Paths to O&P Ownership: Three Profiles

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By Carolyn Cosmos

Innovation, Skills Development, Hard Work

Jessica Norrell, MBA, owns MOZN Solutions, Richmond, Virginia, a business consulting firm that specializes in healthcare. She has 19 years of experience in prosthetics, and 80 percent of her clients are in O&P. "O&P is not unique," she says. "Small businesses all face similar challenges."

She set up MOZN Solutions in 2019 to help firms deal with those challenges and started with three clients. She now has ten.

One clue to that achievement might be found on the company website that not only touts company expertise but also offers lively advice, fun facts, and recommends inspiring books such as Work Better: Live Smarter.

Another clue is her path to ownership. Norrell started working in prosthetics as a teen, thanks to the mentoring and tutoring from an uncle who owned an O&P practice. She worked, studied, learned, and expanded her uncle's business. "I was 25. I enjoyed it."

At that point, with an MBA plus fabrication and management credentials, Norrell went to a conference where she was impressed by a speaker looking to expand the team around his new management software. The speaker was OPIE Software creator and founder Paul Prusakowski, CPO/L.

Starting out as an OPIE trainer in 2013, Norrell worked her way up to become director of professional services when she was approached by two business owners with a proposal. MOZN Solutions was born from that meeting, fueled from the start by expansion plans. Norrell's husband later joined the company.

Following the OPIE model, "We didn't want a lot of debt. We have a comfortable cash flow and haven't had to rely on financing," she said. They hope to grow by partnering with healthcare businesses, by creating cybersecurity offerings for health practices, and by expanding training offerings. In short, MOZN Solutions is in a move-forward mode.

Owner exemplar two, Scott Schall, CP, owner of Apex 360 Systems, Houston, appears to be a creative polymath: An Army veteran with two engineering degrees, one in rehabilitation, he's a contributing inventor to 16 O&P patents as well as the former co-owner of Optimus Prosthetics. He sold it in 2015, the year he launched Apex 360 Systems, his business consulting company.

Apex specializes in strategic planning and helps practices put into place the plans that they develop. Many of its clients are in a state of flux—thriving and hoping to expand or struggling and looking to turn things around.

An idea generator and problem solver with a focus on best practices, Schall had worked with like-minded innovator and business consultant Bill Matthews, creator of a management system and the Drive My Biz to Wow!

When Matthews licensed his Wow! tool to Apex and helped customize it, Schall combined it with his own experience as an O&P owner and his best practices research to create a unique professional management system designed for O&P.

Additionally, in line with his training and talents, one of Schall's notable innovations under the Apex umbrella is a suite of educational and compliance tools, including a practice management self-assessment tool, customized L-Code templates to make code selection more efficient, and continuing education courses. Additionally, a bit like in Norrell's case, family has played a role: Schall's brother, Andrew Schall, designed the Apex website.

That Family Factor and Work-Life Balance

The phrase "family business" has multiple meanings for owner Emily Lund, CMF, CEO and president of San Francisco Prosthetic Orthotic Service (SFPOS). Among them: The business she managed for eight years before she became its owner in 2018 was founded by a prosthetist following in his father's footsteps. 

Lund herself is a third-generation O&P businessperson. Her grandfather and father were prosthetists, and her father owned several facilities, employing 90 people.

Lund, however, took a different path to O&P. With degrees in business administration and economics, she started out in 2002 as a bookkeeper and mastectomy fitter for a prosthetic company, then took bookkeeping and management positions in various industries. She eventually found her way back to prosthetics.

In fact, at her first day at SFPOS a client asked, "Are you related to Paul Lund?" When she told him that was her grandfather, the client replied, "I lived in Cincinnati, and he made my first legs when I was nine!"

Noting the importance of executive networking in the O&P world, she said name recognition had been useful to her as a new business owner. "Family connections in O&P have 100 percent helped me," Lund says.

Her father has occasionally helped out by assisting with a difficult casting for a hip disarticulation patient, demonstrating fabrication techniques, and serving as "someone to bounce business ideas off of." When a clinician had to take medical leave, Lund says, "With one phone call, my dad came to town and saw patients for us, stepping in and providing help in ways that only a family member would do."

Similarly, when Rebound Prosthetics, Denver, found itself stressed by the financial and practical requirements of COVID-19 protocols, Anastasia Jones, the wife of owner Chris Jones, CPO, stepped in. She has extensive management credentials and is now staying on as Rebound's practice manager.

Two other family factors are at play when it comes to O&P as an occupation that tends to get handed down. First: Job satisfaction. Lund returned to prosthetics after jobs in other fields because "I realized many of those employees weren't happy. They were just working for paychecks. I had seen for myself that people in O&P have a passion for their work and find helping others satisfying."

Second: Work-life balance. Norrell promotes it on her company web site, and Jones and Schall, both dads, mentioned that O&P gave them a career that included room for parenting opportunities, like taking a child to soccer practice. And Lund said she has seen a lack of work-life balance lived out: "Some of my friends grew up almost never seeing their fathers."

Each of the owners interviewed for this story, in large and small companies, mentioned how work-life balance encourages the kind of lives they want for themselves and their employees, and helps them retain talented people. Keeping an eye on that big picture is another positive attribute often found in O&P.