Possibility Unleashed: The 2023 ANCOR Annual Conference
by Dave Turgeon, VERTESS
TBI Duluth is a remarkable story. The company is comprised of two companies headquartered in Duluth, MN: (1) TBI Residential and Community Services and (2) Pathways to Achievement. TBI Residential and Community Services provides residential foster care services, operating 29 licensed homes for adults ages 18 and up. Pathways to Achievement provides high-quality home health care and support services. The business serves people with complex physical and emotional needs, providing care involving medical, behavioral and everyday living skills.
TBI Duluth is well regarded as an industry leader in its quality of care, tailoring services to its market, meeting people’s needs, and continually innovating business processes. Like other pioneers in the brain injury and mental health industry, the company has been mission-based and focused on the needs of this vulnerable population. The foundation for the company’s success has been the partnership of two strong women—Lori Huffman, RN, CEO of TBI Residential and Community Services, and Shawn M. Neumann, CEO of Pathways to Achievement—who came together about 25 years ago to make a difference in their community.
When Huffman and Neumann were ready to transition to retirement, they approached VERTESS about selling TBI Duluth. They knew about my work as Managing Director at VERTESS from my history of buying companies in their space. I was fortunate that they placed their trust in me as the right partner to help them manage the process and find the right buyer. This buyer would continue their mission of meeting the needs of clients and developing plans to address those needs in multiple areas as well as carry on TBI Duluth’s culture, where the strengths and contributions of each team member is recognized and valued. Working with VERTESS, they found that right buyer and are now enjoying their retirement.
Huffman and Neumann took some time to discuss their company’s history and success, how they knew they found the right buyer, and why VERTESS was the best partner to support them with the transition of their company.
Launching and Growing TBI Duluth
Lori Huffman (LH): We started in a time when there were few services available for people with brain injuries. It was a relatively new phenomenon. People used to die when they had these kinds of head injuries. Now they were living but had lifetime disabilities and often had needs that weren’t able to be met in their homes.
Even if you’ve had a brain injury, you’re still a complete human being in so many other ways, with your own wants, desires, and dreams. The goal for us was to help such individuals achieve those goals while allowing them to stay in their community and out of the hospital or nursing home settings. Shawn and I strongly believed in that mission.
TBI didn’t open in a day. We took an entire year to research what we wanted to do. We engaged the very best in the industry to teach us, to guide us. Those were the people who became our mentors and helped us to develop our program, which focused on service-based outcomes.
Shawn Neumann (SN): When we created the companies, we understood the work required to achieve our mission. Our long history as foster care parents, experience working with behavioral health, and strong reputation within St. Louis County were extremely beneficial when entering into our business venture.
Starting a business wasn’t easy. There were many difficult years. During the first five years of the business, we did almost everything. We were the online staff, the HR department, accounting department, nurse, etc. As a business owner, it was important to understand all aspects of the business. If something needed to get done, we did it. If we didn’t know how to do something, we figured it out.
As a business owner, you work a lot of hours. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to work 16-hour days, sometimes seven days a week. Not everyone is willing to work those kinds of hours or dedicate that much time, but we were willing to do it. We are both passionate, hard-working, caring people. Our strong personalities, leadership, and focus on our mission helped propel us through the most challenging times.
LH: What mattered most to our success was that we believed in what we were doing and why we were doing it: to help others. You must be willing to fight for what you truly believe in, and that has to be for the betterment of people. Not just your clients, but equally every member of your team. I believe you don’t really need to do much more beyond that to be successful. If you have a business that always puts people first, it will likely work.
Pride in the Work
SN: I’m most proud of the fact that we provided a loving home for individuals who had experienced a great deal of loss in their life. TBI was their home. We forged strong, positive relationships with individuals we served. We’ve had many success stories along the way, which made all of the hard work so worthwhile.
LH: I’m most proud of the relationships we built with the people we served. I still get text messages from clients asking how I’m doing. These are long-term relationships. We built a caring family at TBI. We care about each other; we care about our clients. The best part of that incredible team is they grabbed ahold of our mission and believed in it. TBI is their success story as well.
Finding the Right Buyer
LH: The company that acquired TBI Duluth is very skilled and well-respected in this arena of service. They know what they’re doing. We were very careful about protecting our team and worked closely with Dave to ensure we chose the right company that wasn’t going to come in and disband our team to bring in whoever they wanted.
The staff and administration we have at TBI, they’re solid. They’ve been with the company for years. They know what to do, so it was very comforting to know that the company would be in solid hands when we left. Shawn and I knew we were going to eventually retire, so we made sure we put all of those pieces in place in advance. We wanted adequate strength in leadership so TBI wouldn’t miss a beat when we left.
The buyer was very supportive of keeping our team in essentially the same jobs. They didn’t want to come in and disrupt everything. It gives a lot of comfort to know that you’re passing the baton to a company that shares your vision and culture.
Working with VERTESS
SN: We had a wonderful experience working with Dave and VERTESS. Dave was very knowledgeable about our industry and understood the importance of finding the right buyer for our companies. He brought buyers to the table who were serious, reputable companies. He helped guide us every step of the way. Dave’s knowledge, honesty, and positive long-term relationships with corporations in our industry made the entire process a positive and seamless experience.
LH: We first met Dave when he was working for a buyer. Since Dave used to buy companies, he knows how to help sellers get their best deal. When it was time to sell TBI, Dave had made such a positive impression on us that we wanted him on our side. He was great to work with then. We trusted him. I cannot express how happy we are with our decision to work with him.
Working with TBI Duluth
Dave Turgeon: TBI Duluth is quite a success story. Lori and Shawn built their business the right way, always treating employees and clients well. Their business was all about caring for others, with the sole goals of providing medical and other supports to those that could not support themselves.
Their work went beyond TBI Duluth. Lori and Shawn played an integral role in shaping policies within Minnesota and helping the state better understand the issues that providers face. In doing so, they helped payors and providers address challenges and create the systems and processes that help get the right care to all those in need. Lori and Shawn are as strong role models for young women considering a career in this space. They did great work, improved the lives of others, and profited from their efforts.
Working with companies like TBI Duluth and leaders like Lori and Shawn is why we do what we do here at VERTESS. We love working with our clients and helping them achieve their goals. There are “heroes” in our communities like Lori and Shawn who are putting the care of others first and, in doing so, building wonderful businesses that serve their communities.
We are pleased that Lori and Shawn chose to partner with VERTESS. We are even happier that we were able to find them the right buyer for TBI Duluth at the right price. They certainly earned it.
Dave Turgeon, CM&AA is Managing Director for VERTESS. He has been fortunate to work for several exceptional companies, contributing in roles that include CEO, COO, and managing growth. Get in touch with Dave by emailing him at [email protected].