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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 11, 2014 4 years ago

Magic Wand

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An entertainment executive shifts to home health care. Clients are totally different, but one principle remains the same.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Former corporate executive Greg Wann spent two decades in operations and human resources roles at Disney World, where he helped the place that makes kids' dreams come true work properly.

Wann started in accounting and worked his way up to some big-time roles. He headed up Disney University for a short time, helped open a park in Paris and ran HR for the launch of Hong Kong Disneyland. “It was awesome and I loved it, but eventually I wanted a new experience,” says Wann. “I always had a dream of having my own thing.”

The experience Wann discovered with his own thing is the opposite of Disney, at least in demographics. Instead of kids, it's the elderly. He owns the Sarasota unit of Homewatch CareGivers, a Greenwood Village, Colo.-based franchise chain with more than 220 locations nationwide. A focus of the business is to provide services for elderly clients with relatives largely outside the area. Says Wann: “It's peace of mind.”

Wann's Homewatch includes Charlotte, Manatee and Sarasota counties, with about 60% of the clients in Sarasota and Venice. It provides a range of services, from companionship to personal care, such as dressing and bathing. Payment is through private pay or long-term health insurance. Wann doesn't accept Medicare, Medicaid or other government programs.

The home health industry on the Gulf Coast Wann entered in 2010 is congested. There are a variety of options, cost levels and programs for clients.

But four years in, Wann thinks he's found a niche for Homewatch: He utilizes the Disney customer experience, what he calls slow down and listen. “Make everything individualized and personalized,” he says. “That makes a big, big difference.”

So big, revenues have grown at least 30% a year for the last two years and surpassed $1 million in 2013, his third year in business. He has 55 employees, a mix of full-time and part-time, mostly certified nursing assistants. “Even though it's a crowded market,” says Wann, “it's a growth opportunity for those who do it well.”

Homewatch employees, following Wann's personalized approach, have taken clients fishing and to a spring training baseball game. One client told a Homewatch caregiver she could no longer cook, one of her favorite things to do, because she couldn't stand for longer than a minute. So the employee handled the oven while the client sat and helped. Says Wann: “We are very much about being customized and being flexible.”

Wann got into home health care for the business opportunity and personal reasons. A native of Indiana, he was raised mostly by his grandparents, he says, so he witnessed aging challenges up close. He also sought some entrepreneurial freedom. He invested about $150,000 from savings to open his Homewatch franchise unit.

“I wanted to do something with direct service,” Wann says. “I didn't want to do something six or seven steps away from the customer.”

Disney Days
Greg Wann learned a lot in two decades of senior management at Disney World, lessons he puts to use at Homewatch CareGivers. Key lessons include:

Slow down: Wann encourages employees to slow down and listen, a key component with seniors. “At Disney,” says Wann, “we called it 'Take 5,' to slow down and take a moment to sincerely interact with and listen to guests.”

Tell stories: A foundation of Disney's history, says Wann, is based on the impact of stories and storytellers. “I find our clients, who are able to, love to tell stories about their past, and so I constantly remind my staff of the power of stories and storytelling,” says Wann. “It is really special for elders when someone takes the time to listen.”

Hiring focus: A well-worn but important lesson is selecting and training employees, says Wann, who worked in human resources for part of his Disney career. Be picky about whom you hire. “You can 'dip' someone in awesome training programs many times,” Wann says, “but if you didn't choose well during the hiring process, it will have limited impact.”

Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon

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