Joni Milluzzo: Success follows integrity

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Even after 16 years as CEO and owner of Apple Homecare, it's not uncommon to find Joni Milluzzo out in the retail store answering customers' questions or doing a CPAP setup in a patient's home.
"I do whatever it takes," Milluzzo said. As a respiratory therapist, "I still have a clinician's mindset, wanting to make the patient happy. When we've made someone's life easier, then yea!"
Early in her career, she worked in hospitals, with private-practice physicians and at two homecare companies, but says she was "ready to do other things. I like change."
So in 1990, Milluzzo started Apple Homecare as a one-person shop, doing everything the business required--from patient care to accounting--by herself.
Today she's grown to 22 employees serving patients throughout central Massachusetts with home oxygen, DME, mobility, rehab, personal care products and more.
When Milluzzo's not working with patients or handling company management, she spends a great deal of time on education, teaching classes for nurses on vent care and helping the local hospice set up vent programs.
Milluzzo believes the success of Apple Homecare grew from a principle instilled in her by her parents: "Treat people the way you want to be treated and never compromise your integrity."
That principle has paid off: Last year Apple Homecare was honored with a Better Business Bureau Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics.
"The employees who have been with me a long time have that same mindset, and they know that if you take shortcuts you don't work here long," she said. "Once you find the right people, that's what makes a company."
Like others who have been in HME awhile, Milluzzo has noticed a sea change in the role of women in this business.
"When I first joined the NEMED board, the majority were men," she said. "As the years went by, more and more women got involved and started taking the lead in grassroots efforts. There are so many women in this business now who are so knowledgeable and passionate about our industry."
Milluzzo says women have significantly more opportunities today than in the past, as long as they don't let the obstacles block their progress.
"If you want to complete a task at hand and hit a brick wall, then take another approach," she said. "If you let it be, then yes, being a woman can be more challenging, but adapt and find a way around it."
Milluzzo isn't letting current uncertainties in the HME industry deter her plans for Apple Homecare's future growth.
"I still love what I'm doing despite the changes," she said. "It keeps you on your toes. I love my job, I love this industry and I'm still having fun."

Years in business: 26
Company/location: Apple Homecare, Holden, Mass.
Position: CEO, founder, owner
Professional associations: Past board member of New England Medical Equipment Dealers (NEMED) association, AARC, AAHomecare
Business philosophy: "Never compromise your integrity."