Robert Brown: ‘Your name is your reputation’

Friday, October 31, 2008

At 3 a.m., a patient calls Andrew Brown’s Home Health Care Center to report concentrator trouble. That call goes directly to the home of Robert Brown, who quickly dresses to take the short walk to the store that bears his grandfather’s name, then on to the patient’s home.

Just like many other small HME business owners, Brown is continuing a family tradition of personal service that’s made Andrew Brown’s a respected part of the Scranton, Pa., community for nearly 100 years. His grandfather Andrew Brown started Andrew Brown’s Drug Store in 1912 and passed it on in the 1950s to Brown’s father, who oversaw the introduction of HME into the business in the 1960s.

Today, Brown sits at the helm of the HME side of Andrew Brown’s-his brother Michael heads the pharmacy-aided by the knowledge and familiarity that goes along with running a third-generation family business.

“There’s a lot to be said for coming up in the business. I’m not afraid to tell someone to do something, because I know it can be done,” says Brown, who’s worked continually in the business since the age of 15. “We still get people coming in who remember my father coming down at 2 a.m. to fill a prescription. You know you’re really doing something to help people.”

How does Brown preserve that reputation for personal service his father and grandfather created? “It’s simply minding your Ps and Qs,” says Brown, “making sure your patients are well cared for.” His mark on the business has been to bring Andrew Brown’s into the 21st century, with new technology to handle billing and documentation.

And while competitors have entered town with less-than-patient-friendly business practices designed to control costs, Brown still insists on keeping Andrew Brown’s “like the old general store. People like to come in and talk and that’s what we allow them to do.”

Yet the downside of an entire career spent in his family’s business, says Brown, is a lack of experience running another business. He works to build his management knowledge through networking in organizations like The VGM Group, The MED Group and the Pennsylvania Association of Medical Equipment Suppliers, where he serves as board president.

Brown’s also encouraging his son, currently a college senior, to gain experience elsewhere before considering joining the family business.

With a passion for HME in his blood, Brown is understandably protective of this industry he’s devoted his life to and reacts strongly to reports of unethical provider behavior.

“It’s those people who give the industry a bad name,” he says.

For his part, the Brown family name on the sign out front bears a constant reminder of the tradition he upholds each day.

“You have to keep your ducks in a row,” Brown says. “Your name is your reputation.”

Robert Brown
Title/company: Vice president of operations,
Andrew Brown’s Home Health Care Center
Location: Scranton, Pa.
Age: 51
Years at the helm: 20 years
Best family quality: “Caring for others, even if that means getting up at two in the morning to fill a prescription for a patient.”