Prescription for growth Featured

8:00pm EDT August 29, 2006
 When Peter Hess joined Professional Specialized Pharmacies LLC in 2000, the group had started three new pharmacies and ended the year losing $200,000.

From that difficult beginning, it grew from an $8 million company that banks considered a high risk to a $25 million company that owns and operates seven retail pharmacies and one pharmacy specializing in long-term care under the Mission Pharmacy Services banner. Hess learned that growing a business is more like running a marathon than a sprint, and PSP LLC is keeping a steady pace.

Smart Business spoke to Peter Hess, managing partner and CEO of Professional Specialized Pharmacies LLC, about how he has grown his business.

What is the key to the success of your business?
Everybody talks about their employees, and I have to agree with them. I’d be nowhere without the other people in my company. We have 11 partners in our company — some are employee-owners, some are just plain investors — but having those people that you can trust and depend on makes my job so much easier.

At the same time, we had a situation a few years ago where we had an owner-employee who wasn’t really on board with what we were doing. We had to part ways with that person. You’ve got to get rid of negative influences, and you’re got to get people to believe in what you’re doing.

How do you get those people?
Nothing happens overnight, and a lot of things have to happen over six months or a couple years. I am not in a dictatorial kind of position. I have to convince my fellow owners, at times, of why we want to do something.

Then, vice versa, I have to sell it to my employees. It’s building consensus rather than working on a command and control kind of basis. We work on arriving at the best decision as a group. Let’s beat each other up at times, but once we have the best decision, let’s move forward.

When you’re surrounding yourself with people, you never want to let somebody go, you want to give people every chance in the world. But when there are people who don’t get it, you have to part ways at some point to go in the right direction.

What are the skills a CEO needs to survive?
Perhaps most important to being a leader is to accept risks, take responsibility and make things happen. The theme I kept coming back to was trust and integrity and building up that intangible quality, and that’s what has struck me in the last five years or so.

That has been useful in convincing the bank, convincing my other owners and convincing employees that here’s what we’re going to do, and then doing it.

When it works, you build momentum and some credibility. The more you do that, the more people start buying in to the fact that it’s not a pipe dream — if we do these things, it works.

When you do that, the momentum builds, and that’s where this has turned out to be the homerun of companies.

How do you make decisions?
There’s a book about the life cycles of a company. The basic premise is when a company is young, it makes its decisions on the elevator between the first and second floor. There’s a lot of flexibility in the company.

As the company matures, it can actually reach a point of stagnation where you can’t make a decision without six months of talking about it, and going through 10 or 12 steps of approval. You become very rigid, and it’s tough to make a decision.

I don’t know that we’re on the elevator between first and second floor, but we’ve at least maintained enough flexibility that we can make decisions on a fairly rapid basis.

How do you keep that flexibility?
The environment we try to create here is that if there is disagreement, let’s openly try to work though it. We try to not let egos get in the way and ultimately come to what’s the best decision for the company. As long as we can arrive at the best decision, then we’ve been successful.

In general, it comes down to a philosophy of my role, or other people’s roles. I consider my role to be a facilitator, somebody that gives other people the tools to do their job and do their job well.

Part of my job is not to bottleneck processes, so by the time something gets to me, hopefully I have the right information to make the right decision.

How to reach: Professional Specialized Pharmacies, (724) 545-1600 or