For Philip Rielly and Eric Hill, the past five years have been a very different experience compared to most others in the business world during that time. While many companies were hunkering down, cutting back and fighting to stay in business, Rielly and Hill were nurturing the healthy growth of a young company.
In fact, in just the past three years they have seen their company’s employment and revenue double. Rielly and Hill are co-founders of BioRx LLC, a more than 200-employee national provider and distributor of specialty pharmaceuticals they started in 2004.
Hill, who is vice president, is located in North Carolina, while Rielly, who is president, is in Cincinnati where BioRx is headquartered. The company, now nine years old, has been exceeding expectations, and there are no signs of it slowing down anytime soon.
“Since 2010 we have continued our strong growth trajectory as we hoped that we would,” Rielly says. “We finished this past year north of $100 million in sales. We’ve been fortunate to launch a number of new semi-exclusive products with some of the different manufacturers.”
Since 2010, BioRx has become a prominent player in the Hereditary Angioedema space and a major player in the Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiencies space.
“Some of the other changes since 2010 are we announced that we were going to be a semi-exclusive distribution partner for a firm out of New Jersey called NPS Pharmaceuticals and we opened three new regional pharmacy and distribution centers,” Hill says. “Those are in Boston, Scottsdale, Ariz., and San Diego, Calif. Those are three large investments for us.”
Needless to say BioRx has been doing the right things to remain on a growth track. Now Rielly and Hill have to keep it going.
Here’s how they have grown the company through strategic planning and developing the right partnerships.
Take advantage of growth drivers
When Rielly and Hill first started BioRx, they had a different idea behind specialty pharmaceuticals than most other national companies. While others were switching to a less personalized mail order model, Rielly and Hill saw an opportunity to offer a higher care model and focus on the patient.
Since seeing that opportunity they have been aggressively pushing the company forward.
“We’ve taken a bullish approach from day one when we set the company up, and we’ve been very aggressive with respect to adding new geographies and new regions,” Rielly says. “We’ve certainly added quite a few new account managers in the field, so we really focus our market on the four P’s in the pharmaceutical space with respect to customers.
“In the physician marketplace, we’ve expanded the number of representatives calling on the physicians across the country to open new geographies to where we’re now truly a national company.”
The biggest driver for BioRx at this point has been developing relationships with the different biotech companies and manufacturers.
“They’ve entrusted us with some of their new therapies,” he says. “In many cases we are just one of a handful of companies in the world who has access to selling these drugs. We’ve been very fortunate to be able to get those relationships.”
When a company is growing at the rate BioRx has, it is often easy to focus on one big area of growth and forget about other areas. That has not been the case with BioRx.
“This hasn’t been a one-trick growth pony,” Hill says. “We’ve purposefully and carefully invested in multiple strategies that have the opportunity to provide us growth. We’ve executed pretty well on all of them, but the key thing to take away is that we haven’t put all of our eggs in one basket in terms of our strategy to provide continued and sustainable growth for the company. It’s been a measured approach across many fronts.”
Over the course of the business as it has scaled, Rielly and Hill have continued to reinvest in it.
“We’ve taken every dime of free cash that we can find and judiciously invested that into both infrastructure to allow us to grow, but most importantly into infrastructure that provides that growth such as opening new markets, hiring sales people, adding new product lines and adding infrastructure,” Hill says.
“At the same time, we have to ensure that we’re not getting ahead of the company’s ability to finance it so we can maintain a robust and strong balance sheet, which is a business killer for a lot of small companies.”
While maintaining a strong balance sheet is one challenge of a growing company, there are many other obstacles that come along with growth. One challenge is hiring.
“Even with the unemployment rate at what it is, I would say that we still have a challenge finding and recruiting some of the very best people,” Rielly says. “We set a very high bar for the quality of folks that we hire. We’ve really had very little turnover, but with the continuous growth we’ve enjoyed, it is a challenge to continue to grab those folks.”
One strategy that BioRx has implemented is hiring people for an associate-level sales position and having them train with more senior employees to learn the ropes.
“It eliminates some of the risk down the road of having a bad hire,” he says. “We’re also working closely with some of the local universities. That way we have an in on recruiting down the road, and it’s a good way for us to give back.”
Another way the company stays on top of hiring challenges is to be on the lookout for great candidates all the time.
“It may not be today, but it may be three months or six months from now that we’ll need talent,” Hill says. “When the opportunity to hire somebody comes along, we need to already have a portfolio of folks we’ve been talking to. That dialogue helps gets those jobs filled quicker and with better talent.”
Most of BioRx’s growth to this point has been organic growth. However, Rielly and Hill are always looking for the next partnership that will benefit the company and its patients. Last year the company made an acquisition to help it reach new customers.
“Coagulife Pharmacy is the only acquisition that we have done to date,” Rielly says. “Our strategy from day one has always been through internal growth and continuing to reinvest in new talent and organic growth. But Coagulife presented itself. That situation was a unique opportunity for us to add a different skill set.”
Coagulife deals specifically in the hemophilia space. Many hemophilia patients have target joint bleeds and what ends up happening is many of them require an orthopedic procedure down the road. Many of those can be avoided or helped with some type of aggressive physical therapy, which is what Coagulife offers.
“So we’re rolling out a national program that is very specific to physical therapy and exercise regimens,” he says.
A large part of BioRx’s ability to find strategic partners and develop those relationships is because the company makes it a priority to plan for those kinds of things.
“You have to have a plan, but also the wherewithal to follow through on a plan without respect to different challenges that come up,” Rielly says. “Whatever the long-term plan is you have to stick with it and keep going forward even when it doesn’t feel comfortable from time to time.”
BioRx thinks of strategic planning in the two-to-five-year range.
“The easiest thing for us to plan is organic, new market openings and sales infrastructure growth by prioritizing the markets we believe have opportunity in each of our business units,” Hill says. “Then it’s just budgeting out the velocity with which we can deploy capital and money to put those people in place to enter and burst into new markets for us.”
Rielly and Hill constantly talk about the next five markets the company is going to crack into with a new therapy or a sales rep to put an operating unit in place.
“We’ve done a good job of sticking to that,” he says. “We kind of know where our next five, six, seven, or eight investments are going to be and in which business units we want to be plunking those bets down.”
During the strategic planning process you have to be willing to think about some far-fetched goals while also being reasonable about what can be achieved in your plan’s window of time.
“Dream big and shoot for the stars, but be realistic with respect to what it’s going to take to achieve those goals,” Rielly says. “Be realistic with how much capital it’s going to require to get from point A to point B. But don’t be afraid to dream big and swing for the fences.”
The key to achieving goals set forth in a strategic plan is having a great team around you.
“If we have done anything, we have hired a fantastic management team and our bench strength is pretty deep,” Hill says. “I think either one of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow and the company wouldn’t have a whole lot of issues. We have managers and operators that we turn loose to let them earn their stripes. Those guys know where our next bets need to be.”
How to reach: BioRx LLC, (866) 442-4679 or www.biorx.net
Determine your growth factors.
Develop strategic partnerships to help expand.
Have a planning process for the future.
The Rielly and Hill File
President and Co-founder
Vice President and Co-founder
Rielly: Born in Cincinnati
Rielly: Education: Graduated from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., with a BS in business communications.
Hill: Born in Bassett, Va.
Hill: Education: Graduated from Wake Forest University with a degree in psychology.
How did you first meet each other? And why did you start BioRx?
We both met working for another national company. We saw the trend of many national companies going to a mail order model with less personalized care, and we felt that we could create a market by going with a higher care model.
What has been your favorite thing about growing BioRx?
Rielly: The most rewarding part is building a team and watching the team grow. We’re making a very positive impact on the lives of each of the patients in which we touch and there’s not a week that goes by that we don’t get a patient testimonial about the ways our team members went above and beyond. I find that extraordinarily rewarding.
Hill: It is awfully refreshing to wake up every day knowing that we get to set the direction. It’s a lot of fun being in an entrepreneurial environment and getting to spread that spirit around the organization.
What excites you both about the future of BioRx?
Hill: I’m excited about the fact that sooner than later we are going to be a $200 million company. We also have a new drug launch happening and it has the opportunity to be a significant sea change in both the lives of the patients that we’re treating and the marketplace for one of our operating units in a way that’s transformative.
Rielly: In the last few months, we’ve aggressively hired and opened new geographical territories and I’m excited to see the initial successes. We have the best team in place that we’ve ever had and I’m excited for them to achieve their personal goals.
Dr. Steven G. Gabbe was aware that a lot of hours had been put in developing plans for a new cancer hospital on the campus of The Ohio State University. Gabbe was at OSU when the James Cancer Hospital first opened 20 years ago, and in 2008, he was back as CEO of The Ohio State University Medical Center.
He was excited that the project was moving forward but also aware that concern had been expressed about some of the plans that had been made.
“People wondered about the plan,” says Gabbe, who is also senior vice president for health sciences. “There was concern about the design of the hospital, which included two towers side by side with an atrium in the middle.”
This wasn’t the only concern and the uncertainty was great enough that university trustees wanted planners to take another look at the project.
“They challenged us to pause and go back and look carefully at those plans and then come back to the board of trustees and present to them our revised plans for the new hospital,” Gabbe says.
This opportunity excited Gabbe. He saw it as a great chance to go back to square one and get a clear understanding of the plan and its impact on the 16,000-employee OSU Medical Center.
“It was a billion-dollar project and most of the hospital was going to be paid for by our clinical revenues, as well as some philanthropy, but primarily by our clinical revenue,” Gabbe says.
It would have been completely natural for those who had put in a lot more time and effort on the project than Gabbe to be a little frustrated at the prospect of starting over.
“I’m sure some folks said, ‘Oh my gosh, now we have to go back and look at the plan again,’” Gabbe says. “But to everyone’s credit, no one was discouraged. No one looked at it as a burden. They all realized this was a chance to get to do this right.”
Get people excited
Gabbe began his effort to meet this important challenge by focusing on the opportunity he and his team were being given, rather than presenting it as a burden they would have to bear.
He focused on the fact that this new hospital would be built on a site that had previously been home to a tuberculosis hospital that was no longer needed.
“We now have effective means to prevent and cure tuberculosis,” Gabbe says. “And on this site, we hope to build a hospital that will provide care for cancer patients while at the same time, hoping there will be a day when this hospital won’t be needed anymore, because we’ll find cures for cancer.”
Gabbe focused on that opportunity, and then quickly moved into the challenges that were facing his team in making the opportunity a reality.
“Clearly describe the challenges you’re facing and why those challenges are important to everyone involved in the work group or in your company,” Gabbe says. “The project that you’re going to be working on impacts everybody’s position and the outcomes are going to impact everyone for years going forward.”
One of the keys to getting support on a big challenge is your ability to convey confidence and personal engagement. Your team needs to see that you’re not just passing all the work off of your plate.
“If you’re going to be leading an effort like this, you have to come in having done the work,” Gabbe says. “You have to have a vision for what you see that future will be. You have to understand the strategic priorities in the planning process. You have to be realistic about the challenges and about the difficulties. It’s going to be hard work. There are some understandings and some compromises we’re going to need to make.
“We’re going to make those together. You also have to make sure that people understand they need to be accountable for the decisions that are made and that those decisions need to be made together.”
Gabbe began by making sure that everything was put on the table at the beginning and nothing was left out. He began to ask questions, a lot of them, and had his team do the same.
“We kept asking the question, ‘Who else needs to be at the table?” Gabbe says. “What information do we need?’ One thing we did not want to do was create an elite planning group where people felt like it was being done behind closed doors, and they didn’t have a chance to influence the plan. This was too big and too important a project. Much to everyone’s credit, when we got done with the project, we did not have someone come up to us and say, ‘Well, you didn’t think about us.’ Or, ‘We weren’t involved.’ The group was very inclusive as we made the plans.”
There were more than 100 issues that were identified as requiring an answer with the cancer hospital project. Gabbe knew the team needed a method to track progress on resolving each of these items.
They came up with a color-coding system that used three colors everyone knows very well: red, yellow and green.
“We found the scorecard was very helpful in defining each of the tasks we had to complete for the project,” Gabbe says. “It was something we could look at and see red if we hadn’t solved the problem, yellow if we were getting there and green if it was fixed. It was a good reminder of where we were and what we had done and what we hadn’t done. Then we expected people to be ambassadors for the project and be willing to go out and talk to their constituencies and come back with objective feedback about what we were doing.”
Once again, reaching out to others is crucial in beginning to move toward solving your problems. The team asked the CFO to go back and confirm the medical center’s and OSU’s long-range financial plan to make sure financial projections were still accurate going forward.
“We had our architects go back and begin to look at design elements of the building and how they could be structured in a different way in a setting where there were smaller patient care units, space for education, space for research and space for families,” Gabbe says.
There was an analysis of parking and how far people would have to walk from their car to specific rooms. When concern was raised about the height of one of the hospital towers and how it might impact medical helicopters, the Federal Aviation Administration was contacted.
“We said we better make sure we talk to the FAA to make sure we’re not going to need to change where our helipad is,” Gabbe says.
But it wasn’t just problems Gabbe and his team had to address. They also needed to look at ideas that might not be able to be implemented for some reason, whether it be funding or the lack of availability of resources.
“We developed what we called ‘circuit breakers,’” Gabbe says. “If our long-range plan is not as positive as we had hoped, we need to come up with a list of parts of the building that we can hold back on.”
It’s easier to come up with these things in the beginning and easier when you have to make adjustments if that possibility is already stated at the beginning of the project. So develop a list that you can refer to in the event something unexpected happens. If it doesn’t, you haven’t lost anything for the effort.
“We presented that to the board that if things are not as good as we had hoped, we will defer the construction of this part of the hospital until things are better,” Gabbe says.
The fact that all this work was supposed to be completed in 100 days was never far from Gabbe’s mind and he made sure it was never far from his team’s mind either.
“You need to create an understanding of the overall importance of the project to the company or the work group and the sense of urgency about the time that’s allowed,” Gabbe says. “Provide a sense of what the timeline is and when this work must be done.”
Keep asking questions
As much effort as you make to work with your team and include others in a project, you still need to make sure everybody else knows what you’ve been up to. Whether that’s the rest of your employees or, in Gabbe’s case, the employees, students and faculty at OSU, you need to share your story with the masses.
And you need to do it before you’ve carved it all in stone.
“You want to do it at a point in time when the plan remains open to change,” Gabbe says. “This is going to be the largest building we’ve ever built at Ohio State and it’s going to be something they are going to pass by or be in every day. They need to feel they had the opportunity to be part of the planning. That was a key question. We wanted to have enough information so they could react to the plan. We wanted to have enough time so we can respond to their constructive criticism.”
Don’t just rely on one meeting to present and wrap everything up. People need an opportunity to hear about what you’re doing, mull it over, and then come back and raise their concerns or ask questions.
“We presented to them the overall design, but we also presented to them a number of different options we had for the hospital plan,” Gabbe says. “‘Here’s how we could do it. Which of these options do you prefer? Here’s how we could do that. Which of those options do you prefer?’ They could come and they could hear the plan and they could participate in the audience response, they could participate in a question-and-answer session, and they could send us their comments to a website so we could review those, as well.”
You should also let people know how they will be affected and be thorough and thinking about the impact of your project on the business, aside from the project itself.
“For example, we know the construction on our campus has disrupted traffic and we know it has made parking more difficult,” Gabbe says. “We tried to do everything we could to get out in front of those plans and let people know why we were doing what we were doing.”
If people have concerns, go out of your way to address them and give the person everything you can to either allay their fears or show that you’re addressing the issue.
“It’s what people don’t know that can be the risk,” Gabbe says. “People then begin to imagine or project. It’s always best when people understand what the finances look like. It’s just very important. There were no secrets. If people said something was wrong or something wasn’t right, we worked together until we were convinced we had the right projections for the future.”
Gabbe and his team worked through the multitude of issues that needed to be addressed and met the challenge. Work on the new James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute is expected to be completed by 2014.
By 2015, the entire expansion to the OSU Medical Center is expected to add more than 10,000 full-time jobs in Ohio, in addition to the 5,000 construction jobs that will have been needed. The center takes in about $1.8 billion in operating revenue each year, but the expansion project is expected to create an additional economic impact of $1.7 billion by 2015.
“It was a great privilege and opportunity to be part of planning something that would make a difference in people’s lives every day for years and years to come,” Gabbe says.
He credits the openness and transparency of his team’s efforts for the successful outcome.
“The communication plan when you’re doing something as big and impactful as this is almost as important and maybe just as important as the plan for the new building itself,” Gabbe says.
How to reach: The Ohio State University Medical Center, (800) 293-5123 or http://medicalcenter.osu.edu.
Ohio State University Medical Center
Born: Newark, N.J.
Education: Bachelor of arts degree, Princeton University; medical degree, Weill Cornell Medical College
What was your very first job?
I was probably about 10 or 11 when I worked on a fishing boat off the New Jersey coast. I helped people bait their hooks and clean their fish, and I got a chance to do some fishing while I worked on the boat. I met a lot of people who got seasick.
Whom has been the biggest influence on who you are today?
Dr. Priscilla White. She was a pioneer at the Joslin [Diabetes Center] in Boston. I developed diabetes when I was a medical student. Dr. White took care of me when I was a resident in Boston. She was a pioneer in the field of diabetes in pregnancy. She began working with women not long after the discovery of insulin. I have dedicated most of my career to taking care of pregnant women with diabetes. She was a huge influence on my career.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Do good, and don’t complain.
If you could sit down with anyone, past or present, whom would it be and why?
Hippocrates. I’d like to learn about the practice of healing as he thought of it in its very earliest stages. As physicians, we take the Hippocratic Oath. I would love to talk with him about how the Hippocratic Oath came to be formulated. It still influences our day-to-day practice of medicine.