters.
Tom Wheeler – Director of Business Development
As Director of Business Development, Tom is responsible for the growth of Ackerman Group’s client base and market relationships. Tom brings more than 25 years of business strategy, business development and executive leadership experience in the animal health industry. He worked for market leaders such as Novartis, Veterinary Centers of America (VCA) and National Veterinary Associates (NVA). As a member of Ackerman Group, Tom’s expertise in identifying and responding to client demands in dynamic veterinary markets plays a key role in ensuring our client satisfaction.
Tom held various project management positions with increasing responsibility at Novartis until he was promoted into sales and managed markets leadership roles. At VCA Tom managed operations in a four-state region and was promoted to Regional Vice President. He then joined NVA as the Director of Divisional Operations for their Central Division. At Akina Pharmacy Tom developed the business case and strategy that resulted in the launch of Akina Animal Health, an e-commerce based compounding pharmacy. While at Akina, Tom had operational oversight for all Animal Health activities, interfacing with hundreds of veterinarians on a weekly basis.
Tom holds a Master of Business Administration from Wake Forest University. He has two teenage children and also parents a six-year-old cat, Trudy, who loves to eat and sleep.
Chris Watkins – Senior Operations Analyst
Chris has more than 20 years of experience in veterinary profession, both as a technician and in hospital administration and practice management, most of which was at a multi-site AAHA accredited hospital in North Carolina. During his tenure with these hospitals both were sold to corporate buyers, and Chris played an integral part in the transition. Chris is proficient in practice management analysis, software functionality, due diligence process and procedures and client services. Chris is also a credentialed veterinary assistant and still maintains his CE requirements for his AVA designation. Chris has an educational background in business administration and is in the process of completing requirements to earn a designation as a CVPM.
Steve Haas – Senior Financial Analyst
Steve brings a breadth of business experience within the veterinary industry to the Ackerman Group, having extensive experience in financial analysis, business valuations and operational assessments of practices. He was one of the founding team members who helped start-up National PetCare Centers, a company that owned and operated veterinary hospitals across the country. Throughout his 6+ years at the company he helped lead the firm from its inception to the #2 position in its industry before it merged with the industry leader. As a member of National PetCare Centers, Steve managed the Finance and M&A departments, the latter of which included candidate screening, due diligence, financial analysis, deal negotiation and post-merger integration. In addition to his time at National PetCare Centers, he has also spent 10+ years providing consulting services in the veterinary industry for practice sales, fairness opinions and tax-related valuations.
In his non-veterinary-industry career, Steve has been a Research Analyst for an investment advisory firm, a Strategic Business Analyst for a global manufacturer of digital imaging, process control and asset management systems, the CFO for a start-up manufacturer and service provider of residential water sub-metering systems and the Head of Finance/CFO for a developer of software products and services for the global feed and agricultural industry. Steve holds a Bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University and an MBA from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. In his free time, he is an avid tennis enthusiast (having picked up the sport later in life) and plays on local USTA men’s and mixed doubles tennis teams. He has also become a certified tennis instructor, teaching both kids and adults. Steve has an affinity for adopting/rescuing senior dogs, particularly siblings (or bonded pairs), which are often more difficult for shelters/rescue organizations to find forever homes for.
Amelia Shane – Director of Marketing
Amelia joins the Ackerman team with over 14 years’ experience in Animal Health marketing. She is responsible for leading the marketing efforts to drive brand awareness through multi-channel marketing strategies. Her extensive background and success in the animal health industry make her a great fit to our team and our mission.
Prior to joining Ackerman Group, Amelia was the Brand Manager at Community Veterinary Partners in Philadelphia. At CVP, Amelia owned the brand and created the messaging and strategy to acquire and partner with veterinary hospitals on the east coast. She also spent a combined 10 years working in animal health compounding pharma. Her time at Wedgewood Pharmacy she increased the number of prescribers to the e-commerce platform as well as managed all integrated marketing communications to current veterinarians.
Amelia also spent 3 years creating and growing the Akina Animal Health brand using multiple marketing channels to grow sales and increase brand recognition.
She earned her B.S and MBA in Marketing Management from Goldey-Beacom College in Wilmington, Delaware.
Richard B. Chess – Senior Advisor
Rick has an extensive legal background in tax planning and real estate transactions including installment sales, 1031 exchanges, qualified opportunity zone investments, joint venture structures, and government and governance issues.
Rick previously served as the Audit Committee Chair and as a founder board trustee for First Potomac Realty Trust (FPO), a NYSE REIT, where he helped guide the firm from owning one warehouse to a $1.5 billion portfolio of office and industrial properties in the mid-Atlantic. He also served as Director, Acquisitions of United Dominion Realty (UDR) – also a NYSE REIT – where he led investment teams in six regional offices to grow the firm 10-fold over 10 years. Rick’s vast experience includes serving as a member of Pennsylvania General Assembly, President of American Realty Capital Markets, a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, Chair of the Commercial Real Estate Committee of the Virginia State Bar, President of the Real Estate Investment Securities Association (now ADISA), President of Encore Equities, and Director-1031 Transactions for NNN Properties.
Rick received his Bachelor of Science from the University of Pittsburgh and his Juris Doctorate from the University of Richmond School of Law, and is actively involved in the Carolina Virginia Business Brokers Association, the Richmond Association for Business Economics, Leadership Metro Richmond and the Virginia State Bar Real Estate Section.
Lawrence Lambert, Sr. – Senior Advisor
Larry brings more than 40 years as a Certified Financial Planner to his role as a Senior Advisor for Ackerman Group, where he provides valuable advice to clients as they chart their course to – and through – retirement after veterinary practice ownership.
Prior to joining Ackerman Group as an advisor, Larry held roles of increasing responsibility with Investor Diversified Services (acquired by American Express), American Express Advisors, United Securities Alliance and CapWest Securities where Larry was a co-owner and board member.
Robert M. Davis, DVM – Veterinary Transition Consultant
Bob has had more than 40 years of experience in Veterinary Medicine, business management and regulatory affairs. Bob designed, built and owned the Ashland Animal Care Center, a state-of-the-art, successful small animal hospital and pet care facility in the Boston area until 2015 when Bob and his partners sold their hospital to a corporate veterinary buyer. Bob remained as Chief of Staff for two years after the sale, and continues to practice veterinary medicine there, having negotiated an exit strategy to meet his financial and personal legacy goals.
Prior to joining Ackerman Group, Bob served as Chairman and board member for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts State Licensing & Regulatory Board for Veterinary Medicine for 14 years, and he continues as a member of MVMA (Massachusetts Veterinary Medicine Association), AVMA and AAHA. He earned his Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Michigan State University.
Kelsey Collins – Financial Analyst
Kelsey Collins joined Ackerman Group in 2021. She is a Financial Analyst with over five years of experience in Financial Analysis and Data Analytics. Prior to Ackerman Group, Kelsey was the Senior Financial Analyst at Clarus Commerce and the Lead Financial Analyst / Reconciliation Specialist at Westchester Medical Center. During her tenure at Westchester Medical Center, she helped the company reconcile over $100MM of financial statements and created a new automated financial payment system and processes.
She holds an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts from the University of Hartford and is currently working towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance & Accounting. Kelsey lives in Charleston, SC with her two dogs, Emmy & Ruby.
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