Stressful people waiting for job interview

John DeHart has wanted to be an entrepreneur for as long as he can remember. “When I was about nine, I used to wait by the golf course, fish out golf balls, and sell them back to the players,” he recalls.

The same drive led him to start his first company in 2001. Today that firm, Nurse Next Door, is one of North America’s largest senior home care companies. DeHart built it into a healthcare giant, with 150 franchises in the U.S. and Canada; PROFIT named Nurse Next Door Canada’s Smartest Company in 2014.

But after 13 years, DeHart began to feel a familiar entrepreneurial itch. “I found myself thinking, What is my next project going to be?” he recalls. Craving a new challenge, he and co-founder Ken Sim brought in a CEO at Nurse Next Door, and DeHart started to transition himself out of the day-to-day operations of the company.

DeHart knew he wanted to work on another healthcare-centred business—“I learned early on I wasn’t happy working in tech, and that healthcare is what I wanted to pursue in my career”—but he wasn’t sure what it would be. Then he met Sara Hodson, founder of Live Well Excercise Clinic.

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Live Well focuses on clients with pre-existing health conditions, and encourages them to use exercise to help improve their quality of life. DeHart was inspired by Hodson’s vision for the company, so he and wife Gayla partnered with the founder to to run it. Live Well currently has three franchises, but is looking to expand—fast.

DeHart has brought many of the lessons from his years running Nurse Next Door to his new venture. Among the first he highlights is that passion for the work is essential to any kind of entrepreneurial success. But his main focus these days is on people. “What I’ve learned is, you can never be good enough at hiring,” he says. “The better you get, the higher performance your company is going to have.”

At Nurse Next Door, DeHart says, he would often hire for the needs of the company that year—something he now considers a mistake. “I’ve learned to hire two to three years ahead,” he explains. “When you grow really quickly, you outgrow your people as well.” The skills a company requires in the early days aren’t the same as those necessary for a mid-size company. “At Live Well, [we’re aiming to] have 50 franchise partners in the next few years,” says DeHart. “So I’m not going to hire someone today that can help me run three franchise partners; I’m going to hire someone who has a ton of experience running dozens of franchise partners.”

These days, DeHart is looking for candidates who have experience working in large companies, leading large teams, in rapidly-expanding organizations. “If they haven’t worked in a fast-growth environment, I go through their work history looking for clues to tell me whether or not they can handle plenty of change,” explains DeHart. “[And] not only handle it, but thrive on it. These are the people that generally drive change in the companies they work for, and so they’re pretty easy to spot in the hiring process.”

Of course, predictions can only get you so far—DeHart has to hope that the people he’s hiring today will prove to be the right ones when Live Well reaches its target size. But he’s confident that his time at Nurse Next Door has taught him what kind of talent he needs to create another successful franchise company. “Hire for the future,” he says. “It’s the only way you’re going to be able to scale your company quickly.”


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