JOHN DEHART: So I've always been an entrepreneur. I graduated from the Hotel School in 1996 and I became a high tech entrepreneur. It was the first version of the World Wide Web. Crazy days. And that's what I did. I started or helped start four different companies in that time frame.
And over the course of five years, I realized that I actually didn't care about it. I mean, I got to a point where it was fun. It was fast. It was intellectually stimulating, because you always had to be ahead of the curve. It was a fast industry to be in. But there was no soul or purpose in it for me. And I actually just quit five years into it, quit cold turkey.
And I took a couple of years off and traveled the world and moved back to Canada, where I was originally from. And when I moved back to Canada, I saw an ailing health care system. And at that same time, I was taking care of my nana. I had to find caregivers for her and keep her at home.
And I realized that health care is me. I mean, it's part and parcel of my purpose, of who I am. And I realize I have to build a business with a heart. It's about caring and helping. And this was the perfect business. I started to see the challenges of home care and challenges of keeping someone at home.
And so it was really the marriage, I would say, the convergence of two things. It was purpose. I found an industry that was really purpose-driven and built for me. And I saw this industry that just needed bold change.
I mean home care, keeping seniors in their home, it's a 100-year-old industry. And it still acts like it. It still looks like it. It still works like it's 100 years old. And it was just ripe for bold change.
And I would say I'm a change agent at heart. I'd say it's one of my personal core values. And so it was the perfect industry to really develop something new and fresh and bold.
Hotel School is great. And you know, it's interesting now. Most of my friends that I graduated with out of the Hotel School were all entrepreneurs. And when we get together, we often reflect back. And we all say how the Hotel School was an entrepreneurship school even back in 1996. And you know, it teaches you this diverse-- I guess diverse education in business. You get to learn all aspects. So that's important.
But I think what really makes it a school of entrepreneurship is the culture it has created. You know, I go back into my undergrad years, and my friends in the school, we talked about entrepreneurship. We talked about building businesses. We actually didn't talk about what jobs we wanted when we graduated. We talked about what kind of companies we were going to start. The case studies that we built in our undergrad years were all around the businesses we wanted to build.
So I think it's the culture that the Hotel School has crafted. I mean, I think a lot of students come here already in family businesses. And I think it's the culture that has been crafted here is one of entrepreneurship. And I think that's the reason why the Hotel School turns out so many entrepreneurs.
When you look at hospitality, the root of that word is hospital. And you have two industries that are so different and so unlike each other. And I think approaching the health care industry, I mean, there certainly is a lack of service. We all know it.
And coming from the hotel industry or an education in the hotel industry, where service, it's all about service, it was actually pretty easy to look at health care and say, this is what we have to do. We can actually just boldly change our industry, home care, just by bringing these foundational principles of service into the industry. The problem is it's easy to say that. It's really hard to execute on.
And it's hard to execute on in health care because you start to face this culture that's very different from the hotel industry. I think in the hotel industry, we're taught and we learn to build these cultures of service excellence. We hire and fire and train people to provide service. And they're born to do it.
In health care, it's not that way. And so I really-- I think what has been paramount to my success in building Nurse Next Door and my new company LIVE WELL is being able to apply exceptional customer experiences and be able to build the culture so our people can deliver those exceptional customer experiences every single time. And I think that's really been the key, and that's what the hotel industry really gets.
For me, because health care is just part and parcel of my purpose, I will always only build health care companies. And for me, what gets me excited is tackling really big problems. And my new company LIVE WELL Exercise Clinics, we provide exercise for people with chronic disease.
And the big problem with chronic disease is something we called habit formation. So one of the obstacles of getting over chronic disease or treating it is we have to create habit in order to treat our own chronic disease. And so what we specialize in is creating habit around exercise, creating habit around nutrition, creating habit around lifestyle. And that's the big problem that we're tackling with LIVE WELL.
And it's a fun little business to be in, because it's physician-prescribed exercise. So doctors will prescribe exercise to our members. They'll come to our clinics. And these are individuals that have never exercised before or haven't exercised probably since high school gym class.
They don't want to do it. They don't want to be there. And we have to make it social. We have to make it fun. We have to make it inspiring for them to stay.
It has all the clinical underpinnings, so we're treating their chronic disease. We're showing them progress in their outcomes. But they don't see this, because they're not inspired by it.
We make it fun. We make it social. And it's a really neat way, I think, in applying all of the lessons of hospitality, because as soon as that person comes into our clinic, it's not a health care clinic. It's not a health care program.
We're making it warm. We're making it comforting. We're making it a place that they want to be.
And so we design the experience of the customer from the second they come into our door to the second that they leave, from the music that we play, from the inspiration that we give at certain points throughout the one-hour class that they come into, it's just like walking into a Four Seasons hotel, where the experience is designed. And that's how we've really started to bring the hospitality feel into health care and LIVE WELL.
Our members at LIVE WELL are individuals who they don't want to exercise. They don't want to be there. And we keep them there. And the reason we keep them there is because they actually have fun doing it, so we make it fun.
The head of our class of every class-- so a member will come in for a one-hour class, 10 people in a class. We call them the Joy Master. They're a clinician. But we call that person the Joy Master because their job isn't to make sure that their blood pressure is decreased over the next three months. It's part of their role. Their role is to make it fun and inspiring. And that's why we call it the Joy Master.
And because we've set up our culture and set up our systems to make it fun and social and inspiring, our average length of stay is six months to a year. So normal programs like this in North America are about three months, so we're seeing at least double the average length of stay of our members. And we have many members-- I think 25% of our population has been a member for over two years, so we're definitely seeing progress.
And I mean, to create habit, which is one of the keys to overcoming chronic disease, you need at least six months of doing something on a regular basis to create habit. And so the key to creating habit is kind of inspiring them and making it fun so they do it. And that's what we're accomplishing there.
I'd say my greatest lesson in building a business, and I would say the thing that I didn't learn at Cornell that I wish I did, was the influence of culture and just how important it is in building a business or running a team or whatever you're doing. And so at Nurse Next Door, we grew really fast. We had 1,000 employees after four years of building the company.
And even though we were successful from the outside, the inside was very different. When we started the company, we applied all of these principles of service and we wanted an exceptional customer experience. But things change as you grow very quickly, and you face some of the obstacles that we have in health care.
And I woke up one morning and realized that I didn't-- our customers weren't happy. Our people weren't happy. I wasn't happy as an entrepreneur. And in fact, I didn't even want to work inside of my own company anymore. It was that bad.
So even though we were successful on the outside, in the inside we weren't. And that wasn't the company I intended to build, so I blew it up. We fired a large amount of people at our head office and really started over, started from scratch and with a focus on building a culture powered by our core values.
And you know, what I've realized since that time and building a company now where we were the top-rated culture in Canada last year-- so we built sort of a famous culture in the health circles. I've realized it's really the secret weapon in business. It's the secret weapon I think in health care too. It's powered the happiness of our clients, the happiness of our employees. And it's certainly powered my own happiness as an entrepreneur. So it's probably the thing I'm most passionate about business now, because of what I've gone through and its influenced everything I do now.
I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I don't have to be. Everything's already been done to a world-class level already. You just have to figure out who's done it, go to them, learn it, and bring it back home and execute. So I call it rip off and duplicate.
And so I think in building a culture, listen, your core values, they are the operating system behind your culture. And unfortunately, I think in business, really and in society, we tend to look at core values as these airy, fairy, sort of fluffy things that we often become cynical about. And I at one point was very cynical about core values too. And they're these words on the wall that are meaningless in most organizations.
And it's too bad, because when you really start to understand what core values truly are and how to live them, how to bring them alive in your systems, in your leadership, in you, they are a powerful force. They are-- they make you who you are. And when you live your core values, they are the hard-core, non-negotiable rules of your organization, of your team.
And when you have a set of rules that you live by, it's powerful. It really starts to answer every single decision and question that you ever have in your leadership or your business. And I think that is the art of building culture, if you can figure out what your core values truly are and then unleash them and make sure you're maniacal about them. I mean, we hire by them, we fire by them.
You can be the best expert in your field in the world. If you don't align with our core values, if you don't buy into them, then go be an expert somewhere else. We don't want you. And you really do have to be that bold when you live your core values. And if you can be, it's the secret weapon to building a great business. It's the secret weapon to building a great team. It's the secret weapon to becoming a great leader. So that's, I think-- that's the influence behind culture.
When I look back on my own experience at Cornell, I think part of the great thing about Cornell is you have to have a diverse set of courses. So I delved into philosophy. I delved into religion. I delved into literature.
And honestly, I think that had as much impact on my entrepreneurial career as any of the business courses I did. You look at any of the other undergraduate business programs, they don't get that liberal creative arts side. And I think it's so important to be able to formulate your thinking from that perspective.
So I think that's one thing. Get a diverse education. Don't just do business. Don't just do health. Go and explore, because when you get in your job and you get in your role, you don't get to explore anymore. So that's the first thing.
And I think for either Hotel students or Sloan students, I think looking at the next 20 years, I mean, the population is aging and there are going to be so many opportunities in health care because of that. We don't know half of them yet. We don't know 90% of what those opportunities are.
And I think really understanding how that's going to impact what we do in our society, whether they're going to a hotel, whether they're going to a hospital, whether they're taking a taxi cab, whether they're going to a restaurant, it doesn't matter. Every single thing we do in society is going to be influenced. We have to start thinking about how to prepare for that.
And I think anything a student can do to think 20 years out and what the impact of this aging population is going to have on our society I think is a good thing. Economics courses, demographic courses, things that will start influencing our thinking and how we think about how things will change, I think that's the key.
We're working with a major hospital system in the US. And the leader of their home health division said to me when he was hired two years ago to take over their home health division, he said, why would I ever want to take over this division? It's the forgotten stepchild of the hospital system. And the CEO said to him, you want to do this because it is the future of our business.
And I think the home care field has been this sort of forgotten, almost unimportant part of the health care system for so long. And it's becoming a strategic force in our health care system in both Canada and the United States. And I see this firsthand working with this major hospital system at Nurse Next Door. It is the center of their strategic plan over the next 10 years. They're shifting from an acute care hospital-- it's a major hospital system. A big portion of their strategy is, how do we extend our reach into the community?
And home care sits right at the middle of it. Our caregivers who are going into the homes of our clients on a daily or a weekly basis, they have so much influence over the care and the health care of that individual, and of their happiness as well. And so I think home care, it is going to be one of the strategic industries over the next 10 years in health care. And I think that's why as a student I think there are a number of possibilities at looking at the field as either a job or from an entrepreneurship perspective.
Health care is exciting to me because it's an industry where you just dive headfirst into and you're all in. I mean, I guess it's the parallel with health care and in the hospitality industry. I think they both attract individuals who are all in. It's a very purpose-driven field.
But it's also exciting because it requires change. I think it's one of the industries in the world right now that has to change the most. And to be a disrupter, to bring a different way of thinking, that's what our health care system needs.
It needs new leadership. It needs thought leadership. And it's why I think it's one of the most exciting industries to be in as an entrepreneur.
When we work with health care organizations, where I see the struggle is we've created this culture of not being open to new things. And it cascades really from the top down. But culture's been institutionalized to be so process-driven, so hierarchical in its thinking that change is really hard. And so whether we want to implement Lean into our organizations or whether we want to implement how to deliver an exceptional, extraordinary customer experience into our organizations, we keep coming up against culture.
And until you get the culture right, until you get this culture of finding a better way, of change, of being open to learning and doing things in a different way, those initiatives, those strategic initiatives that could change health care, Lean thinking, delivering exceptional customer experiences, it is going to be awfully difficult to execute on. And I think that's-- I see it time and time again working with different health care organizations. I see it within our own organization. That's the big impediment to, I think, really changing, creating any kind of real change in health care.
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The Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures conducted an in-depth interview with John DeHart '96, co-founder of Nurse Next Door, after he participated in the panel, "The Transdisciplinary Future of Design—Opportunities for Health and Wellness Industries," on Nov. 2, 2016.