Why BrightStar Care Founder Shelly Sun Is Tapping A New CEO To Lead Her Business

COVID-19 took a lot out of Americans, both personally and professionally.

For Shelly Sun, the founder and then-CEO of BrightStar Care, 100-hour work weeks in 2020 and 2021 became commonplace. Sun was no stranger to hard work. She had led her company from a single location home care agency to a nationwide home care franchise brand, after all.

But even she had finally reached the point of burnout.


Effective earlier this year, she is no longer the CEO of BrightStar Care, and instead the founder and executive chairwoman. But the transition has been on her mind for a while.

In February of 2022, at an annual franchisee conference in Dallas, Texas, Sun sat down with one of her most successful franchisees: Andrew Ray.

It was at that point she began to feel like she had someone who could reasonably replace her, and hold the brand as dear to their heart as she did – and does.


“I saw the unwavering energy and passion he has for something he really cares about,” Sun told Home Health Care News. “And he cares about BrightStar Care. He cares about the team. He cares about our franchisees and our customers that we have the honor to serve every single day. I think you first have to evaluate the character of a person when you’re talking about the brand. Andy checked those boxes perfectly. He also has an amazing intellect and ability to communicate with our franchisees: to say why something’s necessary, and maybe go slower on the communication than I would.”

Based in the Chicagoland area and founded by Sun in 2002, BrightStar Care is a home care franchise with more than 380 locations across the country. About 10% of its network is now corporate-owned. The company also provides medical home health services, as well as supplemental staffing services to businesses. Overall, the company employs more than 15,000 caregivers and 5,700 registered nurses.

Ray transitioned into a COO role for BrightStar Care in 2022, but he was operating two Arizona franchise locations prior to that.

He had decided to delve into home care after years of holding leadership positions overseas, mostly for health care companies. His career path took him to Japan with Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), to Belgium and France with Gambro, and to Sweden and Germany with the Getinge Group.

After deciding to stay stateside for a while, he was looking for his next move. A friend introduced him to the home care business.

“I contacted an old friend of mine who got into the home care business, and I knew nothing about it. I had really no idea what it was,” Ray told HHCN. “I started talking to him, and I spent some time with him in his offices in Indiana. I got very excited about two aspects of the business. One was the business [side itself]: What would it be like, the challenges of a small business owner? That’s something I’d never experienced. Then the home care piece kind of brought a couple of things together. If I worked really hard and did a very good job, I was going to improve and enhance people’s lives.”

That would lead to Ray opening up shop under the BrightStar name, and eventually establishing a relationship with Sun. He would go on to win the IFA 2021 Franchisee of the Year award after operating Arizona locations in Mesa and Gilbert.

The opportunity to become part of the executive team at BrightStar was one Ray didn’t want to pass up on.

At the same time, it offered Sun the chance to pass things over to an insider. She was wary of handing the keys over to an outsider, a feeling partly driven by conversations with her friend and BrightStar Care board member Boris Groysberg, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School.

“Boris and I, when we started talking about it, he saw how much I was working, and he was very concerned that I was going to reach burnout,” Sun said. “And he said, ‘You are going to have a much better chance at this if you have an insider versus an outsider. Because an insider is going to understand the brand, why it ticks and why you do what you do.’”

Ray already had the insider’s perspective, and his appointment to CEO has likely given other BrightStar Care franchisees the assurance that the next person to bring on a franchise-wide change will be someone that has been in their shoes.

“If it wasn’t for the franchisor looking down the road, and bringing information back to me and helping me understand how I had to position my business for the future, I don’t think it would have worked very well for me,” Ray said. “So, a lot of what I’m trying to do now is be that lighthouse, but package it in a way that an owner can understand, knowing I walked in their shoes. I get 1% of their mind share, because the other 99% is running their business.”

What’s next for BrightStar Care

Earlier this year, Sun told HHCN that she envisioned BrightStar Care being a good partner for a retailer or payer in the long-term future.

“So, maybe [we make that move] in the next two years, or maybe it’s in seven years,” she said in February. “The opportunity to align depends on what the cycles kind of end up looking like.”

Sun will have more time to think of those big-picture ideas now that she is less involved in the day to day.

She’s still available to Ray, almost at the drop of a hat. She’s still a part of the strategic meetings. She’s still atop the organization she started over 20 years ago.

But the 100-hour work weeks – hopefully – are behind her. Convincing franchisees the value of diving into Medicare Advantage (MA) business will no longer fall directly on her shoulders.

“We need to make sure that the brand can have consistency across all of our locations, where we had gaps in consistency during COVID,” Sun said. “It made it harder for us to support our franchisees, and then, in turn, to support consumers in the marketplace. A lot of the undertaking we took on in 2021 and 2022 was to bring a lot more of that consistency to the brand. It’s about how we bring franchisees along on that journey in a way they understand.”

The future, for BrightStar Care franchisees, could include more technology and even more service lines.

The company is already heavily involved in the hospital-at-home model, namely through a partnership with the hospital-at-home enabler Medically Home. Ray mentioned transportation services as another potential service line. MA could continue to be a focus point moving forward, as could further AI integration.

Sun believes that Ray may be in a better position than even her to guide BrightStar Care into its next chapter, not just because of the franchisee experience, but because of his ability to communicate the reasons behind necessary changes.

“I want to make sure that I’m really helping them see the future and see where we’re going,” Ray said. “And then, understand how they themselves can restructure, how they can think differently and how they can acquire the skill sets to be able to take advantage of that.”

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