Entrepreneur Insider Series – Jason Smith, Back in Motion Health Group

Jason Smith, 38, is from Melbourne, Australia. He started his physiotherapy business, Back in Motion Health Group, in 1999. Back In Motion is Australia’s largest and fastest growing Physiotherapy Group which resides in over 65 locations nation-wide. Back In Motion offers physiotherapy and related services of the highest quality with a strong philosophy of care that seeks to provide lasting results for those sick of endless quick fixes.

Starting the Business

Q: Where did the idea for your business come from? Where were you in your life and career?

A: I graduated in 1997 with honours from the School of Physiotherapy Melbourne University.

My journey with Back in Motion began in 1999 when at 25 years old, together with my wife Paulina, I set up a humble physiotherapy practice in the garage of our first home.

I was motivated to influence change within our profession moreso than simply start a business.  I developed a strong passion for Physiotherapy after qualifying, but noticed that the mainstream of the profession had a reactive ‘quick-fix‘ mentality toward clients and their health. There seemed to be a disproportionate focus on managing pain and injury AFTER the fact, rather than delivering preventative services that optimised people’s health in the first place. I  believed in and developed a unique holistic approach that engaged clients in a pathway of integrated services that empowered them in managing their own health for the longterm.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting out?

A: Other than all of the expected challenges of long hours, finding sufficient capital, and learning by mistakes, the most difficult experience was the resistance and negativity I faced within my own profession from peers and colleagues. There seemed to be an institutional barrier to change that I needed to break through, and because what I was doing seemed so different to the ‘norm’, most people presumably found it instinctive to criticize rather than give it due consideration. It took many years before my approach became widely accepted, and it was a pretty lonely path in the meantime.

Q: What is the one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started the business?

A: No matter what business, industry or profession you are in, everyone is in the ‘people’ business. We must become more effective leaders if we want to influence sustainable change. I concentrated heavily on my technical and clinical skills in the early part of my career before realizing that my deficiencies in leadership were costing me far greater opportunities. Accordingly, I became a fervent student of leadership styles and values and through this wrote a course curriculum for the Iceberg Institute that develops emerging leaders within healthcare. So my regrets fast became my competitive advantage.

Q: What would you consider your first big success in the business?

A: My first big success in the business was the decision to franchise. Once our home practiced boomed, Paulina and I found ourselves expanding to commercial medical facilities based in Melbourne. We were joined by an expert team who shared our vision for integrative healthcare. The success of our larger practice encouraged us to franchise the business. This was a high risk move and almost unheard of in the health industry. To make it work, I had to ensure that the holistic approach of Back In Motion was ingrained into the values of the expanding teams of health professionals joining us.

Through the complex journey of franchising, my small home-based consulting room located in Victoria in 2000, has now grown to 65 locations, 45 franchises, 400 staff in 6 states.

Q: What is the toughest thing about getting to the top / staying on top in your industry specifically?

A: The toughest thing about staying on top in the physiotherapy industry is finding new ways to inspire employees and give them an adventure. Within our industry, physios are poorly retained and many are exiting the industry and abandoning their profession after seven years. There is a leak of talent and very little seniority in the profession due to limited career pathways and substandard remuneration.

Back In Motion have been innovating in this space for many years with undergraduate programs, internships, professional development programs and creative career opportunities, and as result, are bucking the negative trend. However, it’s a constantly moving target as we seek to value our workforce as our greatest asset. Not only do we want to love what we do, but we want to love who we do it with.  More recently within our health group we have created ways to inspire staff members by offering post grad opportunities, giving younger staff overseas experiences, and are even exploring new remuneration models that might be more rewarding.

The Future

Q: Where do you see your industry heading in the next 5 years?

A: I see the industry needing to trend toward a holistic, integrative and preventative model of health care if it wants to be sustainable and make a difference. This may involve new service development opportunities involving nutritionists, podiatrists, exercise physiologists, naturopaths and other allied health practitioners within a patient’s episode of care . There will also be opportunity to integrate technology into all aspects of the patient experience, ranging from marketing to clinical service provision.

As the industry leader we are already experienced with some of these opportunities and it’s estimated that we are approximately 6-8 years ahead of the pace in some areas based on independent industry reports.

Q: What do you plan on doing / changing in order to keep growing in this time period?

A: One of the changes we are making to support the growth of the business is restructuring the employment model. BIM has moved away from the traditional hierarchy of top-down management and embraced a post-modern collaborative team culture based on a spherical organizational chart. We call this approach ONEteam. We are empowering more staff members to be decision makers and lead where they naturally have the strength and talent to do so. This modern mode of empowerment is hoping to see a 30 million dollar venture to grow in the next five years to 7 states, 100+ practices and a $50 million dollar health group. We dub this target our 7/50/100 initiative.

Q: What does ultimate success look like to you? How will you know when you’ve achieved it?

A: Ultimate success for me is making a difference in the lives of disadvantaged people. Whilst every person matters, there are some who simply do not have access to the basic health services they need. Inequality is a great injustice and Back In Motion is determined to not just support those who can afford it, but also to work with those who can’t. We do this through a number of subsidy initiatives throughout our practices and also through the pro-bono charity that we founded called SOS Health Foundation.

It would be exciting to learn one day that when people reference the brand of Back In Motion they think of it in terms of being one of the positive ‘game changing’ influences in healthcare. I would be happy to remembered as a ‘innovative disruptor’ if it lead to  our communities truly benefiting from better lifestyle health. Physiotherapy is a very traditional profession and we are really trying to break the mould with an integrative approach.

Q: What do you think will be the biggest challenge facing entrepreneurs in the near future?

A: Whatever the challenge, by nature, a true entrepreneur will overcome it! It’s possible that some negative sentiments toward entrepreneurism has crept into the commercial market over the last 10 years, because they are perceived to be risk takers in an otherwise conservative and fragile economic season. However, I think of entrepreneurism as simply the courage to pursue innovative thoughts despite nobody else acting on them. With this in mind, I hope entrepreneurism is greatly encouraged and believe that Australia offers some wonderful opportunities for those who are brave enough to act on their convictions.

Q: What one piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in your industry and wanting to make it to the top?

A: I would encourage you that franchising does work, especially in the wellness industry. There is a way to scale the business and maintain that ‘personal touch’ and unique blend of qualities that made you successful in the first place.

Another encouragement would be to have a higher purpose in mind as an important cause to always give you purpose and drive in operating the business. Inevitable tough times will be endured because of the passion and calling that you are being significant (and not just successful) in your life work. Then serve others faithfully with your rewards.

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