John Purcell, president and owner of Elite Orthopedics, knows passion drives success. On the latest Bank of America Small Business Podcast episode, Steve Strauss sits down with John to discuss the ambition and persistence that continue to propel him forward, with tips and inspiration for others striving to succeed.




John Purcell:              I love what I do, and I think that is something important for everybody to think about is, you gotta love what you do. When you love what you do, you have the passion to do it 24 straight hours if need be, but at the same time, you know, there's times when it gets really tough. And those are the times when loving what you do that really kind of helps pull you through. When you are having a situation and you're kind of wondering, am I in over my head? Is this too much, or whatever has you down in the dumps that particular day. If you love what you do, that'll keep you going.


Steve Strauss:            Hi. I'm Steve Strauss, and you're listening to the Bank of America Small Business Podcast, a podcast where we speak with small business owners about their journey and uncover useful tips for entrepreneurs and small business owners everywhere.


                                    And today we are really excited to be speaking with John Purcell, the president of Elite Orthopedics. Elite Orthopedics is an agency exclusively representing Arthrex. Arthrex is a global medical device company started in 1981, and what began as a company with a focus on emerging procedures has since pioneered the field of arthroscopy. And personally, having had a couple of those, I'm glad they've done that. Arthrex has developed over 10,000 innovative products and surgical procedures to advance minimally-invasive orthopedics worldwide.


                                    John, it's great to have you with us.


John Purcell:               Thanks for having me, Steve. I appreciate the opportunity.


Steve Strauss:            So why don't we just start at the beginning a little bit, and why don't you tell us how you got started in the business and how you came to be the owner of Elite Orthopedics.


John Purcell:              Sure. Well I went to Pittsburg State University in Southeast Kansas and had a couple of undergrads in business and completed my MBA, and it was time to find a job and get in the real world. I would have tried to obtain a PhD in business if my parents would have kept paying for college, because I was having a heck of a time, but they were not onboard with that idea. So real world, here I come.


                                   I was literally chatting with a buddy of mine who was a business owner, and he turned me on to the idea of sales, and he thought I'd be good at it. He plugged me in with a guy that I knew, or a guy he knew, and that turned into an interview. And literally, a little bit of flexibility is what caused me to get the job. I think I talked enough in the interview that they were interested, but when they asked me where I needed to live, I asked them where they had openings. They named Kansas City, St. Louis, and Columbia, Missouri. All were far bigger than anywhere I'd ever lived in my life, so I told them any of the three would work, and they hired me on the spot and told me they'd tell me where I was moving to once they filled the other two spots. So it's good to be flexible.


Steve Strauss:           Flexibility works.


John Purcell:              It sure does.


Steve Strauss:            So was that with Elite Orthopedics, or who was that with?


John Purcell:               No. So Arthrex is the $3 billion company today that makes the orthopedic surgical implants that we sell, and they have kind of a unique distribution model where they have distributors or agencies that cover certain states and zip codes. And at that time, the distributor that I started my career with was called TASA Medical, and I worked for them up until about 2011, and then started Apollo Surgical Group, which then became Elite Orthopedics, and essentially that was my own distributorship or agency for Arthrex.


                                   Today my company Elite Orthopedics…we cover the east half of Missouri and the southern third of Illinois, and I think we've got 67, 68 employees now covering that area. Mainly most of those are our technology consultants, which are our sales reps, and they're in the operating room all day every day, helping orthopedic surgeons with consulting and surgical carpentry questions, I guess.


Steve Strauss:            So that's really interesting. I mean, you actually went from an employee to becoming an owner of your own business within that group, and that's kind of a different model for a lot of people. Did you grow up in a family where entrepreneurship thrived? Did your parents own small businesses, or is this just something that you were fortunate enough to get into?


John Purcell:               No. That's a great question, and I would say yes. I grew up in a business family. My grandfather was the president of a local banking system and the chairman of the board after he stepped down as president for a long time. My mother was actually a high school teacher who taught general business, and my father, who had a business degree and a master's in engineering from Pepperdine, owned and operated his own driving range, golf shop, golf business. So even when I was 11 years old, I was putting in about 30 to 40 hours a week working at my dad's business, helping shag golf balls and you know, dusting golf clubs. I did minor club repair and you know anything he needed me to do. I learned at a young age that work ethic is king in this world.


Steve Strauss:            So far for you what we've learned is being flexible works for you, and having a good work ethic works as well.


John Purcell:               Yeah, absolutely.


Steve Strauss:            Nice. I'm wondering if you could tell us little bit about your journey as a business owner. You started Elite Orthopedics three to five years ago. Was it just you when you started? How big or small was it when you actually became an owner of this business?


John Purcell:               Sure. So I actually started my initial company, was called Apollo Surgical Group, and we started that in 2011. I had a partner who lived in the Kansas side, and we owned the company together. And I think when we started we were about 20 million, and together we grew that business to roughly 45 million. And then ultimately decided, you know what, we've both got a great formula, and we've got our own sale's management infrastructure. We're probably best if we divide and conquer and each have our own piece to focus on. So we did that in 2015, and Elite Orthopedics was born. And essentially in 2015 ... We've had some pretty explosive growth. In 2015, I want to say we were doing close to 24 million in revenue, and this year we'll do 45. And back then I want to say I had 30 employees, and this year we'll probably end the year closer to 75.


                                   So we've had some pretty explosive growth. It's all thanks to Arthrex and the products that they make. We cover everything in orthopedics from sports medicine injuries like ACL reconstructions, Tommy John surgeries, rotator cuff surgeries, to total joints, hand and wrist, foot and ankle. We sell a lot of the large capital equipment items that they have. You know, Arthrex has put a ton of money into the research and development, and we have the benefit of being the sales force for them. So literally every day our guys wake up and go try to educate more surgeons and customers on the Arthrex product offering.


Steve Strauss:            So that's really interesting. You're doing one thing that I often counsel small business owners to do, and that is to find a great brand that they can co-brand with. One of the challenges small business people have is that they're small, and they don't have a huge brand. But what you've done, and what you've done well and right is teamed up with this amazing brand in your world, Arthrex, and together they've helped you grow your brand, and you've helped them grow their brand. Has that made a difference for you?


John Purcell:               Absolutely. I couldn't have done it without them. Whatever initiatives or stock that they have of what they want me to do, I do it every time. I don't question what it is. We just find a way to get it done. They do stuff the right way, and literally they are what makes Elite who it is, their product portfolio. Our number one greatest asset is our employees, and without our employees and reps and the Arthrex portfolio, Elite wouldn't be able to do any of what it's done so far.


Steve Strauss:            So it's also got to be true that there has to be a lot of competition for what you're doing in your space. So what is it though that makes Elite Orthopedics unique and different? You have a great brand and a great partner, but you must be doing something different and better.


John Purcell:               Well I feel like we're constantly trying to see three to five years down the road, and I think if you think about the growth we had where we've literally doubled in size in the last three years, and then when I look at the region that Elite is, the three years before that we doubled in size. So my toughest challenge is trying to think big enough and stay ahead of the game. It's real easy to get behind when you're trying to keep up with a machine like Arthrex. The owner of Arthrex, Reinhold Schmieding, is the Steve Jobs or the Bill Gates of orthopedics.


                                   You mentioned there's a lot of competition. There's a boatload. All of my competitors are the big boys in this industry doing you know four and five times the revenue of Arthrex for each one of those companies, and so for me, I always try to stay ahead of them by acquiring the best talent. We have a robust medical education department where I have a full-time medical education manager that literally trains new sales reps on the anatomy, surgical procedures, all day, every day. It's more than just selling to the physicians from a growth perspective. I've got to keep up with rep education, which as you can imagine, the learning curve is pretty stiff in this business.


Steve Strauss:            I bet it is. It is interesting though that sales are the biggest part of your business maybe. What do you look for in a good salesman? What could other small business people who do sales learn from your explosive growth insofar as what it takes to make a sale and repeat a sale?


John Purcell:               Well I think a lot of it has to do with hard work. It's easy to say, but at the end of the day, if somebody puts in the time to cover the cases they need ... Our reps are constant students of the game. They're always trying to sharpen the sword, learn about new surgical procedures, learn about new techniques with current products, learn about all the new products.


                                    Arthrex is incredible. They launch over a thousand products a year. So literally at some places, it'd be a full-time job just trying to learn all the new stuff, and our guys are doing that in addition to servicing all of the current surgeries going on every day, and at the same time, picking up all these new ideas and these new techniques, and then disseminating them down to the physicians to determine if it's going to help them treat their patients better.


Steve Strauss:            Interesting. We are speaking with John Purcell, the president of Elite Orthopedics, and we will get back to my conversation with John in a second.


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Steve Strauss:            So John, while you clearly have had some amazing growth, I am sure that it has also come with some unexpected challenges. Could you tell me what those have been and how you've met those?


John Purcell:               Well, we get challenged every day in the operating room. There will be a patient that will present with a unique situation, and what makes our sales reps, or our technology consultants as we call them, great is their ability to think on their feet. So when I was a technology consultant or a sales rep, I felt that one of things I did well was I knew my products, I knew how they were used, and I was good at thinking on my feet. So when the surgeon wasn't prepared for something, we were able to think of a way with our widgets to help bring value and help throw-out some ideas or solutions that they could employ to try to get out of that jam.


                                   I wish running a business was as easy as it was for me thinking out of those mechanical jams. But every day is a new challenge, and I honestly believe my biggest challenge would be trying to think big enough to keep up with the growth of Arthrex. So literally hiring, staying ahead on the hiring curve, and making sure we've got high quality individuals ready to step in when an opportunity presents. And I would say the other challenge is just my business infrastructure, and making sure that we've always got room for expansion whether it's in the operations department, the accounting and financial analyst department, operations ... I mean just trying to think large enough of where we're going to be.


                                   I was recently at a meeting, and the president of Arthrex was talking about how we're going to plan to double in the next five years. And all of a sudden while everybody else was thinking, "Wow, that's great news!" I had this small moment of panic where I'm thinking, "Oh my gosh! I just bought a facility and a building, and now I'm going to need to have one that's double the size. I'm going to need twice as many reps." And so I start thinking through all of the layers of infrastructure and what that looks like. It's a good problem to have. I'm not complaining, but it's difficult to think that far ahead and to think that big and be comfortable with what you need to do to get there.


Steve Strauss:            Well this kind of growth and expansion must have had an impact on your personal life. People always talk about the balance, and I don't think…I don’t think you really can have a great balance. At some point family takes priority. At some point the business takes priority. Balancing them is never easy. How has the growth of your business impacted your personal life?


John Purcell:              You're right. It's definitely a challenge, but I have the world's most amazing wife. She's very understanding of my business and my hours. She's very supportive. She helps tremendously. But you're right. There are certainly times when I'll be gone for five or six days to a convention or on a trip for work, and I'll come back and I need to basically just shut work down for a little while and reconnect with my wife and the kids and give everybody the quality family time that they deserve. And it's a constant challenge, but in order to keep up the pace that we move at and to keep up the ability to have things keep moving the way they are, there's some sacrifices that you have to make, and it's unfortunate. But I always try to make sure that whenever I get back from one of those events that I really focus on my family and make sure they're getting what they need as well.


Steve Strauss:            You know, I'm wondering the role technology plays in your business. Obviously you have a technology business. But insofar as the business-side of the business goes, do you use tech to help create this infrastructure? Do you use social media maybe in any way to grow your business? Or maybe it's all a more personal touch kind of business. You tell us.


John Purcell:               Well you know, that's a good question, and I have a second company that I own a piece of that does lawn and landscaping. And in that business, you know, social media marketing, can really impact the bottom line. However for Elite Orthopedics, social media marketing doesn't necessarily impact the bottom line because I'm selling to a very specific audience of doctors.


                                   However, it has been very important for me over the past year and a half or so where we have been relying on social media between Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and some subscription software pieces that I utilize to help keep up with the recruiting and the hiring ways. So I can't say that they've helped impact the revenue from bringing on sales, but it's absolutely been critical to impact the revenue from helping me find the personnel to keep up with this wave of growth.



Steve Strauss:            Is there anything you would do differently having done this for several years now? What might you have changed, or what might you think you're going to change in the future?


John Purcell:               You know, this past year I had a moment where we'd recently brought accounting in-house. And I had a third-party company that I was working with previously. They were unbelievable. They were incredible, but when the day arrived that we needed to bring accounting in-house, I did that and then quickly realized, "Why didn't I do this sooner?" So I think for me, a lot of times, I might not feel it's the right time to do something, or I might be hesitant about it, but once I've done it, there's been a few occasions where by the time I actually pulled the trigger on a new position or whatever it was, a couple months later I'm thinking, "I should have done that sooner."



                                   So I think the times I just need to just trust my gut a little bit more, or listen more to what others are doing and give it a shot and get out of my comfort zone a little bit more and think bigger.


Steve Strauss:            Think bigger. That's a great theme, and I love that you keep saying that. I'm wondering, any other advice you might give entrepreneurs who are listening today? Clearly you love entrepreneurship. You love your business. You've been very successful at it. What do you think people could take away from your journey?


John Purcell:               Well, I feel like I got lucky in a sort, but when I was in college and I mentioned I had that conversation that my buddy plugged me in with a guy that was in surgical sales. And as I think back, you know what? I was in the right place at the right time and knew the right guy, and then when I got my opportunity, it was all about demonstrating the work ethic and essentially being flexible. And then once I got into that role and started getting to know the job a little bit, I really fell in love with it, and I love what I do.


                                    And I think that is something important for everybody to think about is, you gotta love what you do. When you love what you do, you have the passion to do it 24 straight hours if need be, but at the same time, there's times when it gets really tough. And those are the times when loving what you do that really kind of helps pull you through. When you are having a situation and you're kind of wondering, am I in over my head? Is this too much, or whatever has you down in the dumps that particular day. If you love what you do that'll keep you going, and you can live to fight another day. It's always darkest before the dawn.


Steve Strauss:            Nice. Well we here at the Bank of America Small Business Podcast love what you're doing, we love talking to entrepreneurs who are getting the job done and making a difference and helping everyone in the process. And that's clearly what you're doing. So John, if people want to find you or Elite Orthopedics, where should they go?


John Purcell:      We're always looking for talented individuals that can help make us better.


Steve Strauss:            Fantastic. Keep up the great work.


John Purcell:               Thank you very much. Appreciate the opportunity.


Steve Strauss:             For Bank of America, I'm Steve Strauss.



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About Steve Strauss

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Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.


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