We brought Lance Barnard to the show today to talk about his unique journey into entrepreneurship. Lance is CEO at Ward Road Pharmacy, a pharmaceuticals company that provides the convenience of a “one-stop-shop” for prescriptions and homecare supplies, expert advice, friendly service, and individualized solutions. He acquired it through a self-funded search, where an entrepreneur embarks on the journey of searching for a company without funding or an installed base of investors, opting instead to secure their funding once they’ve found their company.
Lance grew up in New Jersey but wanted something different when it was time to go to college. So, he went to Southern Methodist University in Texas for his undergrad and studied business, which had always been his interest.
In this episode, Lance shared his career experiences at Goldman-Sachs and Samsung Electronics, how he adapted to different company cultures, and coming to the Bay area to pursue his MBA at Haas, which has its own set of cultures.
Lance also talked about how he was introduced to search funds, why self-funded search appeals to him more than traditional search, and his journey into acquiring Ward Road Pharmacy.
On the time he spent in Texas
“Overall, I enjoyed my time there. I think I got a really good education, learned a lot more just about the energy industry, which I never would have if I had gone elsewhere, got to experience a different perspective, and live in a different part of the country. I think that it did a good job exposing me to a lot of new things.”
On starting with a finance career as a young professional
“I was straddling between do I want to go do a career in finance, maybe go into banking and go into private equity, or did I want to do something more entrepreneurial? In the back of my mind, I probably knew the answer to that, but I thought, at the very least, starting my career in finance would be the best way to gain the core set of skills to be successful in business later in life.”
Why he got into search funds
“It’s a bigger version of what I had previously done, buying my Amazon business, but stepping in. And it resonated with me because I don’t think I’ve ever—unfortunately, just never had that spark to bring something from zero to one. I like to tell people I think I’m better suited to bring something from one to 10 than zero to one. I’m just really good at optimizing processes, improving things, efficiency, and having the resources to do big implementations or take some risks. And that’s not something I necessarily get to do if I was starting from the ground up with limited resources. So, that model just resonated with me.”
One piece of advice that had a positive impact on his life
“Just not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. And always be comfortable being uncomfortable. I think that’s probably a borrowed phrase. I don’t know who to attribute it to, but my previous manager told me that. It’s something that stuck with me. If you’re totally comfortable, you’re probably not pushing yourself harder enough.”
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
[00:00] Chris: Welcome to the OneHaas Podcast. I’m Chris Kim. Today, we have Lance Barnard, Berkeley Haas MBA and CEO of Ward Road Pharmacy in Denver, Colorado. Lance is an experienced finance professional, entrepreneur, and leads Ward Road Pharmacy, an institutional pharmacy that provides the highest level of service, specializing in long-term care, compounding, and home care products. Lance, welcome, and great to have you on the show.
[00:29] Lance: Great to be here, Chris. Thanks so much.
[00:31] Chris: Lance, it’s great to have you on the show today. We’d love to just start with your background in terms of some of the specifics. You’re Berkeley Haas MBA. You did your undergrad at SMU (Southern Methodist University), studying business. And before you were the CEO of Ward Road Pharmacy, you worked at places like Goldman Sachs and Samsung Electronics. You’ve also lived in a ton of different places—the East Coast, West Coast, you’re sharing Texas and Utah, and now Colorado. Where did you grow up? And where did your story begin?
[00:58] Lance: So, I grew up in New Jersey. And I was there my entire childhood up until I turned 18. And most of my friends were going to tri-state area schools or schools on the East Coast. Lots of great schools out there. But I wanted to venture outside that, experience something different. And so, I was looking for business finance undergrad programs. And SMU (Southern Methodist University) had a pretty good one. And I applied to that, and ended up getting a scholarship to go there. And that’s what brought me up to Texas.
[01:32] Chris: That’s amazing. Lance, when you were going through that college search program, a lot of folks were still pretty young. But it’s such an important inflection point. And a lot of stuff goes through people’s minds, like, why did you want to study business and finance? And how did you end up thinking about even going to SMU, considering it’s pretty far from New Jersey?
[01:51] Lance: And I’ll be totally honest, I had never visited Texas prior and had really not even heard of SMU until it was the college application process. But basically, I had always thought I wanted to do something business, finance. That always interested me even as a kid. I was that kid who was starting up random businesses. I had a snow shoveling business and a lawn-mowing business. So, I started out at a young age. Probably did my first round of snow shoveling when I was, gosh, 10, 11, 12 years old, just going out there for neighbors, bringing out flyers. But I love the idea of a business. I’ve always liked playing Monopoly and all the tycoon games. And I definitely wanted to go into the business or finance world. And I was looking for a good undergrad program, and didn’t want a massive school. I wanted to get to know my professors and have a closer group of friends and not feel like I was one in a million, ruled out the really large schools, and from there just looked at the top undergrad business and finance programs out there and applied, and again, was fortunate enough to get a scholarship out at SMU. And that made it an easy choice.
[03:00] Chris: Can you explain a bit about what your experience life was like when you landed in Dallas? Dallas is, maybe, a very different place from New Jersey. But it seems like you did pretty well and transitioned into that college life.
[03:12] Lance: Yeah, it was a bit of a culture shock, for sure. Just all around, everything from the climate to the politics, the way people dressed, it was all pretty different from what I was used to. So, I had barely ever been in weather above 100 degrees. And for the first few weeks I was at SMU, it was over 100 degrees every single day for 30, 60 days.
[03:35] Chris: Oh, my gosh.
[03:37] Lance: And the crazy thing is, in the summer, even at night, it doesn’t go much below that. So, it’s still hot at night. And so, that was honestly the hardest part about moving out there, was just getting used to the heat. And as someone who wasn’t always the best about drinking water, I’d begin headaches all the time and whatever. But I ended up getting used to that. The Texas way of doing things is definitely different, a little bit more country. People in Texas very fiercely defend Texas. There’s a lot of state pride. And they’re very careful to call themselves Texans and not Southerners, which is a mistake I learned pretty early on. But yeah, that whole “everything is bigger in Texas” definitely applies to a lot of different things, a lot of big personalities out there.
The New Jersey where I grew up, a lot of things were like—everything was old. You’d have houses that were from the 1800s. And everything is so rooted in deep histories and has been there since the founding of the US. In Texas, everything was new. It was like something old was considered 1970s, 1980s. So, that was exciting to see a lot of new age stuff in Texas. At the time, it was going through a tremendous amount of growth. A lot of businesses were moving out there, which has only continued to accelerate since then. Friendly place regulatory-wise. And we’ve recently seen even some Bay Area companies moving out there, a lot of big companies moving out there. And Austin at the time was nothing city. And now, it’s this forefront for tech.
But yeah, Texas was definitely a good experience. The only thing that I really found missing there was—I’m a big outdoors guy, I love hiking and skiing, which probably makes sense, given where I ended up landed—and Texas did not have a lot of that. It’s pretty flat and not the most scenic place, I would say, with Dallas. But overall, I enjoyed my time there. I think I got a really good education, learned a lot more just about the energy industry, which I never would have if I had gone elsewhere, got to experience a different perspective, and live in a different part of the country. I think that it did a good job exposing me to a lot of new things.
[05:39] Chris: Lance, you said you’re really passionate about going to business or maybe financing. You ended up, after you graduated, going into finance. Can you explain a bit about what that journey was like, included maybe even moving, and what that experience was like being a young professional coming out of college?
[05:55] Lance: Yeah. So, I didn’t go through any major career pivots or intentions when I was at SMU. I came in wanting to do business finance and left doing business finance. Around sophomore junior year, I had internships. I had an internship in private equity and was on that traditional finance route. At the time, I was straddling between do I want to go do a career in finance, maybe go into banking and go into private equity, or did I want to do something more entrepreneurial? In the back of my mind, I probably knew the answer to that, but I thought, at the very least, starting my career in finance would be the best way to gain that, really, core set of skills to be successful at business later in life. So, learning how to read financial statements and learning to use Excel and all the things that you get to learn as an analyst working for a bank. Did end up interviewing for an equity research position at Goldman Sachs. The name was obviously a big factor. Working for a large reputable company, I knew that would serve me well, regardless of where I went, and I’d get that core skill set. So, it was a no-brainer for me to apply to that. Fortunately got the job, and that ended up being a fantastic springboard for the rest of my career. And as an added bonus, that’s where I met my wife.
[07:13] Chris: For some of the folks who aren’t as familiar with banking and some of the roles, could you explain a bit what an equity research analyst will typically do and how that role fits within the broader context of the bank?
[07:24] Lance: Yeah. So, most people, when they think about investment banks, they’re thinking about mergers and acquisitions and capital raises and STEP financing. Equity research is a bit different. So, equity research is studying companies in the public market and writing up articles on those, tracking their earnings, providing commentary, and generally, where you think the stock is headed directionally. So, the clients for equity research are typically institutional investors—pensions, hedge funds, money managers. They’ll read your reports and your analysis. And you also get to talk a lot with company executives in your coverage. So, I covered the retail sector. So, I covered a lot of mall-based apparel companies. I covered Nike, Under Armour, Lululemon, and some of the department stores. And every quarter, we’d log in super early in the morning, analyze the earnings, and provide our insight on what was happening, both at the company-wide level and the macro level.
[08:28] Chris: Lance, for a lot of folks, going to Goldman is a dream job. And that was your first job. And you definitely had a really awesome career after that. Once you got settled in, maybe you were thinking about what was next, what was going through your mind at that point? And what was that experience like, both before starting the MBA and then deciding to actually go to the MBA program?
[08:48] Lance: So, my journey to the MBA from Goldman was, I was about a year and a half to my job and got that entrepreneurial itch that I wanted to try something on my own. And it felt that I’ve gained a good amount of knowledge over the past year and a half and wanted to see what it would look like to do something on my own. So, I ended up actually buying my first company. And that’s what led me to leave Goldman. It was a small Amazon FBA business. I was the only person running it. But selling health and beauty products, had a decent reputation and cash flow, at least, for that time. And I was eager to see where I could grow things.
And so, I left my job at Goldman to go do that full-time for about a year and a half. And so, during that time, I learned a lot about search engine optimization and running a business. It was a really good intro to figuring out how to run a business. And the company, I actually still have it today. It still runs. But after a certain point, it plateaued and I couldn’t figure out how to bring it to the next level. And I was like, “All right. So, I have more or less automated a lot of the processes, and have a lot of time on my hands. I need something else to do.”
And a friend of mine introduced me to a hiring manager at Samsung who was looking to help grow out the trade-in division, so trading in your mobile phone for a new phone. That was a novel concept at the time. It wasn’t happening in a lot of places, but we knew that there was a lot of residual value in phones and that you could trade it in for credit. My boss hired me to help start that program up and see where we took it. So, in the years that I was there, we grew it from, basically, zero to 100-million-a-year business, just trading in phones, refurbishing them. We started up a certified pre-owned division within the team and managed that process end-to-end.
And so, that was a unique job. It was a combination of finance, operations, logistics, making some trips out to warehouses, doing the financial analysis, figuring out how much we should offer in trade-in credit, a bit of project management thrown in there, starting up new programs here and there. We expanded out to other categories—laptops and even audio devices, like headphones, trading those in. And so, Samsung was really at the forefront of that whole trade-in movement, which now everyone has. You can trade in your phone anywhere, or pretty much, any electronic device.
So, that was a really cool experience. But it was actually my boss who had suggested it. He didn’t say, “Hey, have you ever thought about doing an MBA?” He had come from a consulting background. “And I think that’s really good… that’ll give you a lot of optionality. And it’s necessary to continue further and become an executive at Samsung, if that’s what you want to do. But otherwise, it’s just a good thing to have.” I was like, “Yeah, that’s probably a good point.” And then my girlfriend at the time was also looking to do an MBA. So, we studied together for the GMAT and started the application process together and applied to the same schools, thankfully got into the same schools. And we’ve applied to several different programs. We’ve applied to some MBAs in the East Coast, in the West Coast, and even in Texas. And at the end of the day, the decision to come to Haas, again, I still knew that I had wanted to do entrepreneurship at some point. And Berkeley is pretty well-known for its startup culture. Cristina, my wife, wanted to go into venture capital. And there’s no better place to do that than the Bay Area. It made sense for both of us. And I was like, “We’re going to go to this huge startup hub, the startup hub of America, and figure out what we want to do next.” And that’s what led us to apply.
[12:19] Chris: That’s awesome, Lance. What was it like? Maybe, you could share some perspective in a lot of Haasies, whether they’re career-pivoting or something or thinking about doing something different. You went from working at a really well-known bank and then going to, really, a global company, but in many ways still an international company, a very strong Korean culture over at Samsung. Can you explain, maybe, a bit what that experience was like, working for a company that’s global but also has a strong culture? And then could you also explain what it was like coming from outside the Bay Area and then coming to Berkeley Haas and almost experiencing a totally different culture there as well?
[12:53] Lance: Absolutely, yeah. Every move that I’ve made, I’ll say that there’s been a pretty big culture difference. Goldman has its own culture, too. And it’s 24/7. Everything is urgent. You’re with a lot of people who are sharp and driven and motivated. That was great to be in that environment right out of school. Definitely pushed me to be better. And then I was solo for a year doing my thing. And then when I joined Samsung, that job was also in Texas. So, I moved to Utah for the job at Goldman, moved back to Texas for that job. So, I’d already figured out Texas, knew what was going on there. But working for Samsung, that was a huge culture shock as well. People don’t know this about Samsung, but Samsung does everything. And I mean that. They have, in addition to what we know them for the electronics element, they have an automotive arm. They have a healthcare arm. They have amusement parks. They have hotels. I think they represent between six and 10% of South Korea’s GDP, just in that one company.
[13:56] Chris: Oh, my gosh. Wow.
[13:58] Lance: So, it’s pretty insane. I think a lot of people in the US tend to just work for companies based in the US, and working for a company that’s not headquartered in the US is totally a different experience. And the US division, while it’s probably the largest division, is still, at the end of the day, a subsidiary of South Korea. And everyone, at the end of the day, is reporting back to HQ. So, there were language barriers that we had to overcome. The company does have the concept of a dispatcher, which really serves as people who help communicate what’s going on in your day to day in your quarter and what your targets are. And they relay that back to HQ. And then HQ works through them to express what it is that they want to see.
And so, you had this middleman that’s just necessary because of the environment and the language gap. But it was really cool. It was great to work with the company. I got to work with people, not just from Korea but even in Europe. And so, that was pretty exciting, just to work for a truly global company. Definitely, the Korean culture is pretty different than US culture. It took some getting used to, just how expectations on communication and how you’re supposed to address people, even. Just a lot of minor nuances that you learn. So, it was a great perspective.
And then, I think the last part of your question was going to Berkeley as an outsider. So, when I applied to grad school, I stayed at my job at Samsung. So, I did the EDW program. So, I kept my job. I guess I technically transferred to the Mountain View office. But really, it was more of a remote work situation. I did that before it became cool and everyone else did it with COVID. But moving out to the Bay Area, again, another just totally different experience. I moved from an undergrad program and a general area that was fairly conservative. And it just had a certain—the energy business dominates out there. And working for Samsung to the Bay Area, which is just a totally, totally different environment. And I absolutely loved immediately off the bat the nature. I thought Haas was gorgeous. I thought the Bay Area was stunning. The weather was phenomenal. That was all great. Not so great, the cost of living. And running my businesses became a little bit more challenging. Every single move, I’ve been grateful for, because it’s given me a lot of additional perspective on life. And I really did enjoy my time in the Bay. I think I knew, at the end of the day, I wasn’t where I was necessarily going to end up. But it was a great two years.
[16:38] Chris: Lance, can you explain any memories that you have during the program, or any difficulties or obstacles that you overcame? And then, how did you end up deciding that you wanted to strike out and become an entrepreneur or take a more entrepreneurial route again after being at such a big company like Samsung?
[16:53] Lance: Yeah, I came in with the intent of doing something entrepreneurial. I didn’t know if that would mean joining a startup. And that’s, for a while, what I thought I would do, look for some series seed round, series A, series B, series C, whatever it was company and be a key member of growing there or start my own thing. And so, I pursued a lot of different paths right off the bat and got briefly involved with Berkeley SkyDeck. My wife got much more involved than I did. And applied for a fellowship at a forum through the law school at Berkeley, which was small business law. That was great. Learned a lot there. And so, I was exploring all these different paths for entrepreneurship. And within, I would say it was the first month or so, there was a speaker coming to talk about the concept of entrepreneurship through acquisition and the term “search fund.” And that’s where I heard the terminology first. One of the search fund investors came out. And they pitched, “Hey, you can become a CEO of a company and buy it and grow it and be responsible for the day-to-day and have significant equity stake.” And I was like, “Wow, that sounds amazing. That’s exactly what I want to do.” It’s a bigger version of what I had previously done, buying my Amazon business, but stepping in. And it resonated with me because I don’t think I’ve ever—unfortunately, just never had that spark to bring something from zero to one. I like to tell people I think I’m better suited to bring something from one to 10 than zero to one. I’m just really good at optimizing processes, improving things, efficiency, and having the resources to do big implementations or take some risks. And that’s not something I necessarily get to do if I was starting from the ground up with limited resources.
So, that model just resonated with me. Very quickly, within one month, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and it was just a matter of execution. So, the rest of my time at Haas was just spent learning more about that search fund world, all the different things that entails, going to conferences, making connections, meeting investors, and ultimately finding and buying a company.
[19:01] Chris: Lance, I think, for folks who are on campus, the whole idea of becoming an entrepreneur through acquisition or being an executive through acquisition, that search fund concept, it’s becoming really more commonplace, and a couple of Haasies have really done really well, including folks like yourself. Could you explain a bit about what that process is like, tactically, what happens, and then how does someone go from where they are today to actually identifying a company and then taking it over as the executive?
[19:27] Lance: Yeah. So, there are two forms of search funds, really. There’s what’s called the traditional search and self-funded search. So, a traditional search fund, that’s what I’ve learned about first at Haas when those speakers came out. It’s a mechanism where you raise a fund from a set of private equity sponsors, and they’ll pay you a stipend to go out and search for a business for a year or two years. And they’ll help you navigate that, and provide resources. But ultimately, you go out there and look for a business of a certain size. And that’s typically in the 10 to $20-million range. And you go and find that business and then present it to your consortium of investors. And if they all think that it’s a good investment, they’ll fund the acquisition for you, and then you step in as CEO, and you hit the ground running and try to improve things and grow the company as much as you can. And if you do well, you’re incentivized through equity stake.
You can do it either as a solo or a partnered search. If you do it solo, you can invest up to 25% equity, which is pretty good because you don’t put up any capital. And if you’ve grown the company to a certain extent, you can get a pretty decent size equity stake in that company, in addition to a salary. So, it provides a lot of opportunities. And then you get this really nice network of having your investors and having a board and all that. So, that was the first model that I learned about and was originally the path I was going on.
And then at one of the conferences—so there are two big search fund conferences a year. There’s one hosted by Kellogg Booth and one hosted by Harvard. I went to both of those. And I found out about the self-funded model. And the self-funded model is a little bit of a misnomer. It’s not that I had a stack of millions of dollars going into this and being like I can just fund it and buy a business myself. But there’s a program called the SBA program (Small Business Administration). They run what’s called the SBA 7(a) loan. And people may have heard about that through the pandemic. There were a lot of subsidies and payroll protection. It’s all under the SBA umbrella. But the SBA 7(a) loan is a loan of up to $5 million. And it doesn’t have to be asset-backed. It can be basically cash flow-based. And the requirement is that you can use it to fund a business acquisition.
So, once I found out about that, I was like, “Man, I can get a $5 million debt note, maybe raise some capital on the side. And instead of investing 25% equity in a business, I can pretty much hold on to all the equity myself.” And it will be a smaller business. It wouldn’t quite be a 15, $20-million business. But to me, the upside seemed to be pretty substantial. And I like the autonomy that the self-funded model provided.
Now, it’s definitely a riskier play because you do incur diligence costs and no one’s paying for you to search that would be in a traditional search fund. But ultimately, if you’re able to grow things and grow things well, there’s a good amount of upside. And I think it’s just a slightly different personality, someone who wants to have complete autonomy for their decision, the decision-making process and the trajectory of the company. And that resonated well with me, in addition to the financial element of it. And so, I decided to do the self-funded route.
[23:04] Chris: Lance, once you found out which direction you want to go or the channel that you want to utilize, how did you identify the business and go through that process of actually acquiring and then becoming the CEO of Ward Road Pharmacy?
[23:15] Lance: So, I started out my search. The other thing that self-funded search allows you to do is, since you’re the one doing it, you can control where you want to search and you can choose the pace at which you pursue that search. So, you can do it part-time. You can do it full-time. It’s generally not recommended that you do it part-time because it is a labor-intensive process, especially once you find a deal. But that is what I did. And it ended up working out.
[23:40] Chris: Oh, wow.
[23:41] Lance: So, I was silly in that respect. I had my job. I was still working at my company. I was going through my MBA, and, on the side, looking for a business to buy. So, it was a busy year for me. And I think that this coincided with COVID. Working from home, not having to commute helped with that. So, it ended up giving me some extra time. And I think that’s the only way that I was able to pull that off.
But basically, once I decided to search, I looked geographically. My wife and I met in Salt Lake City. We really liked mountain towns. We figured that we wanted to go out and go back to a mountain town. So, we started looking for businesses in Salt Lake City and Denver, primarily those two areas. And that would have opportunities for both of us. And connecting with small business owners, just direct outreach through email, working with investment banks, working with small business brokers. So, I ended up finding mine through an investment bank. What resonated with me about the company, I didn’t have a background in healthcare, but I did have a decent background in operations and logistics, and this company shipped out on a daily basis across the state of Colorado prescription medications and home care supplies and compounds. So, I was like, “This is something I can wrap my head around.” I think I can be pretty efficient and help drive efficiencies eventually to get growth. It was an asset that had been more or less passively managed for the last couple of years by a money management company that really hadn’t moved the needle much with the company. So, as a company, I saw some opportunities there.
And then the final thing was that, by the time I found this business, we were several months into COVID. And you look at a lot of businesses during COVID and they were just absolutely decimated—down 20, 30, 40%. This company was resilient. And that’s another profile of the search fund. You’re typically looking for a B2B, low customer concentration, recurring cash flow, stable business that gives you a good foundation to build off of. And this checked all those boxes. It was a company that just had a lot of opportunity, and hadn’t missed a beat. It was an essential service. So, it was never shut down during COVID. And it actually had grown a little bit during COVID. I was super excited about that. And then I flew out here and met the team and really liked the team and ultimately placed an offer on it. There was a prolonged process there of the initial offer and then the letter of intents and negotiations around the contract, the purchase agreement. It ended up taking several months to do. But I closed on it in May of last year. And so, I’m coming up on the one-year mark now.
[26:14] Chris: Wow, congratulations. When people think about pharmacies, they often think about just their corner store retail pharmacy. But your company is a little bit different there. Could you maybe explain what kind of business you do? I think it’s called institutional pharmacy, is that right?
[26:29] Lance: Yeah. Institutional, long-term care, closed-door pharmacy, they all pretty much mean the same thing. What that means is that it’s not like a Walgreens. You can’t walk in off the street into our store and say, “Hey, can you fill my prescription?” We primarily service group homes, assisted living facilities. And rather than do prescriptions on a one-off basis, we’ll fill scripts for an entire home or an entire nursing agency. It’s different there. So, we specialize in the intellectually and developmentally disabled community. So, that’s our primary clientele. And so, all of our patients are on Medicaid. Some of them have primary insurance as well, but they need to be at least a Medicaid patient. And they need to be under some kind of managed care. So, that can be either a nursing agency. It can be in an assisted living or group home facility or parents that are just taking care of their kids. All of our clients are under some sort of managed care.
And the other thing that makes us unique, so that’s the pharmacy element, but several years ago, the same clientele prior to me buying the company approached the pharmacy and said, “Hey, can you guys maybe provide us with some gloves or with some basic home care supplies?” And they did. The previous owner—the founder of the company—had the foresight to see the opportunity there and start to develop that. And then that grew and grew. And now, that’s almost about half of the company. And we found out that, really, if everyone can get all of their supplies to take care of their patients from one place rather than getting your prescriptions from one place and your incontinence supplies from another and your wound care products from another, if you can get it all from one vendor and that vendor provides a good level of customer service, then that just makes their lives significantly easier. And they get one bill at the end of the month. And so, that’s our unique value-add, is that we do both home care supplies and pharmacy prescription services and are able to consolidate what may have otherwise been five, 10, 15 vendors servicing a patient into one.
[28:33] Chris: Lance, a lot of people dream about one day becoming a CEO. You closed on the deal. Then, you’re actually the CEO of a company now. What was that like being the leader for the company? And what were some of the early things that you decided you wanted to do in order to really just help the business to grow, whether it’s people-wise or operations or core business itself?
[28:52] Lance: I’ll tell you. The first day when I closed, I’ll always remember that. It was just surreal. It had been two years or a year and a half of work to get to that point. So, there was a lot of initial excitement there. Couldn’t believe that, finally, the deal was done. I got the keys to the building and the security codes and all that. So, that was super exciting. And then on my first day, the previous owner brought me and gathered the team together, introduced me and gave me a chance to introduce myself. I think there was definitely some excitement, some nervousness on the part of the staff and myself working with an unknown quantity of fairly young guys. They found out then that I didn’t really have the healthcare experience. So, I think there was some initial skepticism there. I took the time to meet with every single person in the company and got to understand them a bit, let them ask me questions, and build that rapport. And I think that was pretty big. That was really helpful in breaking the ice there. And I also shared my vision with them and told them where I thought the company could go and my plans for it.
And so, pretty much right off the bat, we started to make some changes. I would say the first couple of months was just like trying to better understand the business and wrapping my head around the processes and routine mundane—things like, what is the password to XYZ? What is this accreditation for? Really routine stuff that took a little bit longer than expected. But around the first month, second month, I had a transition period with the previous owner who helped teach me. It wasn’t like she was gone on day one. That would have been tough. So, there’s usually a transition period. And after about a month and a half, we’d felt like I was ready to take off the training wheels and start things on my own.
And then, pretty soon thereafter, we started to make some changes—just buying equipment, improving processes, getting our software, getting new software, billing software, starting up, rethinking about growth. I think the company had coasted for quite a while. We didn’t have—and still don’t really have—a sales and marketing team. We’ve always relied on word of mouth. But that’s changing. We are going to really more aggressively pursue growth, going forward.
But incremental changes, I think the conventional search fund wisdom is don’t make any massive changes the first year. Focus on learning the business, making small incremental improvements. And then once you’re really familiar, then you can make those big-ticket decisions to change around the model or buy big equipment or do things. And I’m getting to that point now, which is exciting.
[31:24] Chris: Lance, now that you’re almost at a year and looking towards the future, as a CEO and a leader, what is your focus now? And where’s your head at mostly now? And what do you think is important to know, especially if you’re going to give advice to somebody else who’s thinking about doing something similar to what you’re doing now?
[31:42] Lance: I think when you first buy a business, you have a few things that are absolutely critical. Number one is that you learn the processes and keep the lights on and know how to pay the bills and things there. Number two, build that rapport with your team and get them to buy into the vision that you have for the company and make sure that they have the opportunity to grow. And a lot of times, you’ll be working with who may have been frustrated with the previous ownership or hadn’t gotten the chance to share their opinions and thoughts. So, really, making sure that they know that their voice is heard and that you recognize the work that they do and trust them, because there has to be this element of trust. You’re stepping into a new business that you don’t have the experience with. So, you have to rely on your team. So, that’s critical. And then number three is meeting with your key customers and making sure they understand that you’re not going to drop the ball on them, that this new transition is only going to lead to positive things. So, that’s the other thing I did, is I met with our big customers and as many people as I could and just got to introduce myself to them, give them the chance to give us feedback on anything we could be doing better.
And then, next year—really, for the last year, I’ve been doing a lot more listening than I have been talking, just listening and trying to understand where the pain points are and how to solve for them, and not being afraid to make changes and to invest in both the people and equipment, processes, ways to make things better. And like I said, now that I’m at this year mark, we’re starting to make some pretty big changes, which we’re really excited about.
[33:18] Chris: Very cool. Lance, it’s been great to have you on the podcast. Before we end, we have a tradition of having a lightning round towards the end. If you’re up for it, I’d love to just give a couple of fun questions, some Berkeley insider knowledge, if you’d be open to sharing.
[33:31] Lance: I’ll certainly try.
[33:33] Chris: Lance, first question, a favorite of mine, what was one of your favorite places to eat when you were in the Berkeley area?
[33:40] Lance: So, there was an Indian place. I think it was Emeryville. It might’ve been the border of Emeryville and Berkeley, called Mehak, which is incredible, some of the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten. Probably, that stands out.
[33:50] Chris: That’s a new one. It’s going down on my list.
[33:53] Lance: It’s not in the block around the campus, so, changing things off. I’m sure you get a lot of things close by.
[34:00] Chris: Yeah, a lot of cheese boards or slivered pizzas or some locals, but—
[34:05] Lance: Got to keep it different.
[34:06] Chris: Yeah. That’s very cool. Another question, Lance, any favorite memories of being in the MBA program that stick with you even now?
[34:14] Lance: We were there, the first year was in-person and the second year, unfortunately, was all remote. But that first year was a lot of fun. And I did several trips with my cohort. We did a trip with our blue cohort up to Napa. I’d rented a bus. We had a great time exploring all the wineries and being 45 minutes away from that. That was super cool. So, that was a big highlight.
[34:37] Chris: Lance, second to the last question, what’s one piece of advice that you’ve gotten, either personal or professional, that you think has really had a positive impact on your life?
[34:46] Lance: I would probably say just not being afraid to step out of your comfort zone. And always be comfortable being uncomfortable. I think that’s probably a borrowed phrase. I don’t know who to attribute it to, but my previous manager told me that. It’s something that stuck with me. If you’re totally comfortable, you’re probably not pushing yourself harder enough.
[35:04] Chris: It’s a great piece of advice. And our last question, what’s one thing that gets you excited about the future?
[35:10] Lance: So, right now, we’ve eaten our vegetables at the company. And we’ve implemented all these new process improvements. And I’m super excited about the future of Ward Road Pharmacy. I think we have a tremendous upside. We’re exploring partnerships. I’m really excited for the next year to come.
[35:28] Chris: Well, Lance, it’s been awesome to have you on the podcast today. I just want to say thanks and congrats on all of the amazing steps over the past couple of years. And we just want to thank you again for your time, and wish you all the best in the future.
[35:41] Lance: Thank you, Chris. Appreciate it.
[35:43] Outro: Thanks again for tuning in to this episode of the OneHaas Podcast. Enjoyed our show today? Please remember to hit that Subscribe or Follow button on your favorite podcast player. We’d also really appreciate you giving us a five-star rating and review.
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