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Charleston Southern University / Charleston Southern University News / Thomas Revels: Passionate entrepreneur

by: University Relations

Tom RevelsAfter completing his business administration degree in 1975, Thomas Revels continued his education and earned his master degree in health administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1999, Revels completed the classroom experience for the executive doctoral degree at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Throughout the years he worked in various hospitals gaining knowledge and insight into the industry. In 1995 he became the president of Presbyterian Healthcare, a five-hospital system headquartered in Charlotte, N.C. It seemed that he was at the top of his game. But Revels was restless.

“Twelve years ago, I had what a neurologist friend calls, an entrepreneurial seizure,” he said.

Revels left the hospital and literally went home to work at his dining room table. It was quite a challenge being at home after leaving a five-hospital system, 16,000 employees and a $1.1 billion budget. “I probably felt the loneliest I had ever felt in my entire life,” Revels said. “I was not only the person creating the idea but also the person having to execute the idea.”

Revels launched his first company, HealthSTAT, Inc. in 2000 and sold it in 2005 to start a second company and sold it in July 2012. He is now currently starting a third one. After successfully growing two companies, Revels learned several critical things needed to launch a business or a career. He compiled a list he calls Things Learned the Hard Way While Pursing my Dream.

--Defining your product

“As an entrepreneur, you dream. I had a vision when I started my first company,” Revels said. He firmly believes the biggest problem in healthcare is the fact that most Americans take no responsibility for their own health and wait too long in responding to symptoms. In light of this, the business he created was taking clinic services focused on prevention to employer sites. The business expanded to 27 states with more than 300 clinics. Caution – “When you dream and when you present your product and execute on it, don’t overstate your capabilities,” he said.

--Understanding the market/client Do your market research. Use resources like state departments of commerce, company websites, U.S. Census Bureau, Plunkett Research, etc. Caution – “In your business plan you need to spend twice as much time on analyzing the market as you do in writing the entire rest of the plan, including the financials,” Revels shared.

--Hiring the right people

Define the characteristics of the person to be hired. Caution – “Understand the values of your company and determine if the person shares those values,” he said.

--Dialog with, not communicate

Build relationships with the team. Act on employees’ opinions. Caution – “Share with people all the aspects of the business, because at the end of the day, they are helping you succeed,” Revels shared.

--What are your metrics of success? (What are the five things you have to do to succeed?)

You should monitor those every week, every month, every quarter, every year. Caution – “Know your metrics for your company,” said Revels.

--What do you do best? What are you good at? How will you compensate for your weaknesses? When you build your business plan, be honest with yourself and your company. Hire someone who can handle areas of your weakness. Caution – “Own up to your weaknesses and be honest with yourself and your company,” said Revels.

--Venture Capitalists are from Venus, Entrepreneurs are from Mars

Revels suggested creating a revenue stream you can show people before you try to raise money because they will charge you a lot less money. They will also be more flexible because you can show them the revenue stream and a product they can sell, and that takes away a lot of the risk. Caution – Entrepreneurs are about products and customers. Venture Capitalists are about making money. Make sure your venture group has experience in your market. Ask the group to open doors for your company. Do not give up too much control; don’t let them take over the board; do not let them control your expenditures; do not accept a manager’s advisory fee; do not let them control your company.

--The Formula for a successful Entrepreneur is Passion, Patience and Persistence

Revels’ first client was the owner of a textile company. The company was about to close when Revels was asked by the company’s human resources person to intervene and speak with the owner. Revels agreed and met with him, sharing his best presentation. Afterwards the owner asked Revels straight up if he had any clients. When he found out that there were no clients, the owner told him that Revels had more passion about his market than anyone he’d seen in 20 years. Because of his passion, Revels won over the client. Caution – “Most of the time your client’s time clock will not be the same as yours. Learn how to control your energy and your desire to accomplish and keep it in check,” said Revels. “If you don’t, they will consider you pushy.”

Revels told Dr. Hunter’s Capstone MBA class that he continued to be persistent even during the difficult times because he knew that, “At the end of the day, the ultimate goal was that our company could help people live a better life, a higher quality life and frankly, help their companies save their health plans.”  

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