Lightning In A Bottle - Round 2
lightning in a bottle - An incredibly difficult, unlikely, and/or elusive achievement or period of success.
In round 1, I shared with you my first experience of catching lightning in a bottle. From 1990-1993 at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point (UWSP), we produced unprecedented results that have not been duplicated since. As remarkable these historical accomplishments were, they were only a set up for Round 2. Once you know what to look for and the results it can produce, it can become an addictive pursuit that you want to do again, and again, and again. Unfortunately, just like being struck by lightning, the odds are so infinitesimally small, it's an almost impossible feat to replicate, let alone catch it at all. I can't promise that this will occur for you even knowing what it looks like, but I will share the impact of doing so can literally change the world forever.
Round 2 - Chiro One Wellness Centers May 2003 to present day - After leaving the UWSP wrestling program in 1993 and going to USA Wrestling (USAW), though a phenomenal opportunity, I felt a significant void since we hadn't accomplished what we set out to do...win the NCAA DIII National Wrestling Championships. In short order, the benefits of working at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) as an administrator and coach amongst the very best wrestlers, coaches and support staff in the world overweighed the loss of a dream not realized. Though this next venture was not my ultimate objective of owning my own business, it was yet another magical time period in my life...just not catching lightning in a bottle.
My job at USAW was to build a national coaches education program that could lift the level of coaching wrestling nationwide along with supporting the athletes at the OTC. Taking what I'd learned at UWSP and from the very best wrestling coaches in our country, I was blessed to put a bow on my wrestling career and end it with a bang in 2000. In the seven years I served as the National Coaches Education Program Coordinator, I wrote my first bestselling book, 'USA Wrestling Coaches Guide to Excellence', built a flagship coaches education program for the OTC, traveled to all 50 states in the great US of A, and got to participate in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, GA. As thrilling as this was, I still had my childhood dream of entrepreneurship calling for me to discover my full potential.
It was New Year's Eve and I was partying like it was 1999...because it was. My best friend Dr. Ben Lerner and I had a dream of doing something together that would change the world for the better ever since we first met in 1981. We had no idea what it would be, we were just crazy enough to believe that we could. After graduating from college a year apart I went the coaching route and he became one of the greatest chiropractors in history. Due to our lifelong friendship and childhood dreams, we remained in contact regularly and as a result he joined me at USA Wrestling on a volunteer basis as our team chiropractor. It was the first time in history USA Wrestling had a chiropractor at the world championships and Olympic Games in 1996. Spending as much time together as possible, I went to his home in Orlando, FL to celebrate bringing in the 21st century together. During this weekend, he shared with me an opportunity that could finally bring our dream to reality. He shared, "Brett, my business partner and I are building a chiropractic practice management company but we are both working full time in our offices. If we had someone who could grow and manage it while we continued building our practices, I think we could really blow it up and I think you'd be the perfect person to do that!"
Finally, the stars aligned and an opportunity that was even more than I could have imagined was right there for the taking. I said, "lets do it!" I wrapped up my career at USAW, moved down to Kissimmee, FL in the spring of 2000 with my best friend and now business partner, and away we went. Two and a half years later, we had built the 2nd largest chiropractic practice management company in the profession. Unfortunately, as the business grew, our friendship imploded. We parted ways in business, salvaged our relationship, and I moved to my fave city in the country, Chicago, IL. Now a chiropractic patient for life and semi-seasoned executive, I had no idea what I was going to do next. Until...I went to get adjusted by a local DC by the name of Dr. Mark Lagerkvist, who also happened to be one of our very first clients at the company I had just built and left with Ben. After getting adjusted, he asked me what I was up to and I told him I didn't know. He shared that he and his business partners, Dr. Stuart Bernsen and Van Carrigan were looking to possibly duplicate and surpass what I had done in my previous venture themselves and asked if I would be open to discussing the possibility of working together. The four of us met downtown Chicago in May 2003 and thus began Round 2 of catching lightning in a bottle.
Van, Mark, Stu and I started a practice management company shortly thereafter called LifeWorks which supported DC's in having their business and life work thus the name. One of our first clients was a group of three DC's we lovingly referred to as the Naperville Boys. They graduated together from Sherman College of Chiropractic in 2001 and against everyone's best recommendation decided to open up a single practice in Naperville, IL with the three of them taking care of patients together. They named their organization Chiropractic One and their names were Dr. Sam Wang, Dr. Gary Roeben, and Dr. Brian Rutecki. With two of the three having been mentored in Dr. Stu's and Dr. Mark's offices prior to opening, they knew what they wanted their practice to look like and had mentors who not only had what they wanted but could teach them how to do it. With Van, the proverbial "father of us all", combined with Stu and Mark's mentorship, they overcame a rough start early and started to thrive within their first 18 months in practice. When I came along in 2003, I supported the Naperville Boys, Stu and Mark in marketing for patients and within a year we scrapped the practice management company and started opening additional chiropractic offices separately.
As both organization grew over the next three years we stayed in touch but were secretly competing against one another. As the years progressed, by 2006 we had seven offices and they had five. With our LifeWorks offices in the North and South suburbs of Chicago and their Chiropractic One offices in the Western suburbs we weren't competing for business and enjoyed the friendly competition for bragging rights since we weren't going head to head. That was until we both planned to open practices in Schaumburg, IL less than a mile apart from each other in 2006. All of the sudden, it went from fun and games to 'game on'...unless we worked together. After six months of spending most of our weekends going toe to toe in asking and answering every imaginable question as to why we should join forces, we finally came to the conclusion that we had the potential to be far stronger together than competing against one another as two separate organizations. This was the synthesis of our vision, "that all human beings discover their full potential" which brings us full circle back to Round 2 of catching lightning in a bottle.
As I write this in October of 2023, only 20.5 years after lightning struck and we caught it, we've been blessed to accomplish the following:
The largest privately owned chiropractic company in history
154 offices nationwide from coast to coast in 12 states and growing
$1B+ Gross Revenue
3X Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Companies in USA
3X Crain’s Chicago Business Fast Fifty Recipient
2X Inc. Hire Power Recipient
Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year...and many, many more
Though the accomplishments and accolades may be noteworthy, we haven't even scratched the surface of what's possible and continue to look inward to find the solutions to the problems that come with high achievement. With every problem...there's a solution. With every solution...comes a problem you couldn't have foreseen. We're proud of what we've achieved to date but more so realize how little we've done compared to what's still needed to do in manifesting our Vision. As a result, it's a never ending flywheel of problem/solution and move forward. As I shared in "Lightning In A Bottle-Round 1" you can't violate any of the five components of capturing lightning in a bottle and it still works. For us...with seven original founders (our wise sage Van Carrigan died in 2020) and now ten partners; it's the five tenets on growth hormones and steroids combined.
As good as Round 1 was at UWSP and the ridiculous success that followed, it pales in comparison to what Round 2 has brought and continues to produce. If you'd like to know the difference of going from great to truly transcendent, in my opinion only, here's what showed up that took us to being the best in history to date.
It always starts with the Leader - Our original founder, CEO, and leader, Dr. Stuart Bersen knew he was going to be a chiropractor since 1977 when his Grandfather suggested he become one, he saw Star Wars and realized like a Jedi Knight, he would work with and turn on the 'force' that's within every human being through the chiropractic adjustment. Graduating from Loyola University, then Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1992, he started the first practice of what would eventually be called Chiro One Wellness Centers in Evanston, IL. After initially struggling, with the mentorship of Van Carrigan, he got out of his own way and within six years built a practice amongst the top 1% in the profession. He is the epitome of the Level 5 leader that Jim Collins referenced in "Good to Great-Why some companies make the leap and others don't." Though incredibly driven, he's also self effacing and shuns the limelight as much as possible. He knows how to identify stallions and let them run as long as they produce results rather than reasons. This is done while holding himself to the highest level of accountability of all. Partnerships in business rarely succeed over time and according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 20% of businesses fail within their first year. After 10 years that number increases to 65%. Throw in one partner and you double the failure rate. Start with seven and then add four...there are no statistics to measure it because it just doesn't happen. The only way you keep now 10 partners with different skill sets, strengths, and weaknesses all working together in unison is by having a Level 5 Leader.
The sum is greater than the parts - Starting with a Vision as transcendent as "that all human beings discover their full potential", if you were to put together a team of founders that had expertise in all of the areas necessary to bring that to fruition; you'd want a leader, financier, organizer, preacher, teacher, doer, and psychologist. Throw in checks and balances to all those egos and add complimentary skillsets to keep it both together and moving forward powerfully, you have lightning in a bottle. We have the remaining six founding partners who exemplify each of these characteristics in spades. In addition to all being extraordinarily gifted leaders in their own right, their primary strengths on top of that are: Stu-financier; Sam-organizer; Brett-preacher; Brian-teacher; Gary-doer; Mark-psychologist. Add in checks and balances with a ridiculous level of accountability (i.e. $100 fine for being 1 second late to an agreed upon meeting/$1,000 fine for missing a business trip but still contributing your % of the costs despite not being there, etc...) and the complimentary skillsets of our additional four partners (Dr. George Walker, Dr. Tony Deneal, Dr. Sylvia Kim, and Stephanie Byriel) and you can start to see the perfection of how our engine was assembled to build a Unicorn in the world of business ($1B+ company). You remove one part of this engine...and it doesn't work. You keep it all together and there's no limit as to how far you can go.
Work becomes play - To build a Unicorn in business, you don't count the hours of the work that is needed to accomplish it. If someone were to ask me how many hours per week on average I and my partners put individually into this venture, I honestly couldn't tell them. If...and that's a big 'if', I did know...it would easily be 100+ hours weekly. When you do something you love with every fiber of your being and it's in alignment with your highest values, there's nothing else you'd rather be doing. You're inspired to work rather than having to be motivated to do it. All of your thoughts, energy and effort goes towards sculpting your proverbial David and whomever happens to be in your sphere of influence during that time gets to enjoy the ride. As a result, from the moment you wake up to the time your head hits your pillow at night to sleep, you are living your love. To avoid burnout, we took a powerful cue from Stephen R. Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", and made a conscious effort to include 'Habit 7: Sharpen the saw', as part of our methodology. The result was to intentionally include playing hard with working hard by going places and doing things that brought us joy while working 'on' the business vs. being immersed 'in' the business. This sharpening the saw effect was then and remains a critical ingredient in our recipe for success in catching lightning in a bottle.
It's not a matter of 'if' but 'when' - After agreeing to work together and renaming our joint enterprise Chiro One Wellness Centers in 2007, our initial BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) was to open enough offices in the greater Chicago area to be within a five mile radius of each other and effectively blanket the entire market. Using a map of Chicago then taking a compass and making concentric circles until they all touched, we realized we needed to open 41 offices to meet our objective. Most great endeavors get bogged down and never off the ground because the principles believe they have to know 'how' they're going to accomplish their goals. We never immersed ourselves in the 'how' but solely focused on our 'why' knowing when the why's big enough, the 'how to' always figures itself out. We knew if we could dominate the third largest city in the country and provide access to chiropractic care to all of it's inhabitants no matter where they lived or worked, we could set the model to eventually do it worldwide thus manifesting our Vision, "that all human beings discover their full potential". Less than two years later, we hit our 41 office goal and have never looked back. When you have a vision that now includes 8 Billion people and growing, there's no arrival...only progress.
You're connected eternally -Way before inclusion was a "thing" our clan of crazies were the original United Colors of Benetton spanning religions, races, sexes, and ethnicities. When we joined forces in 2006, out of our initial seven founders, four of seven were married with a combined seven children under 5 years old between us all. Now all 10 remaining partners are married with 18 kids amongst the group. Together we've almost sunk like the Titanic but just like the Phoenix rose again mightily from the ashes. We've experienced marriages, divorces, remarriages, more children, and death. Along the journey we've experienced breathtaking highs, devastating lows, made millions, lost millions, and directly impacted the lives of millions for the better. We've traveled the globe, fought, cried, laughed, and made the antics depicted on The Wolf of Wall Street look tame. Despite our personal differences, points of view, changing roles, family dynamics, or job responsibilities...we remain united together arm in arm in our quest to be responsible for bringing chiropractic to the world in realizing our Vision, "that all human beings discover their full potential". I know not what the future brings as life continues forward but I do know that my brothers and sisters from other mothers are eternally connected forever.
Our journey's not over, however, like all things, change is imminent and constant. I pray that something I've shared about my experience of catching lightning in a bottle twice, will impact you in realizing your dreams, goals, and full potential. In the timeless words of B.J. Palmer, "we never know how far reaching something we may think, say or do today will affect the lives of millions tomorrow." Believe...