Million Dollar Monday

The Power of Persistency with Bill Koeblitz

March 29, 2021 Greg Muzzillo
Million Dollar Monday
The Power of Persistency with Bill Koeblitz
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

To have a dream is one thing, but to pursue that dream with passion and conviction is the difference between settling and success. Bill Koeblitz, Founder of MobilityWorks, shares with Host Greg Muzzillo his aspirations of getting into Formula 1 Grand Prix racing and ultimately how he started a business that today, has become the largest national provider of wheelchair accessible vehicles.

"Persistency is critical. Believe that you can do it and push through the odds."

Chapter Summaries 

  • 01:17 - All About Bill
  • 03:03 - Persistency is Key
  • 08:16 - Starting MEDCENTER
  • 10:14 - Pivoting the Business
  • 12:20 - MobilityWorks
  • 17:03 - Growing the Business 
  • 19:23 - Reinvent Yourself
  • 22:23 - From Success to Significance

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Bill Koeblitz:

I decided the best way to get that job would be to just get my car and drive up there, which was a 12 hour drive. And so I went up, did that left on a Friday, said, Hey, I want to work here. And I want to be a race car driver. And he said, kid, we got a million people that want that job. And I don't have any openings. There's no way. And I said, well, I really want this job and you really should hire me. And that's nice, but you know, forget it drove back home. One week later, next Friday drove up there again. Saturday morning, knocked on his door, said, I'm back.

Greg Muzzillo:

Hello and welcome to Million Dollar Monday. I'm your host, Greg Muzzillo bringing you real successful people with real useful advice for people with big dreams. I understand big dreams. I turned an investment of $200 and a lot of great advice from some really successful people into my big dream Proforma. That today is a half billion dollar company. Well, hello and welcome. I'm excited to introduce my guest for today. And as you know, Million Dollar Monday is for aspiring entrepreneurs and all people with big dreams, especially today. If you're an aspiring entrepreneur looking for fast growth, listen to these facts. The businesses he started were listed 16 times by Case Western Reserve of the fastest 100 growing companies in Northeastern, Ohio. He was a national finalist for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the year award 10 times he was ranked by Inc Magazine on their inner city, 100 for being one of the 100 fastest growing companies in the country based in the inner city. And speaking of Inc Magazine, he was on the Inc 500 when there were only 500 companies on that listing. And then in 2006, when they expanded it to the Inc 5,000 fastest growing company, Bill's company has been on that list every year, since 2006. I'm excited to welcome Bill Koeblitz, Bill. Welcome.

Bill Koeblitz:

Thank you, Greg. It's good to see you .

Greg Muzzillo:

I love to just start by hearing somebody's story from the beginning. You know, where did you grow up? Where did you get your work ethic, if you will, when did you think you might want to own your own business or have independence? And most importantly, when did you know for sure that you would be successful, even if you didn't know what it might be doing, you knew that you would be successful.

Bill Koeblitz:

So , yeah, I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio , have , three sisters and a hardworking dad who was an engineer and , worked very hard every day, taught me how to work hard and, believed in doing things right. But my , aspirations and my dreams all were around things that would go fast. I remember always liking things that go fast. So it wasn't about business. Although I was working hard to be able to do things, but , yeah, I built a go-kart when I was 11 years old, did that and then got a motorcycle when I was 15. And I worked with my uncle who had a gas station and I was a really good mechanic. He taught me mechanics and I talked him into building a race car for us, a stock car when I was 16, going t o high school. And , and we raced that. And , so I always had, a dream of getting into racing and I wanted to get into formula one grand Prix racing, the ultimate kind of racing. So a little story with that. I was, I had gone to a college prep kind of high school S t. Ignatius with a guy named Greg Muzzillo, and, you know, I was expected to go to college. So I did, and I went for one month and said, I just don't want to be here. I want to be a race car driver. So, I started to work at a car dealership as a mechanic, and, kept trying to think of a way to get, get there, get into racing and of all things. And so, I figured out if I could get a job at a racing school, they had one up in Canada, get a job as a mechanic there, then they would give me a car to race. And so , I decided the best way to get that job would be to just get in my car and drive up there, which was a 12 hour drive to Mont Tremblant Canada tell him I want a job. And so I went up, did that left on a Friday, slept in my car, got up, knocked on his door in the morning, nine o'clock in the morning said, Hey, I want to work here. And I want to be a race car driver. And he said, kid, we got a million people that want that job. And I don't have any openings. There's no way. And I said, well, I really want this job and you really should hire me. And, that's nice, but you know, forget it drove back home next Friday , one week later, next Friday drove up there again. Saturday morning, knocked on his door, said, I'm back. I really want that job. This is really important to me. And you really got to hire me. He said, forget it. We just can't do it. Drove back home. The third week I drove up there, another 12 hour trip there and back knocked on his door. And he finally said, look, all right, with that, with that persistence, I'll give you a job, you know, and we're leaving for England in a month. So I got a passport and left, but the reason I bring that story up is because that persistence has been just always critical in everything I do the idea that you will not be denied, you know ? No, you don't understand yet. You don't think I'm going to be a mechanic, but you just don't know yet that I am, or you don't think I'm going to be successful, whatever it is, that belief that you can do it and push through that has always been really important to me. And I learned that, you know , very young.

Greg Muzzillo:

So then I know, that at some point, a couple years of the racing business, you went to John Carroll University there in Cleveland. Did you originally start at John Carroll and drop out , or did you start at a different school?

Bill Koeblitz:

Uh, right out of high school I went to Case Western Reserve for one month. Yeah. And t hen I started back up after the racing a nd I went to John Carroll. Yeah. And I, at that point, I, you know, my dad had said, look, I'll pay for you the first time, but you know, you're on your own now, basically. So I just, I just kept my, mechanic job and then went to school at night and, talk about a period of working hard. I graduated in three and a half years, so I was working my butt off to be in school, get through, an accounting program. And, and also I have a full-time job to be able to pay for it. So just work tons of hours and, got through that point. Right. And, yeah, I went into accounting, just because, t he, counselor I t alked with said, I said, I want to go into business. What should I learn? He said that you should learn accounting because it's the language of business and it'll help you , no matter what you do, you know, with that, that's how I wound, in that. And , then got a job with Ernst and Young for , a few years, but I was really bored with that kind of work and kept pushing for advancement. And , got a lot out of it, learned a lot , really wanted to get out on my own and get into business , running my own, my own program.

Greg Muzzillo:

So then tell us how you go from Ernst and Young. And for those that don't know, back in those days, there were eight, they were called the big eight CPA firms. And that was a hard ticket Bill. So, you had to have good grades and good recommendations to get that job. So congratulations. But how do you go from the account, the , accounting job , were you on the audit team by the way, or were you with one of the specialties?

Bill Koeblitz:

Yes I was on audit Okay.

Greg Muzzillo:

And then, so how do you go then from a career at E and Y in accounting and one of the big eight to the next business that you started, tell us that story, the transition, how you got the idea .

Bill Koeblitz:

Sure. yeah so a friend of mine who , had , gone on to get an MBA at Harvard , was starting up a company , a brand new startup in the healthcare field. And , he had some other friends, really smart guys. And one bit of advice is definitely associate yourself with other people smarter than you, you know, they're smart guys, and these were smart, but young guys and they , they thought they could raise some capital. So , to start a new venture. And I said, I would do the accounting work for them , you know, at night, and do it gratis and , raise the equity capital venture capital to start a company up they would open urgent care centers. So walk-in care centers, and there wasn't really such a thing at the time. It's one of the first ones doing that. And I , once they got the capital raise and I joined as their , CFO of the company. So that's how that started. And , the opportunity with, the company, it was called MEDCENTER came out of , adversity which often is the case.

Greg Muzzillo:

Where did the idea come from to pivot, to , helping corporations , screen people and take care of their people? That sounds like an important pivot?

Bill Koeblitz:

Yeah, I mean, we were all in, team meetings, all looking for ways to , increase revenues. What could we do using this model where we had doctors and nurses and we're ready to take care of people? What could we do that would increase that volume? And , so it really came out of that. And we just started to work with a couple companies on that and , learn more about workers' compensation and how it worked and, and how the system was really kind of broken and not prone to a working well for the employer or for the injured employee. It was just a , just a bad system. So, yeah,

Greg Muzzillo:

It's an important lesson for people to learn today, Bill, I know, I don't have to tell you, there are a lot of business people, maybe some even listening today whose businesses have been hurt by the current pandemic and they need to pivot. And , so sitting around brainstorming with your team , from that came an idea that turned to the company around, made it profitable, more importantly, made it saleable , and help you to move on. Did you take some time off, or what transpired between the sale of that company starting the new company, and where did the idea for the new company come from ?

Bill Koeblitz:

So, I was looking for different businesses and , I Hadn't taken any time off , when I sold MEDCENTER, I agreed to stay on for two years and I was in a corporate kind of environment. And I really wasn't well suited to that. So , I don't think I'm very employable once you get, once you start a business, it's hard to be employed. But , I continued to work with them, but on the side, I started to look at other companies that I might be able to acquire. And I just, I actually stumbled into one. Someone said they had heard of a company that they were modifying vans for people with wheelchairs. They were like a small body shop basically, and they couldn't pay the Ford dealer that they were buying the vans from. And they went bankrupt. And the Ford dealer I knew of through a friend , they didn't want the business either, but they thought it was a really good service. And so they wanted, somebody to take it over basically. And I went over and saw what they were doing. They were, they would have , customers in a wheelchair , all of a sudden they had had an accident or had an illness, or in this chair, they got, they can't get in the car anymore. So they would have them buy a van and then they would take their van and take their welding torches out, and they'd cut it all up so that you could get into the van. There was enough room in it, and , it took about three or four or five months to do that work. And then they'd give you your van back. And , all that had to be paid for in cash, all that improvement. And , and then your van might work for you, or it might not work because it's really tight spaces . And , the doors might leak water cause you had to seal all those. And you sure didn't know if it was safe at all because there wasn't any testing or anything I thought, wow, this is, needs a lot of improvement. And I had the mechanical background. So , I felt there'd be, a very significant opportunity, change the model and then grow it throughout the country.

Greg Muzzillo:

So that company is called MobilityWorks the signs right behind you, great logo by the way. And, that conversation that led to looking into this, how did it come up? Remember somebody just telling you about this bankrupt , garage, if you will, how did that come up in just a casual conversation or,

Bill Koeblitz:

Do you remember? It was well I had gotten the word out that I was looking for another business, and this was a , guy who managed investments that I had been talking with and he knew , the guy that owned the Ford dealership. So it was By getting the word out. Uh, I talked with a lot of people and everyone knew I was looking.

Greg Muzzillo:

I think Bill, that's a pretty special talent on your part because I think a lot of people would have heard about a garage that was bankrupt doing what is that again, to vehicles , and what have just dismissed it out of hand. Um, how did you even think that that might be an opportunity worth your time?

Bill Koeblitz:

Yeah, I'm not sure. I mean, you know, you just , when you see something that's really, not in good shape, you either see it for its ugliness or you see it for its potential. And I guess , yeah, I like to see the potential in things. And , I think a lot of, a lot of people are like that. Yeah.

Greg Muzzillo:

Yeah . Well, I'm a big believer in the law of attraction and I think believing brings great things to us. But another thing I'm hearing from your lesson is tell a lot of people what you're looking for and then have an open mind because , you networked a lot, you told a lot of people you were looking for, right business opportunity. There were a lot of things that might've come your way, that weren't quite right. And yet you kept an open mind about something that I'll bet you, a lot of people dismissed out of hand. Like I am not, I'm not going to go look at that. But it does make sense that your background and your passion for racing and working in a garage along with, your understanding of the h ealthcare system was like a match made in heaven at the time that you could uniquely see the opportunity and knew you c ould take maximum advantage of it where a lot of t he people might not have had those prior s killsets. Okay. So, you b uy a, pretty much failing away, flailing away garage. What did you do focus on that single operation and clean it up, fix it up, you know, make sure the cars weren't leaking anymore and that they worked in garages. what did you do to get to the point that you were ready to start rolling out more locations?

Bill Koeblitz:

Yeah. So what we did is , really try to improve, the way that they were doing the remanufacturing, because there were issues, they were rusting, they were leaking, they were, you know, having rattles all kinds of issues. So , worked with, the mechanics there, the welders there to improve it. At the same time we started to pre-build vehicles because this idea that you tell someone who just had this terrible accident or illness, Hey, you got to go buy a vehicle and I'll give it, give it back to you in six months was just a bad way of doing it. So I always felt like if we could pre-build the vehicles and then show them to someone , who wanted to buy , uh, and they could get into it. And then you can make some final fitting adjustments to their circumstances. That would be a much better way of doing it. So a lot of what we did was to just invest more capital into that pre-building and then selling and that worked well , and that also worked well on the commercial side of the business. When I'm referring to commercial is, is the customer is commercial. So it's a hospital or an ambulance company or a nursing home and it's one of those companies that are they're moving people around that a re in a wheelchair and they have drivers that are doing that. So they, they buy vehicles in order to do that. So we were s elling t o those nursing homes a nd hospitals, and, and there were just, it was just a patchwork o f small companies that were building vehicles for them to transport someone in a wheelchair. And so we just started to sell throughout the country basically, and then became the national leader in selling those vehicles.

Greg Muzzillo:

I see, I get it now. So a key to the success, and I wouldn't have understood this unless you explained it so thank you for that. Wasn't just somebody sitting like at a retail store waiting for, to learn that somebody needed, a vehicle, but it was also to get out on the street and call on people that needed the vehicles themselves , and sell them to those commercial institutions that needed them.

Bill Koeblitz:

Yeah. Yeah. And the key was I didn't have much cash, you know, to invest and I didn't want to necessarily get investors. The more you can own the better. So with limited cash, what can we grow? And I could grow nationally selling a commercial businesses. And then the dream always was, but retail selling to consumer, selling to the individual is a much bigger part of the market, but it also takes a lot of cash to open up a store. So we needed cash. And so we became the leader and the commercial side of the business that created the cash flow, that then we opened up a store in Detroit and started to acquire other small mom and pop stores.

Greg Muzzillo:

What I'm loving about your story Bill , is that you've reinvented yourself, not just two times since you started companies, but you've reinvented the companies , to survive and also to thrive , it's a great skill of yours to be able to continue to do what you can, even if you have limited capital find another way. I wouldn't call that one a pivot, but nonetheless, you found more paths to the market with limited capital. So congratulations, let's talk about having a partner. When you say you brought a partner in, was he equal 50, 50 equity partner with you?

Bill Koeblitz:

We worked it out that, I had the majority control , 60, 40. And , that, was always key to me because , you have issues from time to time and, and you can't be equal. You got to ultimately have somebody that's gonna say, okay, go in this direction and that's , with full respect to my partner, who's , a very sharp guy, very capable, very competent, but someone also has to be ultimately, you know , in charge of, of those kind of decisions.

Greg Muzzillo:

And I think you also have to feel that your partner is bringing if it's 60 40, and, and he's the 40 that he's bringing 40% or more of the value to the table, ongoingly or things can fall apart. Also, it's not just about control, but it's about contribution. All right . So now you've sold the company. You've sold a majority interest in the company. I think you still, as we talked, have , something left , so you could get another bite someday , at the Apple, but I know that you're spending a whole lot more time in your Florida home , and less time up in your Ohio home. And you've moved on to really being a very generous man now who in your own way is giving back big time and have created a foundation. Tell us about that, that new chapter in your life, moving from success to significance if you will, bill.

Bill Koeblitz:

Oh, okay. Sure , yeah, I'm still involved with the company to some extent. We brought another CEO on Brian Everett. Who's got really phenomenal retail experience from Target and Rite Aid where he was CLL and a real great leader, really capable, competent leader , who will maintain our culture , has very much of a servant's attitude towards , the people, the team that works with him. And , just a really great leader. So very excited about that. I'm sitting on as chairman, but the time commitment is pretty minimal and that responsibility, you know, all about , that weighs on you when you go to sleep. And when you wake up of, of your company and making sure everything's okay, that's been lifted, which is a real relief. So yeah. So what we're , my wife and I are looking forward to in our next chapter is , we've been , very blessed by all the circumstances that happen in our lives and , and all of the opportunities. And so we've been able to , give a lot of the stock to charitable trust and , I've done additional gifts. So we're going to Lauren and I are going to be focusing our time on looking at causes that are, we feel are meaningful and important. We're, we're both Christians so revolve around , that kind of leadership, but are really excited about finding places that we can give, our time as well as our , fortunes to and support those and get very involved with

Greg Muzzillo:

Bill. You are , really, a inspiration to everybody , that listened , I think a lot of the inspiration comes from number one first and foremost, your ability to believe in yourself, your ability to tackle things that you, you sort of hear . And even when you're in the middle of the swamp, realizing that there's got to be another way to get out of it and , pivot successfully. And you've successfully pivoted two businesses , from problems to great financial success. So Bill, I want to thank you very much for sharing some of your time, some of your wisdom and a lot of your insight, you are an inspiration and for all of you who are listening, no matter what your entrepreneurial dream, no matter what your big dream, you can accomplish it all with believing yourself, followed by a lot of persistence. Again, Bill, thank you very much. Thank you, Greg. Pleasure to talk with you.

All About Bill
Persistency is Key
Starting MEDCENTER
Pivoting the Business
MobilityWorks
Growing The Business
Reinvent Yourself
From Success to Significance