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    MGMT 614: Entrepreneurship- Growth Strategies

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    Shelly Sun with her husband JD Sun started Brightstar, a home health care business in 2002. Shelly’s aim was to make Brightstar a premium provider of home health care in the United States as well as internationally. The Sun’s opened their first Brightstar agency in Lake County, Illinois. Soon the business was attracting customers, JD’s visits to hospitals, clinics, Doctor’s etc. increased the sales and he stepped down after 18 months and Shelly became the CEO of Brightstar.

    Factors That Made Brightstar Successful

    They are many factors and features of Brightstar that made it successful and unique compared to other businesses. Some of the following factors played a key role in its growth.

    Quality and High standards are Brightstar’s strategies. The company’s slogan “A Higher Standard” speaks for itself which distinguishes Brightstar from the remaining competitors in the industry. By the end of 2014, Brightstar was operating 270 franchises across the United States. 90% of the franchisees remained in the company that year. Though labor supply was a challenge, the company remained in maintaining qualified and trained employees with improving their technology base from maintaining registers to going paperless in administration and billings.

    Brightstar’s top priority was Customer service. It provides both medical and non-medical services. 70% of Brightstar’s revenue is from providing nursing assistants mostly for older adults. Creating trust in clients was Shelly’s idea of creating a better marketplace for Brightstar as more than 50% of Brightstar’s clients paid from their pockets. The strategy was a success as the Net Promoter Score (NSP) was 63/100 by 2016. Customers were asked to give feedback on the services provided with automated charts and billings.

    Brightstar’s infrastructure played a crucial role in its success. Shelly was very particular in hiring the right people for right positions. By the of 2006 the company was operating 10 franchise locations, JD Sun returned to Brightstar and concentrated on the sales while Shelly focused on building the organizations infrastructure. She hired executives when in need and retaining employees with good experience and high knowledge for different roles. She appointed an advisory team for recruiting entrepreneurs and business leaders for Brightstar’s Board of directors.

    While operating and growing business there are many shifts in organizations, technology etc., all these have an impact on the company’s growth. Similarly, Brightstar has gone through many shifts which affected its growth.

    Franchising, JD, and Shelly with JD’s mother bought hotels in a hotel franchising brand, enterprising these hotels rose an excitement for Shelly to franchise Brightstar too. Her idea of franchising was to gain access to the network with the help of franchise brokers. As franchising a health-care industry was new at that time, franchise brokers ignored Brightstar.

    Though it was challenging Shelly managed to sell Brightstar’s first franchise in 2005 to John Botsko, now there are 300 franchise locations in the United States with sales worth $340millions and expanding more. She also made a clause that all the franchisees must be accredited by the Joint Commission and staff a position of director of nursing with a registered nurse. As the business grew a franchise advisory council was formed for communication between the franchisees and headquarters.

    Technology has a huge impact on an organization’s growth. For Marketing Brightstar, Shelly hired Jayson Pearl in 2009, Brightstar’s first executive marketer. Shelly believed marketing is a way of connecting to people and giving them a choice for decisions in insurances. The first commercial Television Ad was aired in 2014. Marketing through Websites, Internet, launching programs etc. are some more techniques that Brightstar followed. In a way, marketing was having more access to customers, for their needs.

    Shelly hired a technology firm considering the needs and opinions for business growth, investing around $500,000 to develop a system for administration operations like billing, payrolls, employees scheduling etc. for caregivers and employees in it is an application to track and store records which can be accessed at headquarters called as Athena Business System (ABS).

    This is one of the characteristics that differentiates Brightstar from other home health care industries. Soon all the records and data became paperless, which is a major step of Brightstar towards technological developments. By 2010, the business had rapid growth and Shelly hired Dean Ulizio to lead technology department and in 2014 she hired Jim Kearns as Chief Technology Officer.

    Inspired from a book, Shelly changed Brightstar’s organization structure, a New management approach which enabled her to have more time on concentrating the expansion and other lines of business. With the help of Thom Gilday, the new Chief Financial Officer, Shelly Sun successfully implemented the new approach in 2013, consisting of a Visionary and Integrator, Shelly assumed the role Visionary and Thom as Integrator.

    Successful Transitions were made in the Roles of some senior officers as they were no longer able give the same outcomes as years ago because Brightstar is now in a different phase of growth and shifts in technology demands new efforts and techniques.

    Shelly Sun’s Success and Challenges

    Shelly’s passion and leadership are one of the reasons Brightstar grew rapidly and gained traction. Her passion drove her to success making her efficient enough to explore opportunities and her leadership abled her to manage them. She’s an open-minded person never hesitated to listen and share ideas with people. Shelly’s vision for future and updating herself parallel to the advancements in the industry are the main characteristics of a successful entrepreneur.

    Franchising the business, having knowledge on current technologies, business models and her interests in constant learning, retaining property rights over ABS, signing a confidentiality legal agreement with one of the board members, able to retain all the senior executives for other important roles who have keen knowledge about Brightstar are some of the examples where Shelly’s smartness and her observing skills are seen. By implementing a new management approach (Visionary and Integrator) successfully after facing challenges from changes before it defines her experimental skills.

    Her relationships with the franchisees and others in the industry helped her out when she was taking wrong decisions, for example, her idea of selling a part of the company. She did not do well with hiring the right people for Board in 2004. 2012 was a tough year for Shelly Sun both personally and professionally. Sales went down and due to JD Sun’s absence in growing the business, she terminated him. Due to technical problems, there were turfs with the franchisees. There were also changes in Board members as some of them couldn’t give right guidance for the company.

    She had differences with the board members and wanted to sell a portion of a company to reduce the level of personal risk, but David Barr, fellow board member of International Franchise Board Association advised her to rethink her decision of selling a high growth company and make required changes in Brightstar’s Board, instead of having many board members who don’t challenge and ask questions about the business having few members is better who intellectually increase their thinking capacities. Shelly made changes from having seven members on Board, she hired two members who increase her potential to be a better leader.

    She maintained her personal and professional lives by giving importance to both equally, sometimes she stepped away from her work, but then realized things were going wrong and did them right. She never let go of her valuable employees and friends, a successful leader must know when to step away or let go of some activities and try to invest their valuable time for other activities for expanding into new markets, evaluate them and start new businesses.

    Evolution of Brightstar and Shelly Sun’s Leadership

    Brightstar mainly offers Home-care (Companion care, Personal care, In-home skilled care, Alzheimer’s and Dementia care etc.) and staffing (Registered nurses, Certified nurse assistants, Medical assistants, Therapists, Case managers etc.) services in the Health industry. The requirements of clients are evaluated and based on it caregivers are appointed with a customized care plan. Feedback of clients is taken, and changes are made in the plan based on treatment response or if having any issues etc.

    With expansions and improvements is technology using or administration and working purposes such as each caregiver is given a tablet to monitor and check their schedules, duties, clients, and accomplishments, giving weekly charts etc. billings and sales are done paperless monitoring at the headquarters, though had to face some technical issues in the beginning, now became a custom application to run the activities.

    Different stages of business growth require different forms of leadership. As a business grows an entrepreneur must assume different roles understand the need of right staff at right times and need for changes in strategies for administration, Marketing, Technology and various approaches for an organization to run it smoothly and efficiently.

    Throughout the growth and evolution of Brightstar, Shelly Sun persevered towards work and her determination for the entrepreneurial growth served in many roles. She started her career in accounting and was a key person in closing Avalor’s business with more efficiency in costs. She began to explore the industry for more opportunities which have possible growth. Selling Brightstar’s first franchise was not an easy task.

    In a meeting with John Botsko’s close friend, she clearly explained the market shifts and pro’s why John should invest in a franchise like Brightstar which has just started, how it is different from other companies and how he can save all the costs and benefit from having less risk of building a new business from start. Brightstar has started growing from one franchise to ten in 2006.

    The numbers started increasing both in franchise locations and sales. Brightstar’s unique service of providing skilled care distinguished it from other competitors in the Home-Care industry. The following tables (table-1 and table-2) gives an idea of expansion of Brightstar Care.

    One of the most important things in growing business is maintaining contact with the day-to-day activities happening in the company. Though Franchise advisory council (FAC) was formed in 2007, which acts as a connection between the franchisees and headquarters, Shelly and the franchisees had some differences throughout, even she had to step out for some time, while the recession hit she was back and took all the responsibilities maintaining transparency about all the activities which speaks about her as an evolving leader. She was so concerned about the bottom line sales that she turned her support team to concentrate more on the bottom line franchisees rather than top line sales.

    When the reality-show The Undercover Boss, approached Shelly and later said they couldn’t air Brightstar as they were looking for a business making above $100millions, she didn’t let go the opportunity, her determination and idea that the show would be a wonderful platform for marketing Brightstar resulted in featuring Brightstar on the show in 2011.

    Sales were increasing, and the company was growing fast. Shelly then thought this would be a great opportunity to open new lines of business such as Brightstar Senior Living. Looking for new opportunities at the right time and expanding the business shows how Shelly as a leader is dedicated to her team and work.

    Though Shelly and Brightstar are evolving in business they had their share of ups and downs, Shelly clearly understood what Brightstar needs and what she needs to do at the time of crisis. Throughout Brightstar’s journey of evolution, it became strong in areas such as Organization’s culture, Innovation, Technology, different services to clients, Franchising and financing etc., which also represent Shelly Sun evolving as a leader, with her vision and strength.

    The tables (Table-3 and Table-4) below represent how Brightstar and its Leadership has evolved with the growth of the business, showing the aggregate results of the survey (for 2014, 2015 and 2016) with managerial employees in Brightstar compared to their competitors in the industry.

    Plans for Brightstar’s Аuture

    Brightstar’s debt recapitalization in 2015, 2016’s idea of entering into international markets and experimenting with a new method of approach (the incubator group) etc., are some of the examples that Brightstar is finding a path for growing its business into the next phase.

    Though the company is starting into international markets (like Canada), it’s always beneficial to explore first about the markets, culture, technical platforms etc.

    Recruiting more people for different executive positions is productive when operating the business internationally(helps more by hiring international people as they have more knowledge about their country’s cultural and market’s demand etc.)

    Brightstar’s Senior Living must be expanded by creating awareness about the skilled care and services its offering (medical and non-medical).

    Entering new lines of business, for example, insurances for older people, long-term benefits, research field, creating technical applications for a health-care industry like tracking emergencies etc.) may be better opportunities.


    1. Applegate, L. (2015). BrightStar Care: The evolution of leadership team, Entrepreneurship

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