“ITS NOT ABOUT THE KNOWLEDGE”
Matt Marek is the founder and owner of Good Neighbor Community Services, a fast growing healthcare company delivering Intellectual Disability and Behavioral Health services in Virginia, and remote psychiatric counseling across the nation, with the help of video technology.
YOUR TERMS (YT): Matt, why did you become an entrepreneur?
MATT MAREK (MM): It was in my blood. When I grew up, my dad owned a furniture company and I travelled with him and his bookkeeper to trade shows. During these trips he coached me about business and life. My dad understood the value of a motivated and collaborative team. He always looked to hire young people with potential that he could take under his wings and coach up. I recall him taking two single- parented athletes, a starting quarterback and a point guard as apprentices. His bookkeeper later graduated from UNC’s business school. Both of them still keep in contact with my father.
￼￼I learned from my dad that good leaders take care of you as an individual – it’s not just about business.
I learned from my dad that good leaders take care of you as an individual – it’s not just about business. The other thing I picked up was that it is possible to get people to collaborate and create bigger results together. This realization sparked my interest in becoming a leader myself.
Throughout my youth, I helped to lead several baseball teams to championships. I learned about creating collaboration and getting the best out of people notwithstanding their race, upbringing or my personal opinion of them. These early sporting successes built up my drive to achieve, but I first had to figure out a purpose.
YT: How did you go from being an accountant to founding a mental health and disabilities business?
MM: I had no idea what to major in college. I researched the careers of Fortune 500 CEO’s and found that many had backgrounds in accounting, so I decided to major in that. It wasn’t a first love, but I found it interesting. I figured out that finances were a foundation for survival for any business and learned that a robust￼accounting function will create a solid structure in business as well as in life.
￼￼￼￼I routinely gave out my cell phone number to customers, having discovered personal responsibility as a competitive advantage.
Coming out of college, I talked to KPMG, but opted to join a Richmond-based home healthcare company called Care Advantage, owned by Debbie Johnston. Debbie paid half of what KPMG offered, but I could be coached by her personally and learn from her team. This job taught me about budgets, contracts, rates and negotiations and how an entrepreneurial company survives. I had the chance early to negotiate with strong partners, such as hospitals, which were critical to our business.
I also learned about accountability: if you promise something, you must deliver. If I didn’t deliver, it was my personal reputation that suffered. Sometimes lives could be in jeopardy if certain staff placements did not go ahead on time – in the healthcare industry, staffing is always a major liability to patient care.
The first breakthrough came when I won back a contract for the company that had been lost years earlier. I offered my prospect to be personally available to handle any problems and I was put the test the first week, when a conflict led to the delay of a nurse placement and I got the call. I had to make my case for the resources and negotiate with my colleagues for the resource I had personally committed to them. From then on, I routinely gave out my cell phone number to customers, having discovered personal responsibility as a competitive advantage.
I grew up believing that intellectually disabled people can contribute if they are given the opportunity.
YT: How did you get started in business?
MM: I was negotiating a contract with Central State Hospital, where my mother had worked, and took the team out for lunch. They kept talking about the need for housing support for intellectually disabled people who were leaving state facilities. This resonated with me as my grandparents had informally adopted into our family an intellectually disabled man, whom they supported and found useful employment for. I grew up believing that intellectually disabled people can contribute if they are given the opportunity.
After spending a year researching this opportunity, I approached Debbie asking her to support a venture to provide homes for ID people. She turned me down numerous times, but eventually relented and became a 20% owner of my company. She didn’t do it for the money, but to pay forward the help she had received from a business partner early in her entrepreneurial career. 18 months later, after the business took off, she let me buy her out. She helped me own my destiny at the age of 25 – I could not have asked for a fairer deal than that. She still remains a close friend and mentor.
YT: What do you believe is the role of coaching for an entrepreneurial business?
MM: You can educate people about how to run a business, but they will never really get it until they experience it. A great coach will listen and guide the mentee to find his or her own answers and solutions. If you do something for someone else you are enabling, not teaching. The worst parents are the ones that do everything for their children; co-dependence and enabling are the two most detrimental things that can happen in any relationship. The pampered and enabled person will never feel whole in making decisions and will be prone to second-guessing, while people who are allowed to fail will learn to make decisions. Even after they stumbled, a good coach will continue to ask questions on how they got there and how they could move forward. FAIL stands for First Attempt In Learning. This Socratic process allows the coachee to learn faster and deeper through doing his own work.
￼￼￼A great coach will listen and guide the mentee to find his or her own answers and solutions. If you do something for someone else you are enabling, not teaching. The worst parents are the ones that do everything for their children.
YT: Is there a limit to what a coach can do for someone?
MM: There is, when the coach no longer has enough experience in the area. When he has helped his coachee to outgrow him will he know that he has been successful. It is hard in any relationship when that happens, be they business or personal. The most important is our sense of self, which should never be derived from someone else. I had a psychology professor who had the ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself” placed on the overhead projector in his classroom for his students every day.
(YT: In Plato’s dialogues, Socrates explains that “understanding oneself would enable thyself to have an understanding of others as a result”, and that “people make themselves appear ridiculous when they are trying to know obscure things before they know themselves”.)
Seeking to know ourselves, is honing our curiosity. When we feel that we had it all figured out, we get bored with the process and stop growing. But, if we don’t know ourselves, we cannot help others. While we are on a quest to discover ourselves, we are discovering new things about life. We may find that we have an interest in something else, but we may be afraid to admit it, as it would require us to start over.
￼￼This is why people get stuck and stop growing. They are afraid to move out of the comfort of the thing they are good at and defined by.
YT: Are you in this kind of transition these days?
MM: I am being challenged and seek out being challenged. I am curious of what I can do, what more I can offer in the field I am in, and what I know about my field that I can offer to others outside of my field.
YT: How do you create the process of channeling and scaling your experience to other areas?
MM: It is something you intuitively have to find. One of the most important trends in business is providing customer experiences through design. If you can allow people to experience something in a new way, you have something to offer. Apple created the awareness with the iPhone, where it was not the function but the feeling that the object created that mattered. You could feel the function through the simplicity of the user experience. Great design makes experiences accessible. It eliminates the feeling of being overwhelmed and saves energy. This is where businesses are going: providing visual, auditory and tactile experiences. It is not always as much about the function that the phone can do but the feeling it provides.
In business, soon if you can’t be more emphatic with customers, your function will be automated. There is no reason anymore to interact with other people unless you have a positive experience.
Great companies know how something feels when we interact with them. They now are measuring sounds in hospitals and a given setting may have 40 or more different sounds in an area. Our auditory limit is 7 sounds, so we are overwhelmed in a hospital setting. And we can’t consciously control how we receive sound, as we can’t just shut down our hearing. The airline industry has focused on that. They don’t want you to feel overwhelmed and feel more comfortable, so they use the same tone to announce everything to you on your flight. This transfers energy to a more absorbent sense, our vision. That’s why we look for a visual reference after we hear the “ding.”
Foods for NASA are now designed based on astronauts’ individual childhood preferences to reduce homesickness. Food now can make an emotional impact based on personal preferences. This is an experience given to astronauts to allow them to feel in a certain way. In business, soon if you can’t be more emphatic with customers, your function will be automated. There is no reason any more to interact with other people unless you have a positive experience. Companies like Chick-Fil’A and Starbucks would lose customers by automating, but McDonald’s may continue to thrive.
YT: How is coaching going to help you build your future businesses?
MM: Great coaches understand that products and services may provide greater experiences. Coaches have the ability to understand what customer experiences look like and help guide businesses how to meet employee and customer needs. Great coaches understand people and the future will change what people demand.￼￼￼
Coaches can provide support to leaders by immersing themselves in other industries, employee and customer experiences and provide alternative viewpoints.
YT: How are coaches in a unique position to help coachees figure that out?
MM: By bringing a third party prospective. Business leaders are often immersed in a non-diverse environment: they don’t take enough breaks and rarely have the time to expose themselves to industries other than their own. Coaches can provide support to leaders by immersing themselves in other industries, employee and customer experiences and provide alternative viewpoints. The coach’s role is changing. Coaches used to provide management and leadership knowledge. Now information is available without limit on these subjects. It is not about the knowledge, it is about the perspective.
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