Hanya Oversby interviews Dr Martin Sebastian from Pulse Cardiology, as featured in the 2016 Autumn edition of “The Private Practice” magazine:

It has been my pleasure to work with this group of cardiologists, the directors of Pulse Cardiology in Geelong Victoria: Dr. Martin Sebastian, Dr. Thomas Yip, Dr. Mark Perrin and Dr. Daryl Ridley. I refer to them as my luminaries, as they have embraced the strategies and processes I introduced to their project and have achieved excellent outcomes. They have also taken the business advice and coaching “baton” introduced to them and run with it at full speed.

Hi Martin, can you tell me about your journey from graduation to joining Pulse.

When I graduated from medical school about 20 years ago, I was very academically and public service orientated and I spent a good 10 years in the Victorian public health system, training at hospitals such as Royal Melbourne and the Alfred Hospital to become proficient in my craft. I then spent a couple of years over at Cedar Sinai Hospital, Los Angeles in the United States gaining further postgraduate qualifications. By the time I came back to Australia I did what a lot of early career specialists decide to do and get involved with a large public hospital and establish themselves within that organisation.

At the place where I started officially we were called visiting medical officers, although the private practice was actually imbedded within the public hospital. So we had this relationship where we were pretty much onsite of the public hospital all the time. Certainly in the early stages I thought that worked quite well. At that stage it was a very good esprit core around the hospital and I grew relationships between the hospital and the administration side. This was good for that early stage of my career.

If you fast forward 15 years or so, there have been a lot of changes in the basic public hospital landscape. In my mind there has been an onset of what I tend to call ‘managerialism’ which means that hospitals tend to be run by non-medical or quasi medical executives and health professionals are viewed more as employees rather than partners in the organisation.

One has got several options in this scenario – you can embrace it, be part of that chain and become part of the machinery or you can stay around and work as an employee if you like and get a little bit bitter about it. Or you can retain the good things about it but also try to set up something of your own to have some autonomy. That is the choice that we took. We decided it was time to establish an entity outside of the public hospital regime where we have the management role ourselves and we can shape our own future.

For us it was a fortuitous time in that at that stage there just happened to be a period of contract restructuring which enabled us to do this without having to forfeit our involvement in the public health care sector which we all still felt very strongly about.

That was the genesis of our little enterprise called Pulse Cardiology.

What challenges did you face going into business with 4 other associates.

It was interesting for us as we weren’t straight out of training but we had been living and working as what we refer to now as a “sheltered workshop environment” where we basically went to work and performed our medical duties and didn’t have too much say or question about how things happened around us. All of a sudden we were out in the big wide world and we had to accept and embrace the responsibility to control how things were done and which systems we were going to use and who we were going to work with, who we were going to employ, and it was somewhat daunting to us. It occurred, of course, while as busy professionals with families and so forth. We were in a difficult time poor situation and this was just potentially more stress on top of our own busy professional and personal lives. Superimposed on all that I guess was the fact that things were changing and the people we were with for a long time on the same sort of playing field, there were some complex political maneuverings going on and various emotions played and we tried to get around that by dealing with people honestly and directly and being inclusive. I think it worked out pretty well from the social perspective but we definitely had some challenges from the business side of things and that’s where we needed some help.

Where did you initially seek knowledge on the business of running a medical practice?

Specialist Consulting kind of fell out of the sky – I will be honest about that in our situation. All of a sudden one of my partners wives was at a conference and came across this impressive individual who was in the business of helping doctors set up medical practices and it was recommended to us that we might employ the services of such a person. Our initial reaction was “gee – what are we paying that person for – they are just going to come in and tell us how to do things but they aren’t going to make us any money” So there was an initial sort of trepidation in how this was all going to work. But then it quickly emerged that once we did a background assessment and had an initial meeting with Hanya Oversby from Specialist Consulting that we could really see the value of having some independent guidance as we took this transition into the business world.

Did this process work well and what were some of the key advantages that came from working with the business consultant?

I have to say it has been a very fruitful relationship. Going through some of the stages we had a period of brainstorming to create an identity and ultimately a brand, which we could then take forward into the marketplace. We were introduced to the concept of a SWOT analysis which was interesting new terminology for us but it really helped us to focus on what we were about and take a new look at how we were going to position ourselves. I would describe Hanya as a team coach – she came in and created some structure to our group, allocated us all with portfolios.

This is an interesting one – I tend to think of Hanya as the character “the Wolf” in Pulp Fiction – the character that wears the dinner suit, comes in, stays cool and shows how to just get shit done!

Did you have a strategic planning process?

The strategic process was having a time line – to us the market speak was things like vision, goals and key performance indicators and that entire sort of stuff which we all raised our eyebrows at. Nonetheless to have someone create a business plan and structure, which we knew, we could adhere to and reference has been very helpful. Very important input has been to have someone who was able to look at us and enable us to value our worth in contract negotiations when taking out leases and so forth. We hadn’t really been in the situation before and we didn’t see ourselves as quite the valued proposition in which we ultimately turn out to be so we were very grateful for that independent view.

Through the experiences of starting a new business, what were the key challenges that you faced and what strategies helped you through this?

One of the challenges was to set up a clear business structure with transparent mechanisms for entry and exit of our members. As it turned out it was actually tested in the very first year of our operations when one of our group decided he wanted to go back and pursue more of an agenda back at the public hospital. As we had gone through the process of setting this up clearly this was handled with minimum pain on everyone’s behalf.

Other key challenges of course were setting up a new enterprise including the whole hiring process and that worked very well because our business consultant was able to bring in appropriate operational methodology for that with contracts and interview processes. This created a sense of distance rather than making a hand shake arrangement, setting up service contracts for business associates and bringing in legal expertise as required.

One of the other challenges was dealing with some professional envy and at one stage there was some professional espionage from people stealing our ideas and brand entity and our solution to that was to stay true to our cause and to not let other people control our emotions, and to be successful.

Those are some of the roles our coach has helped us take on.

As a new business owner you would have noticed that there was a need to take on a leadership role. What was this journey like?

From our perspective I think at this stage of our life journey, the leadership role is very much welcomed and it was helpful that there wasn’t just one leader who had to be the lonely person at the top. We are part of a quartet, effectively, who all had enough autonomy and responsibility over their own areas to feel empowered but we also had the other three of us to provide the much needed reality check to avoid any megalomania on anyone’s behalf.

Having to employ a new and growing team for Pulse is a big step for a new business owner. What do you feel have been the triumphs and challenges in this process?

Recruitment is always a challenge and certainly when you haven’t been in the business of doing it before I think we have been blessed. I think we have had very good advice and people judgement from our business manager. I think we have helped by projecting the right sort of vibe to prospective employees and the people, once we had decided would fit in well with our group, we do make a point of treating them well and making sure that they feel part of the collective vision and as I said so far every recruitment has been successful.

What advice would give to create an amazing team?

It’s a little bit like parenting – you have to set the example so that if you have a model of being cantankerous and talking down to people well you will create that sort of culture in people working with you. Whereas if you can somehow, despite adversity, appear to be generous and calm then that tends to spread around. You see people talking about organizational culture and sometimes it is just luck, sometimes it is deliberately created and sometimes it is a mixture of both. So far we have been fortunate.

What is your vision moving forward as a practice?

We aim to be honest, generous, to laugh and foster a common sense of purpose. We want to bring everyone on board and make sure we are pointing in the right direction and have a good time as we go along.

Are you seeking to expand or have other associates join you?

We are one year old now so we are at the stage from genesis to consolidation phase which we seem to be doing quite well. Now we are moving, over the next few years, to grow. We are working in a locality where there is quite a rapidly evolving healthcare environment and the landscape is changing with the new hospitals coming in and expanding population. We would expect that we will need to grow to respond to this and we are planning to do so – it is very important though to stay grounded and to embrace the high standards that we are setting for ourselves and so not to have unregulated growth to ensure we keep bringing quality people into the fold so that we protect what we stand for.

Speaking of what you stand for and your brand, can you tell me more about your striking Pulse logo?

The pulse logo was born out of a confluence of ideas. Obviously in cardiology the pulse is the personification of the heart beat – it is the wave form, so it is a natural connotation of the word pulse in the heart business. The word pulse carries other connotations as well in physics and science it refers to a surge of energy, vitality and that is something that we wanted to embody as well with our image. We wanted to be seen as forward thinking, progressive, energetic so that was a very important overview. It can have a musical connotation to it as well as irregularity and rhythm so there are quite a few overtones of the word pulse and the idea pulse appealed to us rather than getting into some of the more stagnant terminology that can be used so it seemed to capture the zeitgeist of our feeling at the time.

I’ve actually still got that little piece of paper when we had the brainstorm, when we put up all the potential business names on the white board and crossed of what we could and couldn’t use, or what we thought was daggy and I think Hanya you came up with Pulse and I had a name with Cardiology, but you were definitely in the germinal phases of the name. Working together was like the smashing of atoms of ideas.

What is the best thing about working at Pulse?

I think spending that time to create an objective, a plan, a view of who we wanted to be, then we can always look and see which way the ship is pointing and say whether we are on course or not. Without that things kind of just happen organically and often it leads to a less than optimal outcome. So just having the long view, which we set out at the beginning I think, has helped us so far and I suspect it will continue to help us as we grow. I think it is the ability to be our best possible professional selves and to create and mold something that we will be able to look back on proudly.

If you were to have the opportunity to speak to Dr Martin Sebastian recent graduate – what advice would you give yourself?

I think I would say to value yourself, stay classy at all times, to not get involved in unnecessary politics and negative thought processes, to stand for integrity and understand that integrity and good business can go hand in hand – they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Hopefully we are just a stepping stone away from your ongoing greatness Hanya.

A PRIVATE PRACTICE SUCCESS STORY was published in theprivatepractice.com.au Autumn 2016