LEADING QUESTIONS: Home-health guru banks on empathy

October 27, 2010

Welcome to the latest installment of  “Leading Questions: Wisdom from the Corner Office,” in which  IBJ sits down with central Indiana’s top bosses to talk shop about their industry and the habits that lead to success.

Jan Roberts, 62, launched Alliance Home Health Care in 1991 without anticipating that providing nursing services for the elderly would become one of the biggest growth industries of the 21st century. Rather, as Roberts describes it, she fell into the business through a small accounting firm she had founded. Once she seized the opportunity, however, Roberts found a calling, as well as a business with plenty of room for growth.

The eldest of six childen and the mother of three, Roberts earned a bachelor's degree in business with a focus on accounting from IUPUI while still raising her family. She initially intended to bolster her bookkeeping skills for her husband's chain of liquor stores, but she eventually branched out to her own venture, supplying accounting services for small companies.

A friend who had started a service providing home-based health care asked her to invest. Roberts signed on, attracted by the chance to pair her accounting acumen with her nurturing side. While preparing to launch the firm, Roberts was diagnosed with two forms of breast cancer. Her response was to "plow through" the illness, the subsequent surgery and radiation therapy, while continuing to pilot the start-up. It gave her an even greater sense of mission, as well as her own set of experiences informing the firm's services.

"It gave me the incentive to really want to be in the health care business and be understanding of people who are going through [similar experiences]," Roberts said.

Today, Alliance Home Health Care is the fifth-largest woman-owned business in the Indianapolis area, in terms of local full-time-equivalent employees (138). It primarily provides skilled home nursing, therapy and non-medical companion services to the elderly in the Indianapolis area. With the "silver tsunami" of baby boomers requiring more intensive health care cresting over the economy, Alliance's revenue increased 27 percent from 2008 to 2009, and then 38 percent from 2009 to 2010.

In the video at top, Roberts discusses Alliance's origins and how her experience with breast cancer helped inform the firm's mission. She also explains how her role as caregiver extends to her own staff, and why the study of psychology is vital to plotting the company's path.


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