Find out this Hong Kong dad’s secret to juggling many roles and responsibilities.
Dr David Gething moved to Hong Kong from Australia 20 years ago on a whim and a search for adventure and been here ever since. He founded his veterinarian house-call business, Creature Comforts, here and followed that up with the East Island Animal Hospital and online pet-supplies store, Vetopia. He credits much of his success to his wife, who stays behind the scenes but has always had a hand in keeping him focused. Recently, he was separated for a long stretch from his daughters who were in Australia when COVID-19 affected international travel. Now that they are back home and safe, here’s a snapshot of a lovely family that sees itself as true Hongkongers.
Tell us a bit about your journey from Australia to here.
I was born in Melbourne, Australia, but after a couple of years, my parents moved to Sydney, where I spent most of my childhood. I then moved to Perth in Western Australia for university, partly because it was considered one of the best Vet Schools at the time, and partly because it was on the other side of Australia from my parents (who I loved dearly but I just needed to feed my independent streak!). I met my wife at university, and pretty soon afterwards, in January 2000, we moved together to Hong Kong.
Why did you choose to make Hong Kong your home?
Hong Kong has given me more than I ever could have hoped for. True friends, a rewarding career and a happy family. I think Hong Kong is a place where you can truly be who you want to be and achieve beyond your expectations if you are willing to make the effort. I absolutely see myself as a Hongkonger, and I’m here for the long term, although I do worry about discord in society, and hope we soon return to that harmony, respect and collaboration that I fell in love with.
What’s it like working with your wife?
My wife is a biotechnologist by training and these days she’s my boss! After we moved here, she was working for some time for the Australian Consulate in Hong Kong, but she decided that I really needed help running our veterinary practice, Creature Comforts, and came aboard to manage the business. That was 18 years ago and we’ve worked together since.
She certainly keeps me on the straight and narrow when I get out of line, and when she gives me advice I know to listen. I think that in every good relationship you have equal, complementary and opposite forces, and we certainly have that. I think without that guidance I would have lost my way many times over.
Do your children share your interest in veterinary science?
Our older girl, Amelia, is very interested in becoming a vet, and already at 12 years old is volunteering at our hospitals to help care for and comfort sick animals. Our younger girl is not so interested in being a vet but does love animals.
What is unique about your practice in Hong Kong?
We’ve always approached veterinary practice in an unconventional way. My friends said I was crazy when I first suggested starting a housecall-only practice, but I was too stubborn or too stupid to listen. Since then we’ve grown to two animal hospitals, an after-hours and critical care centre and an online store and we employ around 80 staff. We have expanded a lot, but we’ve always focused on our core values: Quality, Care, Convenience and Compassion, and we feel following these values is a large part of the reason for our success.
What is next for your business and practice?
We’re working on a few projects at the moment, including bringing out our own range of completely natural supplements and snacks backed by veterinary credibility and research, designed to aid in the treatment of issues such as arthritis, inflammation and skin problems. We think there is a real need for this kind of healthy alternative.
Do you think Hongkongers make good pet owners?
Absolutely. The level of care and devotion that I see in Hong Kong is remarkable, and as a vet it allows me to do the best by every patient. This is a truly rewarding place to work as a vet, as much because of the owners as the animals.
Please tell us about this other aspect of your life (Ironman!) and how you transformed yourself.
Actually, it started just before my first daughter was born, around 12 years ago. I was probably the only man in history who got a bigger belly than his wife during her pregnancy. Of course, hers was all baby, mine was all blubber! My wife sat me down and told me she always loved and supported me, but I needed to decide what kind of role-model I wanted to be. That night I signed up for a 250km ultramarathon, having never run a kilometre in my life. And that got me started on a life journey that ended in running seven marathons on seven continents in seven days (watch the TEDx talk here), setting a couple of new world records and participating in Ironman races.
How do you find the time for all your varied interests and activities?
I get up early. Usually, about 4:30am. But I also go to be really early, at about 9pm. It sounds antisocial… but you find yourself mixing with a group of friends who consider this completely normal.
Which achievements are you most proud of?
I’m going to be really clichéd, but I’ve got two kids who despite their hiccups, are really good people.
What do you most enjoy about living in Hong Kong and bringing up your daughters here?
A lot of things! I love that I can go out to dinner and meet such a range of fascinating people. I can walk five minutes from my home and be in the country park on a beautiful trail. I can get up and go cycling or running at the crack of dawn with close friends. I love that there is an opportunity for anybody who has a good idea and the motivation to make it happen. I think anywhere else in the world you might get one or two of those things, but to have them all is really special.
We’re really lucky in that we live in Clearwater Bay and have lots of neighbourhood and outdoor activities near where we live, which was one of my concerns raising kids in Hong Kong. The area has a real sense of community, and being part of that has been a great experience. At the same time, Hong Kong is a global hub, and my kids have had amazing experiences travelling around the world, giving them a global perspective I never had when I was their age.
Who has most influenced your parenting style?
My parents. Even though their methods and rules seemed intolerable at the time, with the benefit of hindsight, they actually had quite a lot of wisdom.
How similar or different are your children? Have they taken after you or your wife?
Funnily enough, they are very different. It always amazes me that two children with the same parents and same upbringing can be so different. I think the younger one is more similar to me in that she always gets up to mischief and is full of wild ideas, but the older one shares my love for veterinary medicine and enjoys helping animals.
Your daughters were recently separated from you, stuck in Australia. What was that period like for your family and what have you learned from it?
Yes, it was completely unexpected. My daughters travelled down to Australia to see their grandmother for her 75th birthday. After they arrived, the COVID-19 cases started to rise in Australia. We hesitated about putting them on a plane to come home and took too long to make up our mind, by which time quarantines were put in place on both sides. So, we ended up deciding to leave them with their grandmother.
Although difficult at times, that period had a lot of positives. My Hong Kong-born and raised girls got to spend two months in Australia bonding with their grandma and getting a feel for our “mother country”. Grandma lives in a small beachside town far away from the city, so it was like a dream for the kids, out and playing (while social distancing) in the garden or down at the beach every day. All school was then online, so they were also able to keep up with their studies. I think my girls also learnt self-reliance. My mother lives on her own and the girls had to pitch in and help with cooking, cleaning, washing and taking care of themselves — another important lesson.
From the parents’ side, the two months my wife and I spent together were like our first years of marriage, strengthening our relationship greatly. Of course, we missed them terribly and the house felt empty without them. We kept connected with online meetings and games – something that would have seemed bizarre only a year ago. It’s fantastic to have them back now and it feels like the world is coming back to normality. But I think we’d all say it was a time of our lives when, strangely enough, we’ll never forget and in many respects, we’ll have fond memories of it.
What do you enjoy most about being a father?
That rare moment when you’re with your daughter and you can tell she is enjoying your company as much as you’re enjoying hers.
After a long day, what’s your favourite way to unwind?
I’m not really a TV guy, and I do most of my exercise in the mornings. Most evenings I get home and spend a few hours with my family, then it’s off to bed. Dinner out with friends is also a great way to unwind after a long day, but my waistline can’t do it too often.
What advice would you give business owners in Hong Kong?
- Stay committed. You need to believe in your idea, even if not everybody agrees with you.
- Listen to those you trust. Hong Kong gives all of us such a diverse set of friends with different skills and experiences. Reach out to these people, get their advice and don’t be shy to ask for help.
- Business ownership can be all-consuming. But life is more than just work. They may not all be equal, but there must be a balance between family, health, work and hobbies.