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Change and Adapt

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The ability to retire at 35, fresh off building a $40 million business over a decade, would seemingly be the big-ticket Powerball of entrepreneurial dreams.

Yet John Williams, who did just that, says reality doesn't necessarily mesh with fantasy — at least not the retirement part.

So much so that Williams, in fact, is back in business, again in the niche industry of Medicare Set Aside services. Medicare Set Aside companies project lifetime medical costs on a Medicare claim for a variety of insurance clients.

Williams, 37, is now CEO and one-third owner of Bradenton-based Franco Signor, a $3 million Medicare Set Aside firm. In just the past four months Williams has spent $250,000 to rebrand and reposition the business, which he projects will at least double sales, to $6 million, in 2013. “It's a good time to be in the industry,” Williams says, “because it's changing a lot and evolving.”

Still, when Williams retired in July 2010, the idea was to get out of the industry.

At first Williams played the role perfectly: In 2010 he left Bradenton-based Gould & Lamb, a Medicare Set Aside services firm Williams' mom and stepdad, Janice and Mike Gould, founded in 1999. The firm has been credited with being one of the first to grasp and monetize the complicated and heavily regulated sub-sector of Medicare Set Aside services.

Gould & Lamb, mostly under Williams' leadership, grew from four employees and $250,000 in sales in 2001 to more than $42 million and 300 employees by 2010. It simultaneously became one of the largest providers of workers' compensation Medicare Set Aside services in the country. Boston-based ABRY Partners, a private equity firm, bought Gould & Lamb for $176 million in 2007. The firm continues to operate out of a downtown Bradenton headquarters.

Williams, meanwhile, attempted to live a life of leisure. He spent time with his wife and new baby girl. He helped coach his 7-year-old son's flag football team. He traveled, to places including New York City and Chicago.

But after about a year and a half — six months shy of the expiration of his Gould & Lamb non-compete agreement — Williams ran into a wall of boredom. Scores of Gulf Coast retirees, any age, have hit the same wall.

“I'm not built for retirement,” says Williams. “I was looking for something I enjoy doing and is challenging. And I wanted something where I can call the shots.”

Williams' non-compete ended in August. He used a chunk of the payout he revived in the private equity deal and took aim at the place he's most familiar with: Medicare Set Aside.

Not only is Williams back in the industry, but Franco Signor, after a strategy tweak, now competes directly against Gould & Lamb. Williams says the firm will offer new technologies and better service. ABRY Partners and Gould & Lamb officials didn't respond to requests for comment.

Williams declined to disclose how much he paid for his stake in Franco Signor, which Roy Franco and Jeff Signor founded in 2010 with offices in Buffalo, N.Y., Charlotte, N.C., and Denver. Williams liked the founders, and he liked that the firm, though small, was hyper-focused on regulatory consulting. Franco Signor, however, hadn't done much in growing a recurring client base of insurance entities — which is where Williams enters.

Williams moved fast. The $250,000 investment covered everything from new phones to a new website. Three former Gould & Lamb executives have joined Williams at Franco Signor, which now has 22 employees in Bradenton. The firm is run out of the same 6,000-square-foot building on Manatee Avenue West where Gould & Lamb was founded.

“We are part of what will happen in the future of the industry, not the foundation of the past,” says Williams. “The challenge is staying in front of all the regulatory changes in the marketplace.”


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