That seismic shift you will feel next August 17 will be caused by an historic era coming to a graceful but momentous end. The most highly regarded CEO in the entire Healthcare at Home world, J. Mark Baiada, will celebrate his 70th birthday by turning over the reins of the company he founded in 1975 to his son, David. Mark will still be visible as Board Chair but no longer involved in day-to-day operations.
Who is this person who is referred to in whispered conversations behind his back as "Saint Mark?" How did he build a billion dollar business that extends from Indiana to India based on an ethic that prioritizes people over profits, compassion over capitalism? Intrigued, we went to the source. As generous with his time as he is with his wealth, Mr. Baiada spoke with us at length this month so we could understand those whispers.
Naturally, we had to start by resolving the question Mark must have fielded thousands of times in 42 years. "Why call the company 'Bayada Home Health Care?' Why change one letter of your name to come up with the name of your company?"
"We did it to help people with pronunciation," he told us. "My name is supposed to be pronounced "bay-ada," with a long 'A' sound, not "buy-ada, with a long 'I' sound. So we thought if we spelled it that way people would say it that way."
"It didn't work, did it?"
"No," he laughed. "It didn't."
Baiada was raised by Italian and Serbian immigrant parents in a typical 1950's Catholic family in New Jersey, or at least as typical as an upbringing can be with five younger brothers and no sisters. His father owned an insurance agency, so the entrepreneurial spirit was in his DNA. "It finally hit me after college," he told us. "I wanted to run my own coast-to-coast business, it had to be in the business of helping people, and I had to be able to do it with the $16,000 I had saved ($50,000 in 2017 dollars). But I still didn't know in what field it should be."
With those goals firmly in mind, Mark gathered experience in various jobs for five years after earning an undergraduate business degree and an MBA from Rutgers University in New Jersey, including working for a time in his father's insurance agency. He examined opportunities in child daycare and auto painting before focusing on nursing homes. Then, a favorite aunt introduced him to in-home care services. He thought of his aging grandmother, looked up demographic tables in the library, and decided he had found his future.
Mark opened the doors to "RN Home Care" on January 17, 1975. He was 27 years old. Channeling his parents' values and his Franciscan education, he began to germinate the ethical foundation statement that remains the 300+ branch, international company's guide today. "The Bayada Way," summarized as "Compassion, Excellence, Reliability," is part of every employment agreement and is carried everywhere by every employee.
How to clone Mark
All Baiada had to do to make his vision a reality was recruit people like himself to serve as his caregivers and coordinators. He found two.
"I thought it would have been easier," he laughed. "Not everyone has the same work ethic. I wanted caregivers motivated by compassion, providing excellent care, and who would show up as scheduled. Those people are not as plentiful as I had hoped."
Obviously, to thrive for 42 years and expand to more than 300 offices, he must have figured out how to recruit the kind of people he was looking for. Two stories that have become legendary in the Bayada community provide a window into how he managed to do that.
Sherri Pillet's story
"I remember a terribly hot summer in Philadelphia in the early 1980's. We all felt bad because so few of our elderly clients had air conditioning. Many of them lived in difficult neighborhoods. They were afraid to open their windows because of the chance of crime. They were suffering. Mark bought fans for a whole group of them. Back then, we didn't have the money, but Mark did it. It was sheer kindness. I remember thinking, 'that's what I want to be part of.'"
Kathy Reavy's Muppet interview
Mark invented methods to "get the right people on the bus" that take some prospective employees by surprise, none, however, more than Kathaleen Reavy. She remembers her 3-hour 1980 interview. "I couldn't help but notice a novelty walnut on the president's desk that read 'Head Nut.' I thought, 'This is going to be interesting.'" She and Mark quickly discovered similar Catholic school backgrounds and large families.
Well into the third hour, Mark finally mentioned a job, saying he wanted to open and staff a New Jersey office. He asked Kathy if she had seen The Muppet Movie. She said, "Yes, it was a nice little movie." Mark practically jumped out of his chair, educating her on the point of the film. (This was the one where Kermit drove west to find his fortune, accumulating just the right collection of other Muppets as he went.)
"I'm sitting there very wide-eyed by now," Kathy remembers. "Finally, Mark said, 'So, you want to be a Muppet?' I said, 'I've got to get back to you.'" Her dad urged her to "steer clear of this kook" but her mom said, "give it a try." The second interview lasted only two hours. Kathy started as a Staff Supervisor, became Director of the new office in New Jersey after three months, and is still with Bayada today as Division Director of Benefits and Employee Claims and Safety.
Long, LONG-term investment
Mark heard that one of his branch's Clinical Care Directors had a son who was starting to doubt Santa Claus. He came up with the idea to leave messages on the mother's machine "from Santa," with inside information about the gifts on his secret list. The nurse said the story illustrates how Mark has an immense effect on people, regardless of age. That little boy later graduated from the Bayada Associate Leadership Development Program, started a branch office, left to earn an MBA, and now works with Mark as a Director on new initiatives.
No end to the tales
The history of Bayada Home Health Care is replete with stories of its founder's involvement in local and national celebrations to mark significant milestones. But there are as many stories about him performing in full costume at laid-back parties after annual company meetings or about traveling 1,000 miles or more with his wife to visit an employee in her hospital room after a terminal diagnosis. Once he kept a promise to shave his head if the company ever reached a particular billing threshold.
Considering the central importance of Mark Baiada's innovative and inspirational leadership over 42 years, the question has to come up about the nature of a Bayada future without him. No one seems worried. Senior staff remember how the family in which Mark was raised molded his principles and built compassion and humor into his soul. Then they remind the questioner that David will be taking over and was raised the same way.
In his tour of farewell speeches, Mark makes it clear that his initial vision will remain intact. "We have never given control to investors," he asserts, "because we have never taken on investors. Now, through the new foundation, we are taking steps to ensure that this will always be essentially a family-guided company that can never go public and will never be sold."
This means that what Mr. Baiada is leaving behind will always look like him, which explains the words stenciled on walls in every branch office, "Bayada is a career and a calling," and emblazoned on T-shirts employees proudly wear to work, "We love what we do, and who we do it with." Echoing the closing preposition, what other summary is there other than "It's Mark Baiada; love sums it up." Click here to hear the story in Mark's own words.
Some of this material appears in the book, "Bayada: 40 years of Compassion, Excellence, and Reliability" available for $19 on Amazon.
©2017 by Rowan Consulting Associates, Inc., Colorado Springs, CO. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared in Tim Rowan's Home Care Technology Report. homecaretechreport.com One copy may be printed for personal use; further reproduction by permission only. firstname.lastname@example.org