Julie and Diana felt they knew how to run a company, but had no idea about how to buy one or set up a corporation. Julie's husband, a business broker, suggested she contact the SBA for advice. That call led to a referral to the Portland chapter of SCORE. "I explained that we needed help fast because time was of the essence," Julie recalls. "They immediately put me in touch with Harry Kane, the former CFO of Georgia Pacific. He was 100 percent fantastic."
October 1999 was not a good month for Medical Specialty Solutions of Portland, OR. The company, which provided billing, collection, and other support services for area physician groups, learned that its largest client planned to dissolve at the end of the year. In a matter of months, Medical Specialty Solutions would lose almost half its business, leaving the future of the company and its employees very much in doubt.
Julie Karrasik, Director of Business Development, didn't panic. She simply put her job in high gear, touting the company's services and recruiting new clients. But Medical Specialty Solutions' management didn't share her confidence. Given the company's uncertain future, several clients decided to take their billing operations in-house. Before long, management decided that they had little choice but to split up the company and sell the various components to interested buyers.
That prospect left both clients and employees nervous, but it also presented Julie with an opportunity. She and Director of Operations Diana Smith could team up to buy the medical billing part of the business and keep Medical Specialty Solutions going. "We had never thought of ourselves as business owners," Julie says. "But we realized that we had invested too much time and effort in the company to leave. We had also made many promises to our new and ongoing clients; going back on our word at this point would not be good business."
Julie and Diana officially took ownership of Medical Specialty Solutions in June 2000, the company has not lost a client or a staff member. In fact, the company has surpassed its previous revenue totals, and has brought in a number of large clients in and around the fast-growing Portland area. "We're particularly proud that this growth has come without advertising," Diana says. "It has all been through recommendations from physician administrators who know our work."
Julie adds that looking back at the events of the past two years, it's hard to believe just how far she and Diana have come, and how much they have learned. They are also gratified that Harry Kane and Dan Williamson devoted so much time to assist them. "They made it possible for us to achieve the difficult goal of putting this deal together," she says. "We still rely on them for advice and guidance when we have a problem or a new idea. They are mentors in every sense of the word."
SCORE Mentor Harry Kane and his fellow volunteer mentor Dan Williamson, a former consulting engineer, helped Julie and Diana formulate their strategy for purchasing Medical Specialty Solutions. Because both women had to literally keep their day jobs to keep the company functioning, most of the mentoring sessions took place at night and on weekends. "Harry and Dan took a lot of time out of their private lives to help us," Diana says. "They knew we were making tough decisions, and they were always there to support us. They made sure we knew how the outcomes would affect the company."
Julie adds that the two mentors stuck to them like Velcro. "They were with us every step of the way," she says. "Harry sat in on our purchase negotiations, and joined me for my meeting with the loan officer at the bank."
Of particular importance to Julie and Diana was the guidance Harry and Dan provided that helped Medical Specialty Solutions successfully transition to new ownership. "There are so many things to consider, but Harry and Dan made sure we focused first on the mission-critical needs," Julie says. "That included reassuring our clients and staff, who were naturally nervous about whether the changeover would succeed."
Julie and Diana continue to work with their SCORE mentors on a monthly basis. They meet to review financials, fine-tune the strategic plan, and consider key decisions such as remodeling the company's offices to handle its growth. "Harry and Dan challenge us to think of things that we might not have considered," Julie says. "They want to be sure we spend our money wisely, and not commit some of the mistakes that cripple other fast-growing companies."
Diana says, “Harry Kane and Dan Williamson gave unselfishly of their time and brilliant backgrounds to help Medical Specialty Solutions move forward. People often praise Julie and me for saving the company, but SCORE deserves an equal share of the credit."