As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing David Savitsky, founder and chief executive officer of ATC Healthcare Services, one of the largest per diem and nursing staffing companies in the United States. ATC was recently recognized as one of the best staffing companies in the United States by Forbes magazine. ATC has a network of offices in over 20 states and has recently begun a division to perform COVID testing for many existing and new clients.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My brother Steve and I always wanted to go into business together. We launched a few businesses that were less than successful, but we were motivated so we continued to look for opportunities. I was at home with my wife and she mentioned that her great aunt needed help — she couldn’t fully take care of herself anymore. So, I searched through the yellow pages and couldn’t find a care services that offered caregivers in our local area. When we came to a dead end, an idea struck that this could be a good industry to invest in. Steve and I officially launched ‘Tender Loving Care’, later changing the brand name to StaffBuilders and then more recently started “CareBuilders at Home’. Our first location was very successful and we decided to open a second location. After proven success at two locations, Steve and I expanded the brand into new markets, began franchising and the rest is history.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
The first office we ever rented out was located in Queens, New York. After a couple days in the office, Steve and I noticed the garbage was piling up and overall, the place just needed a cleaning. We called the landlord and asked about the buildings cleaning services, expecting there was one provided, only to be told we needed to hire our own cleaning services.
The lesson I took away from this was that I need to negotiate for what I needed and to read and legal documents carefully, take responsibility for my actions and always make sure I am getting what I want before making any important decisions.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I would say many people help contribute to success. Steve and I are partners and we each brought our own unique strengths that contributed to the business’s success. My strengths included business operations and organization. Steve was exceptional at marketing and sales, he knew how to network and communicate with clients. Most of the times, Steve lead presentations while I sat back and admired his ability to speak in front of others.
A funny story to share is, a long time ago, Steve and I had a really important presentation and I was so ready for Steve to take control. But, unexpectedly, I ended up leading the presentation and completely crushed it. Steve saw a strength in me that I did not know was there. Without his encouragement, I would have stayed within my comfort zone and never gained the confidence to speak in front of a large audience.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Simply put, our purpose was to provide caregivers to those who needed care. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities are not a personalized service like in-home care is. Steve and I were passionate about matching a senior citizen with the prefect caregiver based on personality, wants, and needs.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
COVID has tested every company and every individual. When it became clear COVID was a very serious challenge and that working in-office could not continue, I began to prepare for how we would operate the company when we were working on a remote basis. In February, I formed the “Corporate Preparedness Group”, or CPG, and we initially met every day. We identified how we deliver services and what changes we needed to make. At every meeting, each person was assigned responsibilities and then reported back on the progress.
Then we’d meet Monday, Wednesday and Friday to review what happened and what issues were coming up. Clear and concise communication is extremely important. I wanted to make sure we were ready to work on a remote basis and once we were, all issues were addressed immediately. With these meetings, we’re able to work remotely without missing a beat.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I am a very motivated person who’s driven to succeed. Failure really isn’t an option. Every business has had its ups and downs, that’s life. Throughout every issue I’ve faced and the challenges I will face, a sense of optimism is always present. Optimism truly sustains my drive.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Making timely decisions. The reason I say timely is because there is a time factor to consider. When you or your brand are at a critical point, there is no luxury of time, you need to act quickly. A leader has to make a decision and can’t leave others to do the work. Decisions prove leadership.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
If you have a well experienced leader, they have lived through a lot and know a lot. Good leaders have the chance to share their experiences, discuss what they’ve learned and how they got through it.
To boost morale, optimism is key. Positivity is contagious, so find the bright spot in every situation and really highlight things that are going well.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
The best way to communicate difficult news is to be direct and face to face — whether that be in person or over a video call. When delivering difficult news to an individual person, communicate with them directly and make it as personal as possible. When delivering difficult news to a team, gather everyone together and be as direct as possible. Also, it is a nice reminder to let everyone know that “we’re all in this together.”
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
The future is so unpredictable that it almost seems impossible to prepare for it. With that, I think it’s important to prepare for the unknown. Not everything goes according to plan, so heading into each situation, be flexible, open to ideas and act carefully. Also, identify the problems and ask yourself, can we help? Can we do something to make a difference?
There are opportunities in the unpredictable.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
The number one principle is to always look for opportunities. It could be in a service or person, and the end result may be more meaningful than what you were doing beforehand.
I’m a huge believer in people. During hard times, listen to your team and take their ideas to heart.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
The first mistake I see is improperly managing cash. It is extremely important to manage cash and do it well. As a business, all we can do is earn money and spend money. It’s up to the team to figure out the spending — but, if you don’t have enough money to run the business, you’re in trouble.
The second most common mistake is people not wanting to make timely decisions in fear of making the wrong choice. My advice is, don’t wait until ‘things get better,’ because it is unknown as to when things will get better. Making tough decisions is a strong leadership quality.
Lastly, another common mistake is that people continue to do things the way they’ve always been done, as if there is only one way to work. I think it’s important to test different methods to see what works and what doesn’t.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Look carefully at your business. If you focus on the most successful parts of the business, you are able to reflect these strategies in areas that aren’t doing as well.
Reduce the expense of your business operation if possible. The one thing you can control is how much money you spend. If you have good margins in one business segment, then expand on that aspect of the business.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times?
Based on my experience, the five most important things a business leader should do to effectively lead during turbulent time are make timely decisions, always look for opportunity, communicate directly with the team, take responsibility and prepare for the unpredictable.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’ve always liked the phrase “walk the talk.” To me, it means that you do what you say you are going to do. If you say you are going to do something, you must carry through with it. People need to trust you.
How can our readers further follow your work?