Mark Baiada, President and Founder, Bayada Nurses

Stay on Goal

Mark Baiada, President and Founder, Bayada Nurses

MarkBaiada“Our mission is to make it possible for millions for people worldwide to experience a better quality of life with comfort and dignity,” Mark told me.

Bayada Nurses, the company Mark founded in 1975 with his hard-earned savings, provides nursing, rehabilitative, therapeutic, and personal home health care services to children, adults, and seniors in their own homes. Headquartered in Moorestown, N.J., the company has over 12,000 health care professionals working from more than 170 offices in 18 states. Bayada Nurses was on target to earn over $600 million in revenue in 2010.

The story behind the company’s success, like so many in this book, is fascinating.

Mark grew up in South Jersey and from early on knew he wanted to someday own a business.

“I had two different paper routes,” he said. “Every time it snowed I would run and shovel for someone. And the Italians have businesses. My grandfather had a barbershop. My uncle had a warehouse. So I kind of knew I was going to have one.”

Mark attended Rutgers University, first in Camden, then in New Brunswick, and earned an MBA. After graduation, he set goals for himself.

“I took charge of my life. Most people go down the river of life on an inner tube. Wherever it takes them, they kind of deal with it. I said no, I’m going to pick a goal and head there, and I’ll have a better chance than if I just float down the river.

“My goal was to have a business, but I had a couple of deficits. The first was no money. I had debt from college. The second was that I was insecure about my business abilities because I figured, ‘Oh my God, my mother was an immigrant, my father was the son of two Italian immigrants. What do I know? I have an education, but the people who run big businesses know everything.’

“So I had to learn about business and save my money. I wouldn’t spend. I wouldn’t go to McDonald’s. I drove a Volkswagen. I wouldn’t buy a winter coat. I was so cheap, but it didn’t bother me. I figured I’d get in business faster.”

Mark began his career doing marketing research for companies. He enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of the field.

“A lot of people try to solve a problem with available information, rather than what information is necessary to solve the problem. I like to see a problem and then get the proper information to solve it.

“In the meantime, I wanted to become a student of American business.  I set out to learn as much as I could. I had stacks of annual reports. I would think about what made a particular business a success or a failure.”

To gain experience, Mark explored every avenue.

“Somebody asked me to take over a defunct Cub Scout pack and I figured that would give me managerial experience. So at 23, I was running a Cub Scout pack.”

At the time, Mark was living in Bridgeport, Conn., and working for a company called American Thread. He had an apartment for $75 a month and was saving money every way he could.

“Then I got a call from a headhunter. He asked me if I wanted to work for a company that the Harvard Business Review had called the best-managed company in America. I said that’s right up my alley.

“So I went to work for Avon in Manhattan. I stayed there for a few years, and went from the manager of marketing, planning, and research to a research associate. I was still in saving mode. I had an inexpensive New York apartment, a sixth floor walkup, $235 a month. Mr. Englebert was the landlord.  He was in his 80s, and every time I would go pay my rent we’d talk business. He bought and sold properties all around the upper west side, and he taught me a lot early on.

“By now I had a certain confidence. It was the spring of 1973. I’d worked for two major companies. I had talked to a lot of people. So I said, I think I’m ready to find a business.

“How was I going to do that? Being in marketing and research, I knew I had to have criteria. First, I had saved $16,000 to work with. Two, I wanted to feel good about what I was providing, that the business had a social benefit. I wouldn’t put up a casino or go into alcohol or cigarettes. I wanted to feel good about making the world a better place. And third, I wanted to go into a growing field, where the demand for the service was steadily increasing on a long-term basis. Find something that’s needed and that’s going to grow, grow, grow.

“So there were a lot of things I looked at. Early childhood education was one, because it was growing, but I wasn’t trained in early childhood education. I didn’t feel competent that I could take care of kids during the most formative times of their lives.

“Then I saw an ad in The New York Times for a business for sale. Quality Care, a franchise taking care of the elderly. I go, ‘Whoa.’

“I knew the demographics were good. So all of a sudden it kind of clicked and I went to talk to them and everything fell into place fairly quickly. I went to the library again. I found out that the number of elderly is increasing steadily and is extremely predictable. Mortality tables and rates are very stable. The number of elderly was going up then and it’s still going up. Who was going to take care of them?

“The next social factor was the breakdown of the extended family. My grandmother lived with me, my mother lived with me when she had a stroke, but that’s unusual now. You don’t have three and four generation households.

“So I thought, the elderly are out there looking for somebody to take care of them. I’m going to do it.”

Manhattan was too big an area, and South Jersey was too small, not developed like it is now, so Mark chose Philadelphia. He rented a small office on Walnut Street for $125 a month.

“When I started out, I did everything myself,” he told me. “I designed all the forms, designed the logo, I incorporated myself. I started advertising, and gradually the business picked up. We had cases.

“All of a sudden, one of my home care workers doesn’t go to work. Well, what’s this all about? My adrenalin kicks in. I want the business to be perfect. I realize I have a crisis.

“A couple of Bayada Way principles set in right then. One, when the clients call, tune into their problem, take responsibility for the solution, and help them solve it. So if there was a problem, I would fix it fast.”

Mark said the company’s core values are compassion, excellence, and reliability.

“The problem in this business isn’t the employee’s ability to do the work, it’s the ability to show up day in and day out. Reliability is the key thing. No matter what it takes, just be there and do what you say you’re going to do. Never let anybody down. There’s an art to this ability to trust in relationships. So I treat people with respect, tune in to the client’s needs, and keep my commitments.”

At a certain point, Mark realized that being a perfectionist was not a good value for a leader.

“Whenever there was a problem, I felt I was letting people down who were counting on me. Sometimes I thought maybe I should quit, because I wanted the business to be perfect and I couldn’t be perfect. I was driving myself crazy about making everything just right.

“Then one day the answer came to me. Guess what, Mark? You don’t have to be perfect, because perfect doesn’t exist. If a client goes to another agency, that agency isn’t going to be perfect either. All I can do is continue to try to be the best.”

In his extensive reading and research on what makes companies and people successful, Mark boils it down to one key principle—making the right choice in the present moment.

“People who become successful set a goal and stay on the goal, which means they’re fully, totally engaged. They’re in the flow. In each moment, they’re on their goal. It’s like being an athlete in the middle of a sports event—you’d better be alert to what’s happening and what you need to do. This applies to business or anything else you do—in each moment, just stay on goal.”