Influencers & Profiles

How Tristan White built a healthcare success story – and lost customers by growing too fast

Patrick Stafford /

Tristan White is on a roll. After 10 years, his company The Physio Co has gone from strength to strength, with revenue in the millions and growth in the double digits.

His company has won several BRW Best places to Work awards, and White himself has grown a reputation for his motivational and educational talks on workplace culture through his blog, Culture is Everything.

But last year, White hit a snag. The company grew too quickly and he lost touch of some of the details – he even had to give up some of his clients.

White spoke to SmartCompany about how he put the business back on track – and why it pays to pay attention to details.

I’ve had a really interesting 12 months. I’m now in the tenth year of this business, which is a fair career for a business. And the last five we’ve grown at 35% top-line growth each year, so we’re doing very well.

We’ve improved on the BRW Best Places to Work list as well. In the last 12 months, we were ranked eighth and one of our goals was always to make it into the top 10. So we achieved that goal.

But last year was hard. In the past 12 months, we’ve reached a point where the business simply became too complex and we outgrew our organisational structure.

I was fairly hands-off in terms of day-to-day operations. We got to the point where we had a dip in retention, and we weren’t delivering consistently high quality services to clients. We just didn’t have the solid leadership team in place.

I take responsibility for that. I should have seen it coming. I’ve been growing myself as a leader, and not focusing on those managers – we found it out pretty quickly and it became quite a challenge. In fact, the last 12 months have been the most challenging.

We haven’t had customers leave us. But we’ve had to leave some customers. And our business has been limited in that growth.

We didn’t have enough people to deliver our clients. With our tail between our legs we’ve had to go to some customers and say that we’re sorry, but we could no longer work with them.

It’s been both challenging and humbling at the same time. Over the past 12 months, it’s been difficult. We’ve had our best quarter in 10 years just now, but I can reflect, look back and say that didn’t help me during last September-October.

I just had to roll up my sleeves and become operationally involved again. Visiting clients and forming those relationships like I did in the early days. The more sustainable response was that I promoted seven of my experienced team into leaders, and we’ve put resources into training them.

It’s made me realise something. I knew the CEO had to be customer facing and present in the marketplace, but I wasn’t living that anywhere near as much as I should have been.

I’m fairly pragmatic about these sorts of things. I turned to a few of my advisors, and people who I’ve been working with to support me. I had some long discussions with them, and they gave me some interesting things to think about.

Industry-wise, there are two interesting things that have happened. We’ve moved from a closed industry focused on mum and dad investors to more corporate clients. More large companies are buying up nursing homes and a result of that, the business is more about corporate procurement. It changes the way we pitch.

The other thing that’s happened is the proliferation of aged care. It’s become such a fast-growth industry, we’ve seen competitors arrive in the marketplace very quickly. There’s a lot more competition now.

We’re executing on a three-year vision. We have a very clear plan to build 100 more staff within our team, and to be completely frank, we’ve been working on continuing to attract fantastic people.

Culture is so important. One thing I’ve had reinforced over the past year is that culture isn’t just for the good times to invite people in, but it’s for the bad so people stick with you. It’s a great sustainability tool.

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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