Axial's Growth 100 : William Deary

William Deary

CEO, Great Lakes Caring

Next Level Care

William Deary got the idea for Great Lakes Caring from his wife. Having exited a business in the publishing industry after taking it public, he was in the market for a new career. His wife had been involved in the home healthcare industry, but was not enthused at the lack of patient centricity in such a vital sector for care.

“I started to write a business plan for her,” William says. “Her mission was simple. I want to be the best home health care in Jackson.” The business model would be to take great care of patients and divide the business into two decision-making centers, one that focused on the patients and one that focused on the operations.

Once the business grew to 25 employees, William’s wife Cheri Lyn, said “no more growth.” Today, Great Lakes Caring employs 2,600 employees across 25 different offices and 7 states.

More than a 90 Day Plan

While William initially entered the business to help get it off the ground, it soon became clear that this was his next calling. That was 21 years ago.

William explains the business as part home healthcare and part hospice. “Ten years ago if you got a liver transplant, you’d be in the hospital for 3-4 weeks. Today it’s 3-4 days,” he says. Great Lakes brings in-home care to patients after they are discharged. “We are the eyes and ears of their physician in their home,” William says. “We work closely with them to help patients recuperate.”

Great Lakes’ client base is individuals who are terminally ill and their families. Often they are preparing for end of life. They assist with clinical concerns like payments and management, help to get affairs like wills and spiritual care in order, and assist with daily tasks. 

Expanding the Footprint

“After our first year we discovered that our patients were living further and further away,” says William. “Our nurses were complaining about time on the road.” William set out to make a number of small acquisitions to grow the footprint of the business.

His hunch that he could expand tangential markets was right. “The first company we bought in Indiana had a patient population of 140. Now we have a patient population in Indiana over 1,000.”

The company’s growth positions them for success. “Because of the Affordable Care Act, many small businesses will struggle because of limited reimbursements,” he says. “Small companies can’t continue to be successful under those changes but we have the advantage of scale.”

A New View

William has been lauded for his leadership in growing the company. Michigan has previously named him entrepreneur and small business person of the year.

Before his experience in opening up Great Lakes, William had a very different view. “I thought an entrepreneur was a person who couldn’t make it in the corporate world,” he reflects. “What I didn’t realize until I started my own company was that I was an entrepreneur in the corporate world.”

William says he called upon the business principles he learned in his days at the large publishing houses. He wrote job descriptions for his employees when he only had four employees. “Even back then it was run as a big company,” he says. “It wasn’t part of the plan — I just didn’t know any other way to do it.”

Another lesson learned along the way was that Great Lakes would only be as successful as long as it could hire great people. To do that, William knew he would have to provide an extraordinary work environment. Great Lakes has ten people in senior management roles and 100 in middle management, an intimate group. “ We know who they all are and ask what are these folks are doing to provide an extraordinary work environment for everyone else at the company.”

William believes in rewarding his team and leading by example. “My parking space is the very first space near the office and the rule is if you beat me here, and my office lights aren’t on, you can park there,” he says. “If my lights are on, it means I’ve already come and gone to a meeting. I don’t not park there very often.”