Where Past Meets Present

Quint Studer

Quint Studer

Quint Studer is founder of the Studer Group, founder of the Studer Community Institute, chairman of Sacred Heart Health System, Inc., a nationally recognized speaker and published author.

With a master’s degree in Special Education from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, you eventually moved to Rock County to teach at Parker High School. Tell me about your early work in education here in Janesville.

I was going to the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater, and like anybody in an education background, you had to student teach. So in the spring of 1973, which was my last year of college, I student taught at Janesville Parker High School. I co-taught with Gary Bursell. Special Education was new back then because students were being taken out of institutions. Mr. Mueller was both a teacher and the Director of Special Education. After my student teaching, Mr. Mueller was going to work as Administrator of Special Ed full time, so the job opened up. Unfortunately, that summer he passed away from a heart attack.

So, I taught at Parker High School for 3 years, then to Illinois for a couple years. And then I came back and worked for 5 years with CESA. I was hired to work with about 8 rural school districts, like Evansville, Edgerton, Orfordville, Brodhead, and Milton to work on them with vocational training for children with special needs. Through that, eventually Janesville and Beloit came into it. It was working on job placement for kids with special needs. Once a young adult with special needs gets a job, all of a sudden it changes their life. I tell the story of a girl years ago who started to wear her MacDonald’s outfit to high school when she wasn’t even working, and the reason was that when she wore it, the other kids didn’t make fun of her because she had a job. My wife, Rishy, and I continue to donate to the workshop Gary Bursell runs up there (Kandu Industries) in Rock County right now. I even had them package one of my books for me one year. In fact, today, with my AA baseball team, we’re one of the larger employers of special needs adults. We see this as a real important aspect of the community, creating jobs for people of various needs.

Teaching was rewarding. There were certain things about it that I didn’t like. I didn’t like the fact that teachers were paid based on how many credits or years of experience you had, because I don’t think that’s the right way to compensate people. But, some of my best days were in educating kids, helping them get jobs.

How did you make the switch to the healthcare industry?

Well, I quit drinking. I’m not saying you should become an alcoholic to improve your career, but while I was teaching I was dealing with some personal issues. So on December 25th, 1982 I quit drinking and entered a 12-step program. I stayed working with CESA while I was in early recovery. Some of the 12-step meetings were at a place called Anderson Alcoholic Rehabilitation Hospital. While going to meetings there, one day they said they were looking for a Community Relations Representative. The neat part about Special Education is that you have a great sense of purpose, feel that you are doing worthwhile work, and you feel that you’re making a difference. And I believe that while working in the field of behavioral medicine or treatment, you have those same feelings. So, they called and Parkside Medical Services, out of Chicago, hired me. So I worked at the Janesville facility, which was for adults, and the adolescent facility in Edgerton Hospital.

When you’re a small facility, you answer the phone, no matter who you are, any job. So the phone rang one day and I answered it. The nurses were busy, and it was an intoxicated woman, crying and drunk, and said she needed help and asked if we could get her into the treatment program. So I got in my car, we didn’t have like a hospital car, and we went to pick her up. We got her to the treatment center for detox. A few days later she saw me in the hallway and hugged me saying, “You saved my life.” I don’t think I did. I just drove a car. But, the nice part about the treatment field is that you get that worthwhile feeling of making a difference. I did that for 3 years.

Tell me about how you became Director of Marketing for Mercy Hospital and later Senior Vice President of Business Development?

I called on places and got to know a lot of people through my work, like General Motors. In that process, I created a lifelong friendship with Marv Wopat. Then, I called on Beloit Memorial Hospital and got to know Mike Rindler, the CEO there. He was quite well known. We found out we went to the same high school in the suburbs of Chicago, and that created a bond between us. I used to tease him that while he was in the library, I was in the parking lot! What I learned there was that while kids would get counselors and treatment, a lot of adults don’t get the treatment they need. Even though they would miss work or have job problems, the supervisors didn’t know how to address those problems.

So, I started doing training in the Rock County area and the Dane County area for businesses on how to deal with employees who are having problems. That really led me to work with the executive of Oscar Mayer and then Beloit Corp and I started doing training for Beloit Hospital with Mike Rindler. Then, we did a thing called “Back to Work.” So, if an employee of a company was in treatment, before they’d go back on the job, we’d go sit down with their supervisor and director of human resources and talk about how they’re going to re-enter the workforce, not to treat them with kid gloves, to hold them accountable. The employee would need to talk to the supervisor, to let them know the signs to look for if getting off track.

One of the hospitals I called on was Mercy Hospital. At the time, Mercy was in a bit of an advertising competition with Beloit Memorial, and advertising was just starting in healthcare. There was a lot of pressure from the board on Sister Mary Michael Berry to do something. They pushed her to hire a Director of Marketing. I don’t think she really wanted to because the idea of the hospital having to advertise sort of repulsed her. The Director of Personnel knew of me, since my title with Parkside had changed to Director of Marketing. I think the board had wanted to hire someone with a marketing degree, but Sister Mary Michael had started out in teaching so, since I had a teaching degree, I think I was the “compromise candidate”. I think she thought that somebody who was a teacher can’t be that bad. I was there when she retired. Her going away party was called, “Miracle on Mineral Point.”

When I first got the job, they wanted to advertise badly, “Have your baby here,” etc. I interviewed about 5 ad agencies. It was nice because 4 of them acted like I knew what I was talking about and then I started to believe I knew what I was talking about. But the 5th one asked me questions like, “What does the consumer think of you?” and “What does the community think of you?” I didn’t know any of the answers. I remember telling my wife about what a jerk he was, because I felt so stupid. Then the next morning that the guy I needed to hire was the one who asked the toughest questions that I didn’t know. I called him up and he rejected my offer! He said, “You gotta’ do some market research.”

So, we hired the Gallup Company to do the first market research for Mercy. At the time, everyone was pushing the “We care” theme, you know with the heart. Well, the market research said that people know you care; they just don’t think you’re very competent. So, whenever we showed a picture of a hospital employee, we’d show a piece of technology behind them. Before we’d talk about caring, we’d showcase their professional experience, like you might know me from the softball field at Dawson, but you might not know that I’ve been a certified nurse for 16 years. It had such an impact that in 1989 Gallup was having a conference and wanted to bring a case study of someone who knew how to use data to change action or behavior, so they asked me to come to the presentation with them. And that was the first time I spoke at a healthcare conference, and I was named Speaker of the Conference. That started my first brush into speaking publicly at events, which paid off eventually in my career.

After Sister Michael retired, Javon Bae came; we worked together until I left in 1992. Javon changed the perception in Mercy Hospital. He asked me what I thought our market size was. I said I thought it was about 70, 000 people. And he said, “No, it’s 300, 000.” Sometimes strategically, when you draw a bigger circle, that means you think differently. And all of a sudden if we believed our market was 300,000, then we could do things like heart and neuro surgery, which in the past was shipped out to Madison. So, I was there in the early days when there was a lot of controversy about hiring doctors, starting a heart program.

Right about that time, hospitals were starting to hire physicians. Because I had relationships with a lot of the doctors, I was involved in opening the first clinic in Evansville with the first employed doctor. I spent a lot of time in building clinics and hiring doctors. That’s how I became Senior Vice President of Business Development. I was at Mercy hospital from 1987 to 1992.

What were your next career moves?

About that time, I thought I wouldn’t mind running a hospital. Javon was about my age, so if I had waited for him to retire, I would have still been waiting there in Janesville, Wisconsin. I started looking for a job where I could take my career to the next level. I got a phone call one day about a job in South Side Chicago. I grew up in the west side, but Rishy is from South Side Chicago. He came up to meet me and had me go interview. I got offered the job as Chief Operating Officer at Holy Cross Hospital, and we moved to the South Side of Chicago. I was there for 3 years. The hospital did very well; we were named “Hospital of the Year.”

A lot of things I did there I learned in special education. The first thing you do is diagnose the child. Now, instead of diagnosing the child, you diagnose the situation. The next thing you do is set high goals. For the child it would be to get them as independent as possible. For an organization it would be to perform as well as possible. You have to have a plan. In Special Ed it’s called an IEP. In healthcare we create a 90-day plan. It’s a lot of skill building, a lot of reward recognition and some consequence. I used what I learned in the 12-step program and what I learned in education. I always joke that I was in 12 step of healthcare most of my life.

We got a lot of publicity and we were very, very successful.

Then, Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, FL, wanted to improve their performance. They came to benchmark us in Chicago. They offered me the position of President of their hospital, so we moved to Pensacola where we settled. We brought two of our children, Malorie and Michael, down there with us. I kept refining my approach, and it went really well. We won a ton of awards and had the best patient satisfaction in the country.

How did the Studer Group get started?

The hospitals started benchmarking us in Florida. Holy Cross Hospital in Chicago and Baptist Hospital in Pensacola were featured in the book How to Improve Patient Satisfaction by Healthcare Advisory Board. All of a sudden people said, “Wait a minute, the same guy was at both.” So, people started asking me, “Could you come and work with our hospital?” So I started the Studer Group. I found some old photos the other day…it was just me and Rishy and the secretary in a little 500-square-foot room. And that’s how we started the company.

You and your wife are well known in your philanthropy, especially in developing downtown Pensacola, FL. Most recently, the Janesville community has been a real benefactor of your generosity. Tell me a bit about your community work, your benevolence and leadership.

Around 2002, the company was only around for about two years but was doing really, really well. What I missed most about the hospital was the employees. So, my wife and I went to a little independent minor league baseball game and two days later we owned this little team. Then I got involved in trying to make that successful.

In 2005 I got involved in a community project to clean up some toxic soil and then in revitalizing the downtown of Pensacola. At the time I had gotten to know the Chairman of the Board. He had written a book about why some cities grow. I like to research, diagnose and try to find out how to solve problems. Our downtown was dead. People want a vibrant downtown today. So I got involved in it and didn’t realize how painful it would be to try and change a community. We went through referendums; I spent $1.8 million on getting a referendum through to get toxic soil out of the downtown. People didn’t want to spend the money.

We kept investing in downtown, following the road map here. You know, you have to do something to bring a lot of people downtown. Normally, two age groups like downtowns. It’s the 25 and under, and it’s the 55 and older. We’re building this 258-unit apartment building downtown right now, and we did our research on amenities and found out that the people who live there all want the same amenities. They like the same things. You have to make sure you have good retail possibility and create office space so people can work downtown. The big thing is to create an environment where people are living downtown, shopping downtown, walking downtown. But, it’s all hard to do, and takes a long time to do.

Rishy and I never had a savings account until 46 years old. Our money came later, and because we didn’t really have it, we don’t see any reason to keep it. So, what we sort of do is give a lot of money away. Even with all our businesses here, we never take a dime out of it, we’re not on payroll, and every profit goes right back to the community. Same with the Bodacious Shops of Block 42, any profits will go right back into Janesville.

What has motivated you to give back?

Well, I think we’ve always done that. Maybe it was my background in Special Ed, which made me just want to help people. Our whole mission is to improve the quality of life. Here in Florida, people often introduce me by saying, “Quint came to Pensacola and fell in love with Pensacola.” I say, “Hey, some days I don’t even like the place!”

But, I think wherever you live you should try to make it the best place. In 2010, Gallup did a study on vibrancy in communities. They found out that most cities that turn have a benefactor there, someone who says, “You know what, I want a better community for my children, my grandchildren.” They call it a “saintly investor,” whether it’s Michael O’Dell in Austin, Texas, or Bill Gates in Seattle or Warren Buffet in Omaha. In Racine it’s the Johnson family, I would guess. And the saintly investor says, “Hey, I got this money and I’m not going to take it with me. It’s probably not the healthiest thing for my kids to have too much of it, because research shows that doesn’t work out that well, so I’m going to give it back to the community.” So, that’s what we’ve done here and tried to do in Pensacola.

A terrific thing we’ve noticed in Pensacola is that once we started, other families joined in and donated with us. You can end up doing some wonderful things, so now we have a new Y downtown.

There’s a strategy here. First, once you get that going (donate and contribute to development), the second thing is that smaller entrepreneurs follow. So, if you look at Bodacious Shops, the Sweet Velvet Cake Company, that lady won the business challenge. So, that’s the smaller entrepreneur following. And the third thing you have to do is to really provide skill building. Here in Pensacola, my not-for-profit (The Studer Community Institute) does an awful lot of skill building for small businesses. We have 110 small businesses involved that we work with at no charge to help them run better small businesses. Because if you can run better small businesses, you grow a city.

Why Janesville specifically (as the benefactor)?

I have kids and grandkids there. We donated over a million dollars’ worth of services to the School District of Janesville. Basically, out of 10 school districts, they were #8. They didn’t have a good objective measurement system for the superintendent. They didn’t evaluate staff satisfaction and teacher satisfaction. They kept thinking they were average or above average, but when you looked at metrics, they weren’t. A lot of it was started by Tim Cullen, when he got on the school board and pushed for objective measurement. I’ve known Tim a long time and said, “We can help with that.” Karen Schulte became superintendent then. And if you look at the track record, she’s done a marvelous job there with student achievement. So, I think that had a nice impact.

Eventually, we went to UW-Whitewater and I liked the place, so I donated a million dollars only for students from the Janesville School District to go to college. Today they’re able to recruit a better student. Because now you might have a student at Parker who is #2 in their class and they can go to any school in the country, but Whitewater now can say, “Well, we can give you almost a full scholarship to go here.” They’re attracting some really good talent. We also donated extra to the Janesville Multicultural Teacher Scholarship.

Bodacious Shops of Block 42

Bodacious Shops of Block 42 adding to the historic revitalization of Downtown Janesville

The Bodacious Shops of Block 42 have become a popular destination for coffee, lunch, shopping and now some fun nightlife with live music on the patio. Have you been able to visit this wonderful place that has blossomed because of your generosity?

Yes, I have! We basically got involved with that because people from Janesville would come down to Pensacola to see us and say, “We wish we had something like this in Janesville.” We said, “Why not?” We bought that building, which was in pretty nasty shape. We thought we’d put a million into it, but it ended up being 2.4 million dollars. Our whole reputation is to buy high and sell low. Nobody competes with us. So, you create jobs and get people working there. Right now, the difficult thing is that it’s sort of a destination place. There aren’t a lot of other things going on around it. That’s why I have a lot of respect for these businesses that go first. You take a real risk. Down here in Pensacola, Pelafox Place, a street which we’ve had a lot to do with, was named one of the 10 best streets in the United States of America. So, now if you come down to Rishy’s stores, there are 17 stores all around her. At first, you might be the first of one or two and it’s pretty hard early on.

It’s great when people love the farmer’s market and it draws them to the downtown, but you need something more to keep bringing people coming to the area.

At the Rock County Historical Society, we work to connect the past with the present. Stories like yours help us preserve the history of our community. I assume you have been back visiting the Janesville area enough to witness various changes in the community. Can you tell me about some of the changes have you witnessed through the years here in Rock County?

I think there are a couple of things that Janesville has going for it. I spoke to a few people last time I was there and I said that every city in the U.S. is saying, “We’re shovel ready, we have land.” But, what Janesville has is what everybody is looking for. I would not say we have shovel- ready land, I would say we are “talent ready.” And that’s why you have Dollar General. If you look at Janesville’s graduation rate, it’s 94%. That’s one of the highest graduation rates in the country. 60% of jobs do not require an education anymore. But to me the thing Rock County has going for it is talent. The other thing that Janesville has is a good location with the interstate. So, for trucking and logistics, that’s a real positive aspect of Rock County.

I think Forward Janesville does a nice job. Economic development is a rough job. Everybody is unrealistic, they think you can throw a few bucks on the table, and everyone is offering incentives. Everybody thinks they should only get high-paying jobs. I say a job that pays higher than the other job is a high-paying job. So, if I’m making 8 bucks an hour, 10 is good. If I’m making $10, $12 is good. I think Forward Janesville’s done a nice job and that getting rid of one- way streets was smart. Urban Design out of Pittsburg came to advise us and said the number one thing you want to do is to slow down traffic. Make it so cars don’t drive through your city so quickly. Make it easy for them to park and walk around. So, I think getting rid of one-way streets has been vital, and so has as tearing down that parking lot and creating a town square. I think the next move is to get the people who are sitting on property to invest in the property or sell it, not just sit on it. And I think Arise is a step in the right direction.

Can you reflect on some leaders or mentors from this area in your life who have impacted you?

I had great mentors at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater. When Rishy and I gave $100,000 to help them open the Diagnostic Center, we named it after Florence Copus, who was the secretary in the Special Education Department. Because whenever I’d go talk to a teacher, before I’d get to the teacher, she reduced my anxiety and let me know I was okay. And it was sort of cute: when we opened it, Florence was there. Her husband was a pig farmer in Fort Atkinson and she said she never thought she’d have anything named after her. I think those front people, whether it’s a nursing assistant or a receptionist, are so vital. They can really make or break your anxiety.

Then I had teachers like Hans Hahn and Paul Laurette who were great influences there. I think when you look in Janesville, probably Bill Ryan who was on the board of Mercy. He’s such a passionate person who cared so deeply about the community. I run a weekly column studer.org and this week’s topic was on profits and values. Companies who pick values over profits win in the long run; companies who pick profits over values lose. Bill Ryan and Al Deot, who was on the board at Mercy, were just tremendous role models for always leading with values. I thought they were good people and good mentors.

Also, there’s a teacher, Tom Murray, father of Kevin Murray, who was a great role model and a great mentor.

There are four types of people who are involved in the community:

  1. There are those who do it because it’s the right thing to do.
  2. There are those who do it because it’s right, but also because there’s an advantage for them, somewhat.
  3. There are those who will support something IF they will personally benefit from it.
  4. Then there are those who are against it if they think anyone else will benefit from it.

My early mentors were that first type. And I always say, if I can get those first two groups with me, and then deal with those third groups, we can make a change. Good change is not about consensus. Consensus doesn’t actually get you where you want to go because you end up lowering the bar. It’s getting the majority with you, and then the minority, who might not like what happens, at least consents because the majority is going that way.

Do you see yourself remaining actively involved in Janesville’s revitalization and progress?

Rishy and I will continue to support various causes in Janesville and it moves forward with its exciting growth!

And it’s not just us. My daughter, Bekki, and son-in-law, Shannon Kennedy, own a building, the old Carriage Works building, which is near us. So, they plan to move SASid Insurance Development, known locally as SAS, into the building down there.

We are also in the process of building a home in Lake Geneva. I’m a warm-weather guy, but my wife likes cold weather. But, that will get us up there more.

I want to keep the Janesville connection.

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