Above the Trees
This Business Owner Uses Parenting Skills to Grow Her Company and Please Clients
Posted Sep 12, 2004 11:42 AM CST
By Molly McDonough
When Susan Dempsey Giguere accompanied her elderly father to the hospital to address a routine health matter, she remembers being horrified at what happened next. The nursing staff suggested she admit her father to the hospital over the holidays—not to address his medical condition but rather to give her family a break.
No one would have faulted Giguere for jumping at the opportunity: At the time, she was struggling to care for her frail father plus a child with behavioral problems and a mother suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
She declined the offer, but says it was a revelation to learn that other families were often so overwhelmed with responsibilities—from parenting children to parenting aging parents—that hospitals stood ready to step in with offers of temporary, if medically unnecessary, reprieves.
Years later, she would draw on this revelation when launching the entrepreneurial venture that eventually became Care & Comfort, a $6 million, 375-employee home health care business based in Waterville, Maine, that was recently recognized for excellence by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
She credits her success to the usual attributes that help businesses grow: a fierce attention to quality and good employees who keep quality care a priority. But she also admits it hasn’t hurt that she was a mom first.
When she launched her business, she figured being in the business world would be completely different from parenting and caring for her parents. She soon found she was mistaken.
“How I operated at home, the concepts of being a mother and taking care of other people, transitions really well into the [home health care business] community,” she says.
AN EXTENDED FAMILY
Care & Comfort began in 1991 as a simple temporary placement agency for home health care workers. With Giguere’s nurturing, the company grew to be a service-oriented home health care operation capable of taking care of many needs, from cooking meals to bathing, basic household chores and simple companionship.
Giguere had no previous professional background in health care when she decided that the elderly and the physically and mentally disabled needed that kind of service.
But she knew she wanted to run the kind of company where employees and clients felt they were part of an extended family. She says she has been rewarded with employees who are satisfied and loyal—two ingredients imperative to her business success.
To foster the family atmosphere, Giguere includes in a company newsletter a free-form column about life issues or other topics unrelated to the business. Each column ends with a thank-you directed to her employees. While she sometimes thinks she gushes too much over her employees, she’s a firm believer, that like children, “None of us gets as much praise as we need.”
Giguere employs mom-style listening skills among her employees and clients, keeping an ear out for complaints and general concerns.
“Employees are the most important product that we have,” she says. That led the Maine Small Business Administration to nominate her for recognition.
She recalls an instance in which one employee didn’t fit in, but was dedicated to the company. The employee was shuffled around several times to different positions until she finally was moved to a job in which she could “shine.”
“It’s really worth the effort if you have good employees to try to figure out where they fit,” Giguere says.
Above the Trees looks at leaders and industries outside the law. It lets you draw analogies to how you run your business, how you deal with your clients and how you face your own challenges.