Here's the question: When Shelly Sun, CEO and co-founder of BrightStar Care, one of the nation's fastest growing providers of private health care for adults and children, goes away for a week to shoot 'Undercover Boss,' does she hire any of her own employees to take care of her 6-year-old twin boys?
Her answer is that she didn't, but she would have if her in-laws and her husband hadn't been available. "I would trust any of my employees with my sons," she told AOL. "We all feel it's an honor to take care of families in their time of need."
Shelly and her husband, J.D., founded BrightStar Care in 2002, began franchising in 2005, and it has already grown to more than 11,000 employees working out of 11,000 locations in 37 states. They serve more than 10,000 families across the nation, providing care for people of all ages in the home as well as staffing for hospitals, nursing homes and doctors offices.
Unlike so many other companies, there wasn't the slightest power struggle or attitude adjustment when Shelly, who just turned 40, became the CEO, rather than her husband, J.D., who is a founding partner. "He's very supportive, and our skills are different," says Shelly. "We have completely different roles and responsibilities. I'm the manager, and he takes care of sales." He's also responsible for franchise development.
And they're off
Since they're a team, J.D. covered one of the four 'Undercover Boss' tasks. He went to Sierra Vista, Ariz. where he worked with George, a caregiver at an Independent Living Facility. Although J.D. helped with laundry, general cleanup and even did dishes, and although he was charming and had a ready smile, he was not nearly as popular with the residents as George was. When calling bingo, they complained that J.D. wasn't loud enough and was going too fast, so they vociferously called for George to replace him.
J.D. learned that George was going to nursing school, and had one year left. So in the end, when Shelly revealed her identity as CEO in brand new offices that had not been fully moved into yet, she offered to pay for George's last year of school. In addition, since he was such an excellent employee, she created a new global ambassador position for him, so that when he'd finished school he could travel the world on behalf of BriteStar and help establish new franchises. George accepted gratefully and humbly.
Shelly's first job was also in Sierra Vista, Ariz., where she worked on an Army base with a care giver named James, providing child care to a family with a great need. BrightStar's Kid Care program, which includes babysitting, accounts for about 10 percent of their business, but they would like to up that to 25 percent. They started Kid Care in 2009, motivated by the fact that their twins were premature and in incubators for a few months. Once they brought them home, Shelly and J.D. wanted a private caregiver, not untrained babysitters.
The clients Shelly helped with had twice the needs she had had, because there were 2-year-old quadruplets who needed tending, while their father served in Iraq. Shelly and her supervisor took care of the children's needs from the time they opened their eyes in the morning, and set up a Skype moment so the father could communicate with his children on the family's computer. Shelly was overwhelmed with the difference between caring for two children and four, all at the same time, and was visibly repelled when asked to change a diaper.
Nice to have a man around the house
James took it in stride, however, helpfully coaching Shelly through it all. It was unusual for Shelly's co-worker on the task to be a man, since most of their child care providers are female. But she was extremely impressed with how he interacted with the children. He mentioned that he was having a hard time deciding what he wanted to do for a career, so in the end, Shelly paid for a career coach to help him decide how to spend the $10,000 seed money she also gave him. All that, plus a week long vacation for James and one other person of his choice, and $1,000 spending money. James tearfully accepted, and said he would be taking his mother.
Antioch, Calif., was Shelly's next stop. There she worked in a nursing home with Arlene, a certified nursing assistant in a temp situation. BrightStar provides temporary help when permanent employees are out sick or on vacation. Shelly learned to truly appreciate the hands-on skills of her employees and the fact that theirs are not easy tasks. She slathered so much cocoa butter on one patient he asked if she was planning to fry him, and found out how challenging it is to shower patients -- and even style hair.
Arlene had a very positive attitude, and told Shelly she'd had a daughter at 16, and was now 24 and didn't have a lot of time to spend with her, because she was working and going to school to become an RN. She also admitted to having the spirit of an entrepreneur, and had the desire to one day start her own business.
It wasn't a surprise when Shelly offered to give Arlene and her daughter a paid vacation at the family theme park of their choice, but that loud clatter you heard Sunday night was jaws hitting the floor across the country when Shelly offered Arlene a $47,500 franchise of her own in the area when she finished school.
Home care is where the heart is
Finally, Shelly gave in-home care to clients, working with a licensed practical nurse, named Lisa in Centerville, Ohio. They checked vital signs, tested muscle strength, etc. Lisa was patient with Shelly as she taught her the necessary skills, and remarked that she was a fast learner. Lisa was infinitely kind, patient and professional with the patients.
Shelly was distressed to learn the nurse is thinking of leaving BrightStar, since the hours were not consistent enough and she needed all she could get since her husband was about to lose his job and they had six children to support. Shelly quickly came to her aid, starting a new, company-wide policy where workers from nearby franchises could be pooled and have more work. But that was just the beginning: Shelly also offered to send the entire family to Cancun, where the parents had been married, and pay the family's rent for six months.
"My husband and I got into this business because we really wanted to make a difference," Shelly said. Ever since the Suns began BrightStar Care, they've been making intense efforts to upgrade and improve, both their service to their clients and their opportunities for employees. Shelly says the 'Undercover Boss' experience was invaluable for both.
"I was able to see the honor and responsibility we have in caring for families," she said, adding that now they are more committed than ever to "making everyone's day as beautiful as it can be."
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