Home Instead Senior Care
An Interview with Mr. Roger Baumgart, CEO of Home Instead Senior Care
By Kevin Bourne & Alexander Petrovich, Creighton University MBA students
What is your background, including education and business history. We want to know how you came to work at Home Instead?
I’m a native of Omaha. I graduated from Omaha North in 1966. I’m also a graduate of UNO. I have a degree in Biology, and did some graduate assistant teaching in animal biology and microbiology. I ended up in business by working through high school and college at a grocery store. I was given an opportunity to go into a fairly high management position while I was still in graduate school. It tempted me so much that I went after it, and I have no regrets. I went on to be VP of operations of that local chain. It is no longer in business, but it was called the Shaver’s Food Mart. Then I bought one of their stores as the family sold out. I then owned and operated my own supermarket for about 9 to 10 years, which was a great experience. Small business ownership is exciting, challenging, and sometimes frightening all at the same time. It was a great opportunity and I learned a tremendous amount from that experience. After that I worked for another franchise company called Mailboxes Etc. for about 4 to 5 years, and that gave me some franchising experience, so that I had both franchising experience and small business ownership experience. When I came to Home Instead in 1996 it was great for me to have both of those experiences because I was working with small business owners, and I have worked through and understand the franchising part of this business. So those two levels of experience came together and formed a perfect storm for me, at least, when I joined Home Instead.
What do you like most about your work?
I’ve been asked that a lot. At the end of the day what really gets me excited is that as I look back at my 16 ½ years of doing this, I can see the difference that we’ve made in people’s lives along the way. I look at the franchise owners that have come through our system who have succeeded at a very high level in their own businesses, and watch how it has changed their lives and how they have then influenced so many people by the service they have provided to our clients. As well as, the opportunities they have provided for employment to thousands of people over the course of time. So for me, this is one of those things that just keeps me going, being able to be such a positive influence in the lives of others over the years. That’s what keeps my motor going.
So on the flip side, what’s the least favorite part about your job?
You know, I don’t know if there is any least favorite thing. I’ve told our founder a few times that I feel like for the last 16 years that I don’t have a job. This is just what I need to be doing naturally. So I don’t know if there is anything least favorite. Anytime you have to, as we all experience, sometimes have to deal with some employment issues, those are probably my least favorite.
Generally speaking, what does ethics mean to you? What would a basic definition be?
For me, ethics is all about behavior. To me it is consistently striving to do the right thing. It’s what you do when other people aren’t looking that makes the difference.
There is something called the Ethical Legacy here in Omaha which has some core values attached to it. They were put together by the Business Ethics Alliance. The main values are accountability, community responsibility, financial vitality, integrity, and lastly moral courage. Do you feel like any of those typify the Omaha business community more than any other? Do any of those resonate more than some of the other ones?
I think they all apply. But if I had to try and drill them down, I’d say there are two or three that stick out to me. I think the financial vitality in the Omaha community is amazing. It’s been chronicled as of late several times in several different publications about how Omaha is a shining star in an otherwise pretty bleak economy. I think that is not a mistake, it’s not by luck that it happens. It’s because we do have a huge sense of community responsibility as business leaders who come together and play a role in making our Chamber vital. We formed the business ethics alliance group for crying out loud. Nobody else has. We have community involvement involvement in all types of different projects. There are countless examples of that.
I think that those two play very well together. The financial vitality that we enjoy wouldn’t happen if we didn’t have community responsibility, if we didn’t have people with moral courage making tough decisions. I think back, I think it was last year that Walter Scott, former chairman of Kiewit spoke about the tough spot Kiewit was in when he was there. He could have taken the easy way out, but it took moral courage for him to say, “we made a mistake, here’s what we need to do to fix it.” I think those are the kind of things that people remember, particularly in the business environment that has existed over the last several years where you have CEOs getting indicted for all sorts of things. That is my take on it. They all play together to create what I think is one of the best business environments in the United States.
Two quick questions about specific examples you’ve gone through in your career. Could you briefly describe an ethical situation that you faced that was relatively easy to handle, and also one situation that was more difficult to handle?
In day to day business there are certain things that are just black and white. Those issues, to me, are pretty easy to handle. That could be, in our case, anything from an employee who is not complying with our standards of employment, or even a franchise owner that is not upholding their end of the written agreement that we have all signed onto. Those are pretty easy to navigate through. You could try to bend the rules if you want to, but once you start doing that you are going down a real slippery slope. So, those are the easy ones for me, when it’s black and white, where some type of standard, policy, or trust has been broken.
I have to be a little generic in how I describe the more difficult ethical situation. It was a situation where we had one of our top performing entities that was not operating their business in the way that we knew we wanted our businesses run. Sometimes people are intimidated by the fact that you have somebody who is very successful, who has a very high profile in our network. It would have been easy for us to say, “OK, we’ll make an exception this time, and we won’t take the action that we would with somebody else because of who you are.” This was a very difficult decision that we made. It was the right decision, but it had a very high price tag from a productivity and revenue standpoint for the shortterm.
Just to go a little deeper. That decision was to ultimately provide guidance to the individual or franchise, or was it to suspend activities?
Yes, there are certain times when you have to take the right action based on their behavior and performance, regardless of the financial performance. That was the case, and we took action to provide new ownership to that entity.
Speaking of Home Instead specifically, could you talk a little bit about the ethical culture? Are there any unspoken ethical rules that occur?
Yes, we do, we have a very strong culture here. We have employment policies just like everybody else. But I think the unwritten rule is even stronger than the written policies. They all stem from our core values. We have a set of core values that have created the culture that we live in. They’re simple. There are four of them. The first is to honor God in all we do. The second is to treat people with dignity and respect. The third is to encourage growth and development in one another, and the fourth is to continue to build value in the service we provide to others. Those are our core values, and they’ve created a culture that’s very strong, and a sense of accountability to one another between employees and our whole franchise community that’s pretty strong.
When you think of the things that matter to you, or your own values, which of those are most important not just for Home Instead, but any organization you work for? You spoke of working for small businesses. What are the things that you are looking for, and maybe their parallel with Home Instead?
I think they parallel very closely to my personal beliefs and values. But I think that one of the things that’s underlined, that’s so important, is to create, through the culture, through the values, a relationship of trust. It is so important in business. If you’re doing business with other organizations, and those two organizations have a relationship of trust, then you can do amazing things in a very expedient manner. When the trust is lacking, things don’t go very far and aren’t very successful. So for me it’s all of the things that we’ve spoken about, but at the end of the day it’s creating that reputation and relationship of trust that’s really important in business, and in life.
I have one final question. What are the biggest ethical challenges you think face younger business professionals today, as they come into the workforce, and do you have any advice for those young professionals about the challenges they might face?
You know, I think that young people today coming into business, first of all need to look for a great opportunity, yet find an employment relationship that will not compromise their personal sense of values and ethics. Often times I believe that unfortunately, they find themselves in a situation where they may be asked to do something that compromises some of that. I had an example this morning of someone who was here visiting us looking for some opportunities in the franchise world. They had to leave their previous employer because they couldn’t tolerate some of the ethical practices of the employer. I think that the important thing is that you have to stay true to yourself. It’s not about the money. Even though you may be asked to do something that might lead to a promotion or a raise, you have to live with yourself at the end of the day. So I would say stand by your moral compass.