In my line of work, I interact with leaders and entrepreneurs on a daily basis. My mission--the reason I work--is to increase their impact. But if I am perfectly honest with you, I think I get more than I give when I work with my clients.
That is because entrepreneurs fascinate me.
I love hearing their stories. What makes them take the plunge? What makes them leave the safety of corporate America and strike out on their own? Does every entrepreneur share a certain personality trait?
Today, I am launching Inspire University where I will regularly feature stories and interviews with entrepreneurs and leaders in hopes of inspiring you and increasing your impact as a leader!
The interview below is with Steve Foster--founder and owner of Therapy South--a network of twenty-five physical therapy practices scattered throughout Alabama and Georgia. Steve has been in the physical therapy field for over thirty-seven years and still wakes up every morning ready to make a difference with his patients and employees.
Steve was kind enough to answer four questions that give us a peek into the mindset of a successful entrepreneur.
#1. When you look back, can you string together some early memories that explain your pathway to becoming an entrepreneur?
Yeah. Combat and Kool-Aid. Let me explain.
Combat! was a TV show in the mid-1960's that featured a squad of American soldiers fighting the Germans in World War II. The neighborhood kids would watch the show every Thursday night and then re-enact it in the woods around the house every Friday afternoon. For some reason, I always played the character "Doc." Doc was the medic who patched up the wounded and sent them back into action.
We took Combat! very seriously. We created a play and invited all our parents to watch, including bowls of ketchup to splatter on the wounded as part of the drama. So I guess that's where I got the medical side of what I do. I always enjoyed taking care of people, even at an early age.
Like many Baby Boomers, my first foray into business was a Kool-Aid stand. I can remember the thrill of putting a table out on a sidewalk and actually having people pay me for something. Back then, local radio stations would even announce on air where your stand was located. It was fun to see the difference that marketing could make! Of course, I had no idea what marketing was at age ten, but I did see that I made more money when I told more people about my business.
One other thing that opened my eyes to the strategy behind investing wisely was the game of Monopoly. I loved Monopoly and got quite good at it, so much so that my friends would run away when they saw me unfolding the game board.
#2. What events early in your career led you to making the leap into the entrepreneur world?
The first glimpse I had at becoming an entrepreneur was actually during my first job out of PT school. I worked in the old Carraway Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama for Physician's Physical Therapy Service. Two years into this job, I opened a satellite clinic, contracted with another hospital in a different city, and did home health on the side while managing a small group of employees.
These opportunities educated me on how to run a PT business, but more importantly, culled the many choices available to me into my one passion--outpatient sports physical therapy. From that point, it wasn't some magical aha! moment that pointed me towards the path of entrepreneurship, but more like a natural progression to pursue my passion--one step at a time.
#3. It has been said that owning your own business is both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. How would you answer that statement?
There is no doubt that it is quite satisfying to see all the sweat equity, energy, and effort pay of in terms of a successful business. I smile when I think how our company positively impacts our patients, as well as our 175 employees and their families. That is definitely a source of pride and fulfillment for me.
On the terrifying side, most people do not know that therapists in Alabama have only limited direct access to patients AND that many physicians own or have a stake in their own physical therapy practice. That means we are very reliant on a constant supply of patients that is often outside our control.
Because of this, we value our relationships with our patients and physicians. I am a firm believer that relationships drive business--either positively or negatively. I do not want to let down our physicians, our patients, and especially my employees, and that is still what inspires me to this day.
#4. What advice do you have for a young person (or anyone!) contemplating a career direction?
First, it is never too early to discover your strengths and your passions.
Second, let your strengths and your passions drive you. The old saying is cliche, but true: Love what you do and you'll never work a day in your life.
Third, if you have an itch coming from your passions and strengths, you really need to scratch it or you will just itch the rest of your life!
Fourth, don't chase money. Enjoy and embrace your passion, and the success will follow.
And last, if you take the leap, don't have a Plan B. If your plan makes sense; you've done your due diligence; and you can absorb the risk, then leap without fear of failure.
Follow Up: I asked Steve if he still has butterflies when he opens a new clinic? He told me, "Well, every time I sign the papers and put my house and other collateral on the line it is a sobering reminder of the gravity of what I am about to do, but really my desire to pursue my passion and to give others that same opportunity outweighs my fear of failure."
So ... does Steve's story resonate with you? Do you have an entrepreneurial itch that you need to scratch? Follow his advice: look back and trace the evidence of your strengths and passions; seek ways to pursue them; and then jump in with both feet!
Steve Foster is the founder and owner of Therapy South--a network of twenty-five Physical Therapy clinics throughout Alabama and Georgia. He lives in Birmingham with his wife, and will continue to be an entrepreneur until he pays for his three daughters' weddings.