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Healthcare Reform Through Entrepreneurship: Phytel CEO Steve Schelhammer (Part 1)

Posted on Wednesday, Apr 8th 2009

SM: What is your background? Where did you grow up and where do you come from?

SS: I grew up all over because my father was in the US military. I lived in a half dozen different states in the US as well as in Europe before I even got out of high school, and I went to school in Minnesota. I taught in public school and coached football and track before I got into business.

SM: Were you intending to pursue a career as a public school teacher?

SS: I got a teaching degree with a science core.

SM: Which subjects were you teaching?

SS: I was teaching history and social studies. That is still a passion and hobby of mine. That was in the late 1970s to around 1982.

SM: What happened to cause you to migrate to the business world?

SS: My wife and I started having children. I decided I needed to get into business to make my mark. It was a financial decision more than anything. I took a straight commission job in Nebraska selling yearbooks and class rings. I moved there with a six-month-old baby. It was a sink or swim moment of my life. It worked out great. I had some great years doing that and developed a reputation around my ability to sell and generate results.

SM: I do not know many public school teachers who have respect for sales or the courage to go into a pure commission sales job. Where did you get that from?

SS: I am not sure. I have always felt like I wanted to make an impact and get involved in things where I could do that. Public school teaching provided an opportunity to a degree. People around me had always encouraged me to go into business. I finally just decided to take the step and do it. I rented a U-Haul and had a few friends help me load it up.

It was a situation where I could not look back; I had to make it work. I am a good communicator and I study hard. I learned the product and I was able to convey the benefits of that product to the people I was calling on. I had great success.

SM: How many years were you in that position?

SS: I did that for two and a half years. I then got called by a recruiter and got into healthcare.

SM: What was the state of healthcare at the time, and how did that relate to what you were selling?

SS: It was in the mid 1980s. I recruited by a division of American Hospital Supply Corporation, which was a huge company. I was selling a very specific set of injectable pharmaceuticals to cardiologist and thoracic surgeons.

In order to do that I had to maneuver through the hospitals and meet with the anesthesiologists as they were coming out of the emergency room. I had to learn how to work through that hospital environment. I was very successful doing that as well. American Hospital Supply was bought a couple of years later by Baxter.

I was then recruited into Home Healthcare of America, which went on to become Caremark. That was an important event to me because it was a venture capital-backed startup company funded by Jim Sweeney, who was a prominent entrepreneur. They pioneered a methodology for a feeding tube into your aorta which could be done at home. Before, it was only done at the hospital, which had forced some people to live their lives there. It was a disrupting innovation and it changed the game over night. I was involved there first in sales, and then I made my shift into general management.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Healthcare Reform Through Entrepreneurship: Phytel CEO Steve Schelhammer
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