Welcome to podcast episode number 11 of the Mobile Alabama Business Podcast with John Hart. My name is Marcus Neto. I own Blue Fish, a digital marketing and web design company based in downtown Mobile. I'm the host of Mobile Alabama Business Podcast, where we talk to local entrepreneurs and business owners about their businesses and how they got start. I'd like to thank you for spending time with us today.
In today's show, I sit down with John Hart to discuss how he got started in the compound pharmaceutical business. John runs and owns Compound Pharmaceutical Technologies. For those of you not aware of what compounding is, it is the creation of a particular pharmaceutical product to fit the unique need of a patient. To do this, compound pharmacists combine or process appropriate ingredients using various tools. The typical example given is when a child needs a specific dosage of a medicine that is not available off the shelf, a compound pharmacy will create it at the dosage needed. They can even add flavouring to it to make it easier for them to take.
John has been at this for a number of years and talks about getting out of the way and letting your management team be free to make decisions. We also talk about his desires to get more involved in theater, which is a hobby he would like to pursue. So let's dive right in with John Hart.
Marcus: Welcome to the podcast, John.
John: Thank you, Marcus. I appreciate the time to be here.
Marcus: I've been looking forward to this interview for a long time now. You're a Blue Fish client, and I've watched you grow your business exponentially over the last couple of years. It's been very exciting to watch. But before we get too far into that, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself. If I remember correctly, you just recently had a baby, right?
John: Oh yes, number four. His name is John Bradley and he's four months old. In fact, I'm married to a wonderful woman name Gillian, and I have a 16-year-old, a 6-year-old, a 4-year-old, and now a 4-and-a-half-month-old.
John: So we are busy and worn out often.
Marcus: [chuckles] And sleep deprived.
John: Well, yes, pretty much. [laughs]
Marcus: Yeah. [laughs]
John: And I guess the older we get, you know, I'm 45 and by 8:30 (at night) I'm done.
John: You know, put the kids down. I'm extremely exhausted, but very blessed and a wonderful opportunity to have children. And so, thank you.
Marcus: Yeah. Now, did you grow up in this area or are you a transplant from...?
John: Actually, I grew up in a very small town called Houston, Texas.
Marcus: Yeah. [laughs]
John: I'm from Texas, native Texan. Lived there until I was about 18. I went into the Navy Reserves, for about four or five months doing my training. My mother and stepfather had moved to Biloxi on a Gulf Coast, which is kind of what got me here.
John: I had applied to Ole Miss and University of South Alabama, got accepted to both places. And then my grades came out, my senior year.
John: And my parents said, "You will be going to South Alabama." [laughs]
John: And once you prove yourself, then you can go wherever you want. And as luck and fate would have it, I ended up graduating from University of South Alabama.
Marcus: Very cool. Tell us a little bit about Compound Pharmaceutical Technologies. What do you do and what is your unique selling proposition?
John: Well, I will tell you kind of how I got started into it. I was initially in sales, selling wine and beer. I had moved off for about a year and went to seminary up in Kentucky. And then realized I really wasn't quite sure what I was going to do with the rest of my life. A friend of mine back from South Alabama had started a pharmacy in Daphne. And I took the opportunity to be the only sales rep and moved down here, started calling on physicians for what's called a compounding pharmacy. And compounding is when medications go off patent, most of those chemicals become available to wholesalers and to pharmacies. We then would take these type of medications and combine them, or change them into different delivery systems. For instance, if a child is having a hard time swallowing a pill, we could take the active chemical, add a flavour to it, and the child would be able to take it, it increases compliance. We also do stuff for nausea. We've expanded into many different disciplines of medication and practice of medicine, from pain management, orthopaedic, dermatology, women's health is real big...
Marcus: Yeah, I was going to say hormone replacement therapy is the one that I always think of.
John: Hormone replacement therapy...
Marcus: Yeah, 'cause the cream that you're able to just kind of spread on, versus having to take any kind of a pill, or something along those lines.
John: And, and so with those disciplines, I always say especially women's health, and hormone replacement for men, as well, it could have a tremendous change. You know, in essence a lot of manufactured medicines, if you look at it from a financial aspect, when a pharmaceutical company makes medication, they want to do the least to make the most profit. And what I mean by that is, they try to scientifically find the one or two doses for the broadest span of patients. So let's say they'll offer two different strengths of a medication that covers 80 percent of the patients. Well, 20 percent of the patients are either not going to have an effective outcome, they might not be able to tolerate it, and that's where compounding comes in and offers a unique opportunity for not only the prescriber, but the patient to receive the medication to help improve their quality of life. So that's sort of an overview of what compounding is.
Marcus: Yeah, my brother-in-law was actually, he worked for a compounding pharmacy here in Mobile for a while, and he was a pharmacy tech for, I don't know, a year or two. And I always just found it very interesting because it's almost like why aren't most pharmacies working in this way. But I guess it makes sense now. I didn't realize that companies kind of dictate the dosages based on what they think is going to produce the most profit margin for them.
John: Well, it all starts with science and what does the disease state require. So I don't want to necessarily say they're choosing specifically what strengths. But when they have a disease state, they are testing different medications and there's a whole, I'm sure as you understand, a trial process, FDA approval, which takes many years, and millions and millions of dollars. And that can turn into why drug costs can be so high and so astronomical.
John: But then pharmaceutical companies will also actually make modest or minimal changes, come back out as a branded product, and charge pretty high amounts of money. And that does go on in the compounding industry, as well. Where there's an opportunity to make money or exploit it or greed to set in, it happens.
John: So I don't want to sit here and say that that has not come into our industry and it certainly has lately. But, I think part of running a good company is trying to steer a course, remain true to who you are, offer a good product. You do need to make a profit, but as soon as you start exploiting or concentrating on just one, your company is going to suffer at the end.
Marcus: Absolutely. So you mentioned that you got started in compounding almost, I mean, that was your entry into this industry because of the guy that you knew that had started a compound pharmacy. I mean, I know you've been doing this for quite a long time, so I'm assuming that was a while back.
John: Yeah. I started in 2000, January 2000, with no experience in medical sales, I'd done a little bit of selling, like I said, with the wine and beer company. I was actually a social worker for a while before that.
Marcus: I had no idea about any of this stuff, so this is awesome. [laughs]
John: Yeah. [laughs] Put your seatbelt on, Marcus. [laughs]
Marcus: [laughs] Yeah.
Marcus: No, it's cool.
John: But I'll think there's a path that we all tend to go on and started up back in, like I said, on the eastern shore. So, I started at sort of a respiratory pharmacy. It was compounding that specializes in inhalation therapy.
John: So, started beating the streets, calling on doctors. You're probably familiar with a nebulizer and breathing treatments, and albuterol. And that's what I went out. I went out, call on doctors, showed them my program, and took care of their patients. In essence, I liked that 'cause we were providing something that was helping patients. When you're helping elderly people with COPD, pediatrics with asthma, or cystic fibrosis, I mean you're doing something that's making a difference.
John: And that's what I liked about it. I enjoyed getting to know the people, I was a sales rep, I enjoyed building the relationships with people, I enjoyed making people happy.
John: You know, and making a difference.
Marcus: You're affecting somebody's life and making it positive. I mean, there is a sales transaction but you're doing good. You know, so yeah.
John: Yeah. Successful sales is about telling a story.
John: You know, when you start getting those stories, I mean, you can turn that into, not only helping the providers that are doing the prescription and the patient, but you're also the people that are working putting together the medications. I mean, there is some beautiful stories that we've had some major impact on people's lives. So, I started doing that and that particular company went in a different direction, and so a few of us went and, went to go work for another compounding pharmacy. I did that for about a year and a half to two years. In about 2007, for many reasons, I decided to open up my own company in 2007 in Daphne, and started out with three to four people.
John: Yeah. In 2007. And so I've been a business owner for about eight years, if my math is correct. [laughs]
Marcus: Yeah. [laughs] You're on mic so we won't hold you to that. But that's really interesting 'cause I know that it's not an easy transition to make to being a business owner. So as an entrepreneur, what's one of the most important things or lessons that you've learned, and are there any books that have influenced you as a business owner that may have led you to that conclusion.
John: Well, I think one of the main principles in one of the, I cannot remember which book, there were two very important books when I was starting this company. 'Cause I knew I didn't know what I was getting myself into. And so I read a book called 'The E-Myth' by Michael Gerber and a real famous book called 'Good to Great' by Jim Collins. In essence, some of the main points I got out of those books were, just because you're a good at sales does not mean you can be a good business owner. And that was one thing that even back then I'm like, "Well that can't be true for me."
John: You know, 'cause you want to have a level of confidence, but you also, I've learned that you have to have humility.
John: You know, 'cause we don't know everything. And one of the other things that I've always tell people until this day, I'm smart enough to know how dumb I am.
John: And one of the things I think out of 'Good to Great' was talking about there's a bus, and you got to make sure you have the right people in the right positions on the bus.
Marcus: On the bus. Yeah.
John: In the right positions, is the most important thing. Because I know my weaknesses probably to a fault.
John: And so I know where I can find strength and talent in other people. 'Cause on one hand I know what I can contribute, and on the other hand I also know where I can be a detriment. And I'm sitting here thinking about the people that have worked for me and do, I do get in the way sometimes, and learning when to step back and let them do.
Marcus: Well, I think any leader feels like they need to make sure that the process that's being followed, as well as the outcome of the process, has their fingerprint on it. And there is a certain level of quality control that we provide to a business, even if it's just something as simple as the script that's used for phone calls or answering the phone, or things like that. I mean, it's basically our name on the business.
John: Correct. And I think one of the things is you're so scared to trust people or to let go.
John: Because you want them to do it the way you think it needs to be done. And I think a good leader steps back and listens, what are all the different ways to approach and execute. And so I think getting out of their way is one of the best things. I just saw I guess, a few months ago, it says, "Great leaders hire great managers and get out of their way."
John: And so that, those were some of the principles that I've held on to. And I always have to constantly remind myself to get back there, especially when things get tight. You start really trying to take control and…
Marcus: Yeah. [chuckles]
John: One of the main things I've learned is that you cannot control what goes on in your industry.
John: And every business is going to change. And I wouldn't even say that I thought that would not be true for our company or our industry. But you forget about human nature, you forget that people are going to take advantage, you forget that people are going to try to exploit and greed sets in. And not that I've never struggled with those thoughts and…
John: You know, those situations. But I've definitely learned having a great team around you, communicating as best as you can, and getting their involvement to help steer the ship.
John: And so that's kind of one of the main lessons I've learned.
Marcus: So you mentioned “E-Myth”, and I often times get questions from people that are in business and have been in business but just haven't seen the growth that they wanted or that are looking to get started in business. And I consider that almost a requirement or required reading for anybody that's thinking about going down that path, because really the premise is just to give people kind of a snapshot of that, the premise of the book is that you need to work as a business owner on the business, and not in the business. So while you may be a very good technician, so using the example of a digital marketing company. I started out as a designer slash front-end developer. But I am, I get my hands slapped by my employees for occasionally stepping in to the work too often, because I should be the one that's providing the vision and encouraging them to push the boundaries, but then also going out and making sure all the other stuff is taken care of. So the accounting is taken care of, making sure that the project management is done, and that the relationship with the clients is good, and that the sales are coming in. The minute that I start getting too deep in the weeds, is the minute that those things stop happening, and that's what they were hired to do. So I would imagine that, I mean, you're a sales guy, a marketing guy, I don't see you in the lab mixing chemicals. So, but I would imagine you've got people in various positions that, and they want you to kind of stay out of those realms to give them the freedom to do the jobs that you've hired them to do, right?
John: Yeah. That's a great point. And I think one of the things I started doing was actually looking at the employees in management the way they were looking at me. [laughs]
John: And what I mean by that is about, I would say within the last year, I removed myself from the management meetings. You're right. I think an owner, it is their job to look at the visions, see the trends that are going on in the industry, try to look down the road. See I'm constantly thinking what's going to happen a year or two or three down the road. But also, you're kind of concerned about today.
John: There's a fine balance with that. And I really understood that in my own management meetings, I was being an obstacle to management.
John: And, not intentionally, and probably wanted to have control, not trusting and all this. And that's when I got that, like I said that, hire good managers and get out of their way. So I kind of moved back, I still have my thumb on management, I do have one-on-ones...
John: With the key management leaders often. But just the routine weekly management meetings I needed to step away from, 'cause I was slowing things down.
Marcus: Give them, yeah, give them the freedom to think creatively on how to approach the problems, instead of always having it come from your brain, right?
John: Yeah. And if you look at it from their viewpoint, it's like, "Does he not trust us or not?"
Marcus: Right. [chuckles]
John: And it wasn't I didn't trust them, but it's part of the thing, you want your hands on everything. I think you set the guidelines, and you train people, um, and I have learned we have to train better, constantly reminding people. We assume you tell them once and we're going to remember it or they're going to do it exactly the same way. So we're making a stronger effort to train internally better and to repeat. And one of the biggest things I learned is man, people cannot read my mind.
John: [laughs] You know.
Marcus: As much as I would love that as business owner, but yet the truth is…
John: And as a wife, as a husband. [laughs]
Marcus: Yeah, exactly. [laughs]
John: And the truth is that hasn't happened yet, so, yeah. [laughs]
Marcus: [laughs] So tell me what are some other resources, like, I know you love to read, which I'm excited about because occasionally I'll run into people that are business owners that don't necessarily read, and I think you need to be, kind of, keeping abreast of what's going on in the business world. But are there any other resources, any other online resources or even offline resources that you use to, kind of get, glean some wisdom from?
John: The first set of resources is, I have mentors. I've learned that in my own personal faith walk, in business, and in marriage, you want to have people that have been where you're trying to go, or obtained a level of success that you are trying to obtain. And I do not mean financially, I mean more internal - joy, happiness, and goodness. And so, I have a couple of mentors that I go to at least monthly for faith direction.
John: Those happen to be some of the same people I talk to about business, 'cause they both deal with those kind of issues and have been through their own journey. And so that's been a real key component of running a business where people are satisfied. I would say that for the most part, we have a good workplace, there's a good spirit there. Unfortunately, we're all human and we have difficult days, and we've had to let people go. And so that's just part of living in this life. But at the end of the day, we try to obtain a good work environment, because this culture is so stressed and has different definitions of success, that we try to remind people that it's not about just making money, and it is not just about them. And I'm constantly trying to remind my employees, and at the same time myself, that we have got to think of the other, not just ourselves.
Marcus: Do you all think of this as, you may not be familiar with the term 'lifestyle business' or a 'lifestyle company'. I mean, do you think of CPT as a lifestyle business?
John: Well, we have, we've built our company around five different pillars that holds up sort of our company - quality, profitability, customer service, and one of the main components is quality of life for the employees. And so, yes.
Marcus: Very cool.
John: We do, you know, that's a major component of what we do. We try to do things once a quarter. We've rented out a skating rink...
Marcus: Oh cool.
John: ...before. It was a night, it was eight of us, and I always wanted to drink a beer at the skating rink. [laughs]
Marcus: [laughs] We live in the ‘80's. [laughs]
John: Yeah man. We actually, it was an ‘80's theme.
John: And so this was about four, five years ago.
Marcus: Lots of neon and poofy hair?
John: Well actually we all dressed up, I mean, we had Madonna lookalikes, I dressed up as Bender from 'Breakfast Club'...
John: And that was one of our favorite movies, man.
John: And I got everybody in the middle, and I did a scene from 'Breakfast Club'.
Marcus: That's cool.
John: That was just funny and it's good to just…
John: Get to know people outside of work.
John: One of the other resources is obviously I've looked at a lot of Ted Talks on-line. I think that's been a huge component.
Marcus: Those are awesome.
John: One of the main books I've been reading recently is called 'Daring Greatly' by Brene Brown. And she's actually a Texan, as well. But the premise of her book is that we are not vulnerable enough as people. Basically, she always looked at vulnerability as a weakness and fear and shame, and all these negative components of it. But what she says vulnerability is actually the birthplace for joy and happiness…
John: And courage. It's a very powerful concept, because if I'm fearful I never would have opened the company. Right?
John: Out of fear of failure, which I definitely struggle with at times today. I would have never, in my essence, contributed and allowed other employees to contribute to my life. That would have never happened. So it takes courage to do these things and it takes faith and it's the knowing that you're going to have tough times and you're going to fail, but what a great way to look at other people. I've even asked that question in my own faith, you know. Why am I so worried? If I'm not, if can't be vulnerable with God, then who can I be vulnerable with? So I try to apply business and faith and family life, and try to stir in all areas of those lives, so I try not to just concentrate on one area.
Marcus: Sure. It was interesting you bring that up. And I don't remember the percentage, it was a very large percentage. Say it was, and I'm pulling this number out of the air, it was like 80 or 85 percent of CEOs suffer with Impostor Syndrome. Right? Because so many of us start down this path and it's like, “The E-Myth” talks about the lady that is a baker and she just loves baking and she's really good at it. And so somebody tells her, "Oh you ought to start a business selling pies or baking bread" or whatever it is that she sells in the book. And all of a sudden she finds herself with basically a job that she's created and not necessarily a business, and it goes on from there. But I just think that, it's interesting to me that so many of us have started this as a great technician, right? And so we're good at whatever it is that we're trying to start the business in. But that there's so much to be learned in owning a business, everything from how to read profit and loss statements, to insurance that you might need, to marketing yourself, and so on and so forth. And there's just so much to consume that it becomes a little bit of an overwhelming situation. But it, it's important to just kind of keep it in our minds that it's just, it's really just one step. It's a journey, right? We don't have to know it all today. I mean, there are some things that'll be really beneficial to know today, especially if it's going to create a liability or create a situation where you expose yourself too much. And I don't mean in a vulnerable sense, I mean in a liability like insurance or something along those lines. But in the grand scheme of things, I don't think any of us are alone in that fear that you're talking about, that vulnerability and just not knowing how to put ourselves out there, how much to put ourselves out there without exposing too much.
John: Well, you know, I think one of the things that I would, I hope to get across to the people that I work with, is that I try to be real and honest. And I may not be able to have conversations with them everyday, but I think once a month they get my spirit and my heart. And I do care about them. At the end of the day, it's about people and connections. And I think, and in my own journey, I started off small, we had some success and I got bigger. And looking back, and if this is intended to help current business owners, or people that are going to get the courage to go for it, getting bigger isn't always necessarily the best thing. And I think I've learned, as I'm in the midst right now of restructuring our company. If you think about success and to me, it's not about how much money or how many people you have employed. I think success needs to be more about the quality of life... for me, for me is for who I am. As soon as it becomes about the money, then you're going to be the big pharmaceutical company charging… Thousands of dollars for medication that doesn't really cost that. And what I mean by that it becomes about the profit and not about the person. And so I think this world will be a lot better off if we had a lot more small businesses, because that's when you can make the most impact. We're not trying to take over the world. We need to get back to our roots of who we are as a company, and that is impacting people's lives and impacting the people that work for us. And when you get out of control or get too big, you're not able to, or at least I'm not able to handle all that change.
John: And so I'm actually in the process of redefining and getting back to the roots.
Marcus: That's awesome. Let's change direction just slightly. I like to ask business owners, I find that they're really focused on their businesses, but they also have hobbies that allow them to stay balanced. And you're giving me kind of a look, so what do you like to do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?
John: I love to change diapers…
John: I love to clean up throw up and… [laughs]
Marcus: Yeah, he did mention that he just had a baby, right? So, yeah, I would imagine that's consuming quite a lot of time right now. But I mean do you enjoy going to the beach? Do you have a boat? Do you fish? Do you…
John: I would say…
Marcus: Play badminton?
John: [laughs] Yeah.
John: Play in a one-man polo match.
John: You know, I would say what I would love and wish I could do more is, I love to duck hunt, I love to fish...
Marcus: Very cool.
John: All that revolves around just being outdoors.
John: And seeing a beautiful sunrise, taking my kids hunting or fishing. It's more about the experience, if you actually accomplish and catch fish, that's half of it. But most of it is just creating those memories. And as a business owner, sometimes that stuff gets compromised. You have to fight for your time and…
Marcus: You really do.
John: In this busy society, you know, you have to fight. Losing sight of our children or our wives or our spouses, we need to bring that back in the balance. So I think the biggest thing is just finding a balance with all that. I love tennis, I love running. One of the other things that I hope to do in the future is maybe do some community theatre.
Marcus: Oh very cool.
John: Yeah, you know, it's just something I did back in college.
Marcus: See, the things you learn about John on our podcast.
John: Yeah. I'm telling you man. Seatbelt still on. [laughs]
Marcus: Yeah. [laughs] I've met you for a number of years and I had no idea.
Marcus: Do you have acting experience?
John: I would say that in college I did four or five community theatre plays. I've actually done a couple of stand-ins, which is not acting at all.
John: For some of the local companies around here. But I'd really like to maybe get back into doing some community theatre. I did stand-up comedy for about a year and…
John: I would say… [laughs]
Marcus: That's great.
John: So you know how that turned out. [laughs]
Marcus: [laughs] Oh, that's great. You know...
John: But you know, I had fun, I had the courage to get up there.
John: And I miss that. I've done a lot of that for the company, but it's time to also take care...
Marcus: You know, Erin Langley from the Eastern Shore Repertory Theatre.
John: Yes. Oh yeah.
Marcus: And she's just a phenomenal person and we built a website for them a while back. She's…
Marcus: She's got a really good thing going on over there.
John: Yeah. She does. She does.
Marcus: Yeah. [inaudible]
John: She's great. She and her husband, Carl, we used to go to church together.
John: So I know they're family very well. I know the level of production that she's been involved with, and I'm very happy that she's achieved the level of success that she has.
John: She deserves it, too.
Marcus: Yeah. That's cool. I would encourage you to do that then, if that's something that, you know, I know it's a time commitment. But, I mean, it is, why do we start these businesses if it's not to be able to do the things that we're passionate about?
John: Yeah. And one thing, you know, one of the things that's been, that's helpful is having a spouse involved in some of the difficult decisions I've had to make.
John: But also she's the one that's encouraged me to go back and get into some community theatre. So I think having a spouse, and we have to work on that, it just doesn't come naturally.
John: We got married a little bit older in our life. So having to learn all that and balance all that, at the end of the day, I'm hoping that she's able to achieve her dreams and me too. And so we'll see what all that means. But her encouraging me to go fishing and to go hunting, and to go do some community theatre is a phenomenal spouse.
Marcus: That's really cool.
John: And I just need to listen to her.
Marcus: [laughs] Take that advice.
John: Which as a man, is very difficult to do.
Marcus: Yeah, so final question, what does an average day look like for you? Do you have any kind of set regimen that, you know, do you get up at a certain time? Do you go to the gym? Do you go for a run? Do you read a little bit? Do you answer emails first thing? You know, what does the beginning of your day look like?
John: I would still say have your seatbelt on, it depends.
John: But I think on most days, my intention is to wake up before my children do, which means I have to try to get up around 5:30 if I can 'cause they're usually up by 6 or 6:30. Have some quiet time, prayer time, devotion, try to get started on the right day. Then, help, be involved with the kids as much as I can. Get them ready for school or feed them. Get them off, usually get to the office. And at the office it just depends on what I'm working on. What's coming up. You know, like I said, recently there's been a lot of change in our industry, so I've been really kind of working on the plan. Emails are kind of coming throughout the day…
John: So I'm checking those.
Marcus: It's like death by a thousand paper cuts there with emails any more. So…
John: Correct, correct. And I'm trying at least three to five days a week some sort of exercise, interval. I tell you what, eating healthy has been, has made a tremendous impact. And I think many times I put a hurting on some food in difficult times… [laughs]
John: You know, the company's life. But the last two or three years, my wife and I have really planned more Paleo, and we wanted to help fund a sustainable farm, local farming. It's really getting into purchasing more local produce and eating healthier. All that to say is that you've got to take care of - business owners have to take care of a lot, but they have to also at the same time balance and take care of themselves and their family. And I hope the family, they're considering their work to be part of their family.
Marcus: Absolutely. So, alright, so where can people find you?
John: We are located in Daphne, Alabama. Our website is www.cptinc.org, and we are actually licensed in about 23 states. So we're able to ship medications into 23 states. So on our website, which is a little outdated, but we will be fixing that soon.
Marcus: We can help with that. [laughs]
Marcus: [laughs] No pressure. But you heard it here, folks.
John: Correct. Correct. So, yeah. Thank you for asking.
Marcus: Well I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. Your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur shows that you're willing to be vulnerable and share that information with other people that might need to hear something that was discussed today. It was great talking.
John: Well, thank you for your time and good luck in your own job, too.
Marcus: Yeah, I appreciate that.