Chris Henry: ‘It’s rewarding but difficult’

Friday, October 31, 2008

Forget cleaning his room and washing dishes. Twelve-year-old Chris Henry’s chores included washing wheelchairs and sweeping a warehouse. When most 15-year-olds were enrolling in driving school, Henry was training a new company driver. And at 16, when other kids were begging to take the family car, Henry was driving the company van to deliver equipment to patients’ homes.

Such is the life of a kid growing up in an HME family business, as Henry did in The Medical Store, the South Burlington, Vt., company his mother Maureen Henry founded in 1983.

“As with any family business, it dominated the house,” recalls Henry of those early years. “We all pitched in and helped.” Henry earned his college degree in operations management, then headed elsewhere for employment at his mother’s urging.

“She knew by working elsewhere I would pick up a tremendous amount of outside knowledge,” he says. He spent his early career in banking and insurance before returning to The Medical Store in 1996.

After six years working alongside his mother, gaining experience in billing, customer service, marketing and operations, Henry faced a common family-business challenge.

“There’s a saying, ‘I love my mother but I hate my boss,’” he says. “It was rewarding but difficult. She and I clashed on things; we had different thoughts and ideas.”

So when an opportunity came up to become the Northeast regional manager for The MED Group in 2002, Henry took it, spending the next three and a half years traveling the region working with HME business owners just like his mother. That experience cemented Henry’s resolve to return to his own family business.

“It reiterated my passion for the industry by seeing all these other companies,” he says. “It took me going away and talking to other business owners to understand what my mother was trying to teach me all those years.”

So in 2006, “I walked in on Feb. 9 and she walked out on Feb. 10,” Henry says, taking over the position of president of The Medical Store with renewed energy and enthusiasm. He and his mother finalized the transfer of ownership in April 2007.

Though they still may have differences of opinion, Henry regularly turns to his mother for advice-particularly on employee issues-though it’s hard to wrestle her away from her life of retirement in Florida.

“I couldn’t even drag her back here if I needed her,” he said.

From his years working in and consulting for family-owned HME businesses, Henry sees such companies as the lifeblood of our industry.

“The small companies-the mom-and-pops-have more than just a financial investment.

It’s their heart and soul,” says Henry. “That means they’re going to do whatever it takes to succeed, which means giving the best possible care for patients.”

Chris Henry
Title/company: President and owner, The Medical Store
Locations: South Burlington and Berlin, Vt.
Age: 36
Years at the helm: 2 ½
Best family quality: “Understanding strengths and weaknesses and accepting them. If you try to be someone you’re not, you’re doomed.”