A little more than a decade ago, John DeHart and Ken Sim didn’t know each other. Neither worked in home health care. Neither had given much thought to the demand for home health care in Canada or the demographics driving it.
So how, in less than a decade, did they build the country’s dominant home health care brand? It took vision, generous friends, tenacity, smarts, a willingness to adapt — and, above all, a passion for making a difference in people’s lives.
A mutual mentor
It was 2001. John was an information technology specialist in his mid-20s who already had founded several IT and tech startups. Ken was an investment and merchant banker with CIBC, one of Canada’s largest banks.
They shared only a mutual mentor: Milton Wong, founder of the Vancouver financial management firm M.K. Wong and Associates, who had met Ken through investment deals and knew John through John’s uncle Bob DeHart, a Wong and Associates partner. Wong knew both men were looking to start or buy businesses, and he introduced them. John and Ken began tossing some ideas around.
Then Ken’s wife, Teena, suffered some complications during pregnancy and was ordered to emergency bed rest. Ken, alarmed, hired a home health care company, which sent a caregiver. He started asking the woman about her job, the company, the industry, how busy they were, how good the business was.
“She looked at me with a straight face and said, ‘I don’t really know. I’ve never met the people before,’” Ken recalls, still astonished. “That was very traumatic, actually. This company had put a person they had never met into my home with my pregnant wife.”
Two phones, six caregivers
He and John began examining the home health care industry — John had his own experience caring for a grandmother with Alzheimer’s — and discovered that Ken’s experience was all too common. This was the business they’d been searching for.
Over the next few months, Ken and John invested their life savings and brought Wong on as chairman of the Board of Directors. In September 2001, the two partners started in a Starbucks with a couple of cell phones and six caregivers.
A year-and-a-half in, John received a phone call that haunts him still. It was his father’s doctor. Bruce DeHart, John’s father and best friend, had cancer and, perhaps, two months to live.
So John, already running a home health care business, devoted himself to caring for his dying father. This was the moment, he says, when his interest in home health care blossomed into a passion.
“Through those two months, I lived the experience, and I really saw not only what we do for our end client, which was my dad,” John says. “But I saw what Nurse Next Door could really do for my family, because I’m a pretty high-energy guy, and I started to burn out on caregiving after a month of doing it.”
Bruce DeHart died in September 2003. Through his grief, John saw that Nurse Next Door could not only care for clients but their families as well, by lifting responsibility and worry from their hands and minds. (In November 2005, John endured a second devastating loss when his uncle Bob, his “second dad,” died of cancer as well.)
Nurse Next Door had forged a strong direction with passion — a commitment to make lives better; help clients enjoy life; free family to be family, not caregivers; and nurture a sustainable, profitable business.
Establishing a culture
But in 2005, even with one of the country’s fastest-growing companies, John and Ken looked carefully at Nurse Next Door and decided: We’re not enjoying this. It was a great company attracting notice throughout Canada’s media and health care establishments, but they weren’t happy. They were overworked and exhausted in a joyless work environment. John and Ken realized they had to make Nurse Next Door fun or they’d burn out in a year.
So they set about establishing Nurse Next Door’s culture, which has earned the company and its founders attention and praise throughout the business world. The process produced Nurse Next Door’s core values, a commitment to live them and a brand that champions happiness, caring, celebration and respect for people —not just for clients but employees and franchise partners as well.
We’re always looking for ways to make the job more satisfying for our partners, setting up a call center to relieve them of brutal scheduling duties and giving them the freedom to find a better way to serve their clients. We try to make our office environment fun, too, with a relaxed dress code and cheerful morning “huddles” instead of grim gatherings around a conference room table.
Nurse Next Door began franchising in 2007 and grew quickly, reaching 50 Canadian units this year — and six in the United States, in Colorado, Oregon, California and Texas. In January 2012, John and Ken took another big step. John took over as sole CEO, and Ken, while still deeply involved in the company’s long-term strategy, chose to continue as a member of the Board of Directors. The change ensures strong leadership as Nurse Next Door expands into the States and roars into its second decade as North America’s fastest-growing home health care brand.