"How I Got Started..." with Darrell Shires, President and CEO of Medworks Surgical
We’re grateful for the insight Darrell gave us into his career and discussing the unexpected roads he took to discover where his passion lied: medical sales.
Q: Where are you from?
A: Originally, I’m from Fort Worth, Texas. I grew up in Arizona and ended up in Virginia in the mid 80’s. I’ve been here ever since.
Q: What are you passionate about in your personal life?
A: Music. I’m a musician. I play the bass guitar and sing and I’ve enjoyed playing and writing over the years. When I have time I like playing, sometimes creating new music, and I really enjoy listening to jazz.
Q: What college did you attend and what did you study?
A: I started off as a music major and I left college and went into the workforce for quite awhile. I got into my career in medical sales and then went back and earned my Bachelors of Science in Business Management degree online at the University of Phoenix.
Q: What was your early career like?
A: In college, I was writing music and playing in several cover bands. When I went into the workforce, I started out working in sales in a home improvement store. From there, I went into business-to-business copy machine sales, transferred into Virginia, stayed in the business-to-business realm for a while, but ultimately had a big interest in medical sales. In 1988, I landed a job with a surgical company that sold urology equipment and I stayed with them for 17 years. During that time, I finished my degree and started Medworks in 2005.
Q: What sparked your interest in medical sales?
A: It was fascinating and you were going to be interacting with highly educated people and things change all the time. You’re always learning and it was an area where I could be involved in sales, but in a field where there’s constant growth, change, and learning. Business-to-business office supply sales got a little old after a while and there wasn’t this massive learning curve that you get in medical sales.
Q: What is Medworks Surgical?
A: First and foremost, Medworks Surgical is a service-oriented operating room organization. We support almost every aspect of urological procedures and that includes almost every piece of equipment that’s used in the room. We troubleshoot, support, and we’re hoping to one day be that in other specialties. We do a lot in gynecology and general surgery, but we don’t have the full comprehensive solution that we do have in urology. In urology, we stand apart from every other company out there because there’s no one else who can offer everything that we can.
Q: How long have you been in business?
A: We started in 2005, so this would be our 15th year.
Q: What was the transition like, from your career to entrepreneurship?
A: It was actually smoother than I expected. I thought that it was going to be really difficult. Because I had spent my first career selling urology equipment and focusing on my service more so than the specific equipment I was selling, I found that when I moved and started selling a different brand of equipment, I was still able to be very successful with it because it was really the service I was providing. So, I’ve taken that same concept and just expanded it into what we do as a company today. The first year was fun and exciting; it was just me and my wife. It was a little scary, but we never hit a point where we were concerned about not making it. We really started out the gate expecting success and it’s been growth all the way from 2005 to this year.
Q: What was the biggest surprise as a business owner from working as an employee?
A: The biggest surprise was that I loved it, even more than I thought I ever would. I expected to enjoy the freedom of not working in a large corporate environment, but I had no idea just how much fun it was going to be to take something from its infancy and then look at it today with over 20 employees and incredible people that have been brought into my life because of it. There hasn’t been a point in that time that I’ve felt like, ‘I wished I’d never done this’. We have a lot of really young employees, around their 20’s, who are extremely talented, top-tier, hard working people and to be a part of their growth is so rewarding.
Q: What have been the biggest challenges in growing your business? What have you done differently as a result?
A: The biggest challenges have been figuring out where our true strengths were and not getting sidetracked by distractions. Being an independent company, a lot of companies come to us with their products and sometimes they look really interesting to us, but they don’t play to our strengths. Maybe they’re not urology, gynecology, or general surgery. They may be in another field entirely, and we think ‘it’s such a great product’ so we take it and we don’t do that well with it and realize it was a distraction. So, we’ve put some safeguards up now where more than one person assesses opportunities, rather than me being the only one to make those decisions. I think we’ve pretty much overcome that hurdle, however; today our biggest challenge is probably that we’re growing so fast and getting so much larger that we have to think about not outgrowing our ability to be as good as we can be from a service standpoint, and also not outgrowing our ability to raise capital to be able to grow. If you don’t stay healthy, you could ruin all the great things you laid the foundation for.
Q: Do you have work/life balance? How have you managed to improve the joy and fulfillment in your life?
A: I love what I do so much that I don’t feel like I’m working when I’m working, which is good, but there is a lot of stress involved in our work. As of the last couple of years, my wife and I are getting away maybe twice a year and trying to completely unplug as much as possible and disconnect. Fortunately, my wife is also a musician, so we can spend some time together playing music.
Q: What can we, and others in the community, do to make your business grow and be more successful?
A: Our service capabilities are broader in urology than any other company, so getting people within our industry to see that picture would be helpful. Sometimes it’s harder for them to grasp that we’re more than an instrument rep in the room, or disposable rep, or a service rep running a laser. We can do all of it and be that one missing component from the surgical suite in some cases, whereas you might have to have five different reps to cover all of the things that one of our people can do. As far as people in the community, we do a lot of charity and we want them to know that we’re plugged into the community and trying to be plugged into the world. We’re also encouraging other business owners to be more community-minded and to do more things outside of themselves.
Q: What advice would you give other entrepreneurs and small business owners?
A: Look for the best people, not necessarily the best qualifications. If you find the right people, you can almost always teach them. Don’t be afraid to take chances, but certainly weigh all the options and consequences. Do what you love. If you’re not passionate about it, don’t even try.
“How I Got Started...” is a blog series that spotlights the entrepreneurial and life journeys of various small business owners and professionals. The content of this blog was curated by members of the CreativeMktGroup team.