DoctorPreneur: by W. Cliff Oxford
Some say it can’t be done – be a great doctor and a great entrepreneur, and do both at the same time. Yes, it can but they are maybe the rarest of the rare birds. So the question is what does it take and what does it looks like for an MD\Entrepreneur to build a successful medical practice and then evolve it into a full scale enterprise? Let’s face it – many doctors struggle as business owners, and many entrepreneurs would struggle as doctors. It is a left brain (doctors) vs. right brain (entrepreneurs) situation. Successful entrepreneurial doctors use both with great intensity. What else makes them rare is that you combine the entrepreneurial instincts of strategy and marketing with the scientific skills – focus, detail-oriented, calm under pressure. All of these attributes describe Dr. Jeffrey M. Gallups. He is the founder of the Ear, Nose and Throat Institute and a double board certified physician and as they say “He brings it” all day long as both a practicing MD and a truly fast entrepreneur. If I ever hear a complaint about him it is “I can’t keep up with him in business – he moves too fast.” Of course, I call that a compliment. When he does not return my call within an hour, he apologizes for the delay as he was totally focused in other matters. While he does not owe me an apology, those Birmingham, Al manners and southern charm just naturally come out.
Jeff, the entrepreneur, decided that the way to successfully position his practice for long term sustained growth was to add new business lines. He started from scratch with all that entrepreneurial drive and got kicked in the teeth more than once. ”It is important to understand that I was a typical, solo ENT practitioner from the time I left training. I had always been a ‘go getter’ working every weekend I could during my residency to make additional money. I doubled my salary doing this. I drove a nicer car than my professors. I had momentum even then.” Jeff’s momentum hit a glitch about 7 years ago when “we were booted from a larger multi- practice ENT group because of competitive reasons. I was gaining on others in the group, and they were very threatened. In the end, we would have never have attained our current status without going through this process….painful as it was.”
It was after this set back that Jeff started focusing on ancillaries (new business lines.) He noted, “The first ancillary for most ENTs is Audiology, so the next significant ancillary was adding Allergy therapy.” Just like any entrepreneur Jeff can over-reach especially after some success. He did try adding a beauty and health spa above his surgery center; however, it was unsuccessful because it was not part of his core ENT expertise. “I was naive. I got an ‘on the job’ MBA. I learned to add ancillaries one at a time. Fortunately, each add-on ancillary has been successful since the spa.” Jeff now has new business lines like the surgery center, sleep lab, pathology etc. I am amazed with his business model because I know even one new business line can be a hire-wire act for entrepreneurs. Just ask a smart, sophisticated management team like Starbucks who blew six months of profits when they opened a new business line in cooking accessories and then did again years later with popsicles. Then, Starbucks finally nailed it when they stuck with the core and introduced instant coffee and added 150 million in revenue the first year.
I think that we can learn the same lesson from Starbucks and the good doctor. In fact, Dr. Gallups took it a step further and developed a 5-point business plan that he now uses before opening any new business line. First, can the deal make money and positive cash flow in less than 3 months. Second, does it have cross referral possibilities to the other business lines – no need for another stand-a-lone business Third, is it a win, win, win for the big 3, patients, the insurance company and his business? Fourth, is it core to the ENT business? Fifth, does his ENT business have the in- house expertise to at least test a business before diving in with costs?
For entrepreneurs who have new “slam-dunk” ideas for their business every day – this 5 point plan is just what the doctor ordered. Believe me; it is much better than pulling your pants down for the “write off” shot.