Disrupt — BrightStar Care CEO Shelly Sun Talks High-End Home Care and More

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In the first episode of Disrupt, which is brought to you by Homecare Homebase, HHCN Editor Tim Mullaney talked with BrightStar Care CEO Shelly Sun.

Sun talked about her previous experience and how it led her into the home care industry, where she co-founded BrightStar Care. Since then, one of her main goals is to create the “Neiman Marcus” of home care.

Below are some highlights from the conversation that have been edited for clarity:


Sun left a United Airlines subsidiary and used it as an opportunity to start BrightStar:

“I negotiated [that] if I could recover them at least $10 million, I would be entitled to a year of severance…I did recover the $10 million, actually $27 million dollars for United. I got a year severance and had a nest egg.

That nest egg, as well as a passion and calling around the home care experience for my grandmother, allowed for two things to meet and intersect at about the right time. I wound down at the United subsidiary in May of 2002 and BrightStar was launched October 1, 2002.”

She is focused on “rocks” rather than “pebbles” to drive BrightStar’s success:

“I use [these terms] with my team, to help keep them laser focused on where we could make the biggest impact … we don’t start looking at the pebbles in the sand unless we’re on track with getting our rocks accomplished. I think that from a leadership perspective, this allows me to guide but not micromanage … A rock might be building a technology interface with one of our national account partners to drive greater volume and greater margin, critical to the business model. A pebble might be going through a contract rate review with a national account partner.”

BrightStar is creating a high-end home care experience:

“It was frustrating to me that I could pay more for a different seat on an airplane, I could pay more to have a different restaurant experience, I could pay more to shop at a Nordstrom’s or Neiman Marcus versus another another store that might not have the same kind of service or brand I might want to interact with, but in health care, it really didn’t matter that I was willing to spend more, everything was kind of Walmart … we’re talking about bills moms, dads, grandmas, [and] grandpas; if they had the ability to pay for that different airline seat, they certainly would be willing to spend more to have … the highest caliber people, the most trained, and have nurse oversight, to do it in quote-unquote the right way, the best way, if it wasn’t commoditized and trying to just deliver the cheapest price. And since we couldn’t find it, [I had] natural curiosity about if this was something that I could solve now.”

On the affordability of the BrightStar care model:

“I wouldn’t say that we are outside of the range of affordability for middle income families. I would say while the dollars are different on a daily basis depending on the hours of care, it’s a difference of whether you go to Starbucks for your coffee or Dunkin Donuts. You’re still going to be spending discretionary money for coffee. In our case, you’re still spending discretionary money for care. We are not double, we have the same margins relatively as our competitors. The difference is we pay our employees so that we … retain them and can have access to enough of them [who are] the most qualified.”

Recalling her appearance on Undercover Boss in 2011:

“It kind of brought me back to my first year of startup days, of trying to keep up the pace. Of being on that many hours, but once I had filmed, I never worried about the episode airing because I didn’t have any service issues that we couldn’t learn from. Or, I didn’t have one caregiver I wouldn’t have had come in and take care of my twin boys or take care of my mom. Once I knew that, the humbling experiences of me not knowing how to change [a diaper] was all in good fun.

People will be like ‘Oh Shelly, the episode just replayed,’ and I’ll get hundreds of calls every single time there are replays, and that’s so much fun, being able to experience it not in a moment of filming, but afterwards getting to enjoy pride in my franchisees. Pride in our caregivers, pride in the brand we’ve had the honor to build and grow by taking care of families over the last 15 years.”