Looking at ownership
For now, Ensign is content seeing clients and doing surgery at West Flamingo—an ophthalmic procedure and a tumor removal on
a typical day recently. Does he plan to take the plunge into practice ownership again? "I think that's definitely in the
future," he says. "There's just something about being an owner."
He's not sure what that something is, but he knows he's infected with it. "I love working here—it's a great hospital—but some
people are just meant to be owners," he says. "You want to build a practice and run it and have your signature on it instead
of just working in it. Some people don't like all that responsibility. And it is a pain in the rear end. Having to worry about
hiring and firing and ordering and keeping costs down and maintaining the building ... they're things you always have on your
"I don't know why, but the people who own these places like to do it," he continues. "Well, I don't necessarily think we like it, but we feel it's a part of us. Part of that entrepreneurial spirit."
In his next practice Ensign hopes to create a "culture of excellence." Such a culture, he says, emanates from the top. The
owner has to set to the tone. "I don't care if you're General Electric, if the CEO doesn't buy into a certain culture, nobody
else is going to," he says. "It's the same in veterinary practice. If the owner isn't committed to excellence, everybody else
may do their jobs, but they won't be committed. If you believe in it—and I do—you get everybody to believe in it. You get
everybody around you to believe in it. You get so that the culture is almost emanating from people's bodies—that sense of
compassionate, high-quality care."
Owning a veterinary practice, let alone starting one from scratch, is tough work. Is he ready to take on that kind of task
"It's a huge challenge," he says. "But whatever God created in me wanting challenges in life ... it's like I'm not happy unless
The politician is still present
The challenge of building two startups—West Flamingo Animal Hospital in 1987 and South Shores Animal Hospital in 1994, which
he sold at the behest of the Senate in 2001—gave Ensign an important perspective as a legislator in Washington. "The vast
majority of opportunities for people in America come through small businesses," he says. "Even Microsoft was small when it
started. So understanding the obstacles for starting small businesses was big. If you want to create an opportunity society
you need people who understand the challenge of creating a small business."
Life in the thicket of political Washington—Ensign battled for two excruciating years to stay in the Senate after his affair
became public—represented a challenge of its own. "Yes, sir," he says. "And I don't miss it at all. I talk to friends of mine
back there quite often and I stay in touch with people in political circles, and even in the year since I've been gone they
tell me things have gotten worse. And it was bad then. But now it's just progressively getting so partisan and so nasty that
nothing gets done. I don't miss that at all.
"You know, you go there to make a difference and to do things and when nothing is getting done, that's just frustrating,"
Ensign continues. "Anymore, people in Washington care way more about re-election than they care about doing what's right.
I think the vast majority of people start with the right intentions. Then it becomes more about, 'I like doing this job and
I want to keep doing it, so I'm going to do what's politically expedient and I won't hurt my numbers."
You can still hear the politician in Ensign when he talks about what's best for the animal population of Las Vegas. He says
his "eyes were opened" by the work the nonprofit spay-neuter clinic is doing. Euthanasia at the city's animal shelters is
down, he says, and the clinic's work may be behind it. (See "He's actually a pretty good surgeon").
"We should spend a lot more money subsidizing spay and neuter clinics instead of just housing animals and putting them to
sleep," the former senator says. "We would kill a lot fewer animals and use the resources a lot better."
He almost sounds like he's making a stump speech.