As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Jeffrey Schor and Steven Katz.
The vision of cofounders Dr. Jeffrey Schor and Steven Katz to form PM Pediatrics stemmed from a shared entrepreneurial passion, disillusionment with the healthcare system, and a belief that they could make a significant impact in the way acute medical care is delivered to children.
The two planned the strategy and operational details of a medical service company, PM Pediatrics, dedicated to children and young adults, with convenient hours 365-days a year, as a legitimate alternative to the emergency department. This practice needed to be accessible, welcoming, of the highest quality, and service oriented. Every analysis pointed in the right direction and in 2005, PM Pediatrics opened the doors to its first location in Syosset, New York.
Thank you so much for your time! Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Jeff: Steve and I were roommates our freshmen year of college and instantly became best friends. Despite different career paths (mine in pediatric medicine and Steve’s in business), we would consistently consult each other in our work ventures. When I took my position as director of a pediatric emergency department, I was young and green and Steve was a sounding board for me, particularly when it came to finance and budgets, as well as client management.
We had always spoken about the possibility of going into business together, and as he was consulting me it led me to thinking about how, together, we could run things better and make things better in healthcare. We went through a number of different iterations before finally stumbling upon the idea of having an emergency department in a private setting and laid out in a way that would be of better service and higher delivery.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Steve: The moment that really led us to come up with PM Pediatrics was Jeff seeing that most of the kids he was treating didn’t really need to be in the hospital, but were there because there weren’t other alternatives. Most of the kids could be treated in a properly-staffed and properly-equipped outpatient program.
Remember, seventeen years ago Urgent Cares, let alone for children, were not a thing. It was your pediatrician’s office or the ER. I had three young kid and whenever they had injuries, I didn’t want to take them there because it just wasn’t a good experience. I would call Jeff, and he would usually ‘fix’ them with his doctor’s kit in his kitchen. Many of our local friends were making that same call because no one wanted to take their children to the ER.
We realized if we worked with a hospital, we would still be dealing with a lot of the things that made Jeff’s life in the ER frustrating: bureaucracy, slow pace, and not having control over major parts of delivery of care. Realizing we could do it ourselves and work outside this old school component to give people a better service and experience that was outside of the hospital was when we really hit gold.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Steve: One of the keys to our success has been the culture we have been able to develop and sustain from the early years through today. Early on, we were sometimes too slow to change team members who didn’t fit in because they had good technical skills and we didn’t think we could replace them. When we finally began to focus on their direct impact on company culture and let these people go, a weight was lifted and everything functioned better. That was when we realized the importance of culture; hire slow, fire fast was a good demonstration of this idea, and we learned a lot from it.
Jeff: Our staff has said that we have turned mistakes into a growth experience, and we try to stress that it is fine to make mistakes as long as you learn and don’t make the same ones over and over. That adaptability is one of the most important things we have going for us as a company.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Steve: We have been very mission-driven since the very beginning. At our core, we felt there was a better way to deliver healthcare, particularly in regard to healthcare for kids. We strive to deliver on that and make it better for the families we are serving. When we talk about our long-term purpose, it has always been to revolutionize the way healthcare is delivered. The notion of bringing great customer service to healthcare was one of the ideas. The service aspect was largely missing from the emergency side of healthcare, while in other businesses it is considered a priority –client communication, respecting their time, and even just offering them a cup of coffee.
Jeff: People were shocked when I would call to ask how their child was feeling after a visit to PM Pediatrics. That should be the standard, not the exception!
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
Steve: We communicate a lot about the mission, vision, strategy, future, and purpose of the company. We have our company values on boards in all of our locations and it is a big part of the onboarding process. We always try to relate things back to those ideas, but more importantly, we try to demonstrate it ourselves. If anyone feels that anyone else isn’t living those values, they are spoken to and shown a different way. We tell them not to cut corners, tell us about things — warts and all — and to own up to mistakes. We don’t excuse customer complaints, we make the changes we must make, and we try to live our values outwardly.
Jeff: In the first few years, we walked the walk and talked the talk about the mission and values so much that we started to notice other employees telling new hires about them, unprompted. It is fascinating to see how deeply ingrained it was in our company culture that it became pervasive throughout the organization.
On the customer side, one of the biggest values that serves us well is that when people aren’t satisfied, we are very responsive and inquisitive to understand their experience and regain trust.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Jeff: A line we use is Do the Right Thing, a simple concept for people to think of in any situation. It’s not about winning. We hope we are good enough in our hiring patterns that we are hiring able and thoughtful people with an intuitive sense of what is right. It is simple, but that makes it so useful. It serves us well.
Steve: Also being adaptable. It has always served us well, particularly throughout the pandemic, where at first we were trying to just survive, like many people, and know we are able to thrive.
How did your values lead to your eventual success today?
Jeff: Patience and how to treat colleagues.
Steve: And then we looked at how those values created culture!
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Mistakes are opportunities and your response to will determine your success. Acknowledge when your errors. Very few people expect perfection, but they do expect acknowledgement that you respect their concerns.
- It is all about your team in a service organization. When you don’t have a tangible product, you need to recruit the right people and treat them well, and eliminate those who aren’t the right fit..
- Knowing who your customer is and what they value is key. You can give them everything they need if you focus on that. When people asked why we only treat kids, for example, our feeling was that we know kids and we know them better than anyone else.
- Differentiate yourself. There are so many businesses out there and nothing is so new or different. One way we differentiate is by devoting ourselves to the kids. Treat everyone as if they are family, and then the level of medicine we can practice, the range of care we can give, and the experience that people have will stay with them long after they leave us.
- Communication, both internally and externally. Once you have identified your service and who the client is you need to clearly communicate that internally so that your people understand who you are as a team, what you are trying to accomplish overall, what their role in the machine of it is, and how this could be a place that they are proud to be part of.
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?
Jeff: My wife, for many reasons. In the trajectory of my career, I’ve had multiple avenues of education and she put up with all of them. At 35, I decided to go to business school while simultaneously running a pediatric ER, and then when we started PM Pediatrics, I went about three years without any income. Any time we borrowed money, she would cosign because she believed in me. She is also a healthcare attorney and has devoted a significant amount of time and expertise to the business.
Steve: My wife as well. We had three young children when I announced I was going to quit my well-paying job to start a business where we wouldn’t have any money coming in for a few years. Like Jeff’s wife, she too has particular skills that help as a designer, and she has designed all of our office, our logo, and handled all advertising at the beginning. In fact, she went longer without being paid than myself or Jeff.
At the end of the day, there were so many people we are grateful for, from our mentors, to the early employees who jumped ship from stable, well-paying jobs, to our later investors who helped use expand.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Jeff: I loved taking care of patients and it made me happy, so at some point when we started the business and it became more and more difficult to practice, I gave up something in that regard that was extremely important to me. But as a company, we are doing something amazing for the greater good, and we can help thousands and thousands more in this way. Thinking big picture beyond just yourself was an important lesson for me that now really fulfills me.
How can our readers follow you on social media?