Surround yourself with good people, both in terms of partners and employees. If you can’t trust them with your life (business) get rid of them. Once you trust them, implicitly, make sure they are part of the financial journey as well. Equity partners/employees who are riding the journey with you will almost always have your back. Even with full trust, there can be underlying deceit, but it eventually comes to the surface and you can deal with it then and continue forward. Equity, structured right, for your team can mean a lot when needed.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing James Webb.
James Webb is the author of Redneck Resilience: A Country Boy’s Journey To Prosperity. His career in radiology saw him rise from a technologist to becoming a leader in the industry as the entrepreneur of several companies. After over 40 years in the medical field, Webb focused on the fitness sector, owning and overseeing the management of 33 Orangetheory Fitness® franchises throughout North Texas.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I grew up in a small town in southern Mississippi, raised by two teenage parents. They fell in love a little early and could only offer a roof over our heads and their love and attention. Our lives pretty much revolved around the church, Little League baseball, and Cub Scouts. I started working at 5 years of age by making potholders for the local church bazaars. When I was about 8, I started mowing yards and raking leaves in order to make enough money to buy my first 10-speed bicycle. This quickly led to a newspaper route and then to working at the local printing shop, where I stayed through high school and my first two years of junior college.
Once, while walking through the science building of the local junior college, I saw a sign that said, “Interested in being an x-ray technician, call Liz Bush.” Two and one-half years later, I graduated with my radiologic technologist license and began working the night shift, in the emergency room, and at the community hospital while returning to college in the daytime to pursue my bachelor’s degree.
In 1997, I started my first company, developing and operating medical imaging clinics in Latin America and the Caribbean. I sold this company in 2000 to a larger player and reinvested some of the proceeds in a venture with two friends back in Dallas. In 2001, I moved a 3-year-old son, a 3 week-old-son, and a supportive but hesitant wife back to Dallas to take the reins of a new venture called Preferred Medical Imaging. The next few years were as tough as it could get in business, but by late 2004 we turned the corner, ultimately building the largest outpatient imaging company in Texas with 28 locations. Additionally, we ventured into pain management surgery centers and built nine facilities working with 53 pain management physicians.
I did a few side projects, including two toxicology labs, a compounding pharmacy, a medical billing company and an HR company. In 2013, I ventured into the world of fitness, specifically Orangetheory Fitness. By 2019 we owned or managed 33 Orangetheory gyms across Texas and, for a time, I was considered the largest franchisee in the U.S.
I sold the toxicology labs and compounding pharmacies around 2015. I sold Preferred Medical Imaging in 2017 to a Canadian-based company that eventually became a public company on the Nasdaq (I’m a board member). And I sold Orangetheory gyms (33 of them) to a private equity group in December 2019, just two months before the pandemic.
Currently, I sit on four boards and have invested in 43 private companies, of which I am actively involved in four of them. And finally, I bought into a new franchised-based natural hormone balancing weight-loss concept called BeBalanced Centers. At present, we have three stores open with plans for another 18020 across Texas.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or takeaways you learned from that?
There are so many that sometimes it’s hard to choose, but I usually settle on the one that changed my direction from climbing the corporate ladder to becoming an entrepreneur. When I graduated from the University of North Texas with my master’s degree, I was pretty set on becoming a hospital administrator. But I was convinced to leave the hospital world and join a start-up company developing mobile MRI routes. In the very early days of MRI, the machines were put in large trucks and routes were established between hospitals. We’d have five or six routes per week, going between hospitals and providing this technology.
Over the next three years, I worked my tail off helping build this company from three routes to 53 routes across the country. I was 30 years old, vice president of the region, sitting in a high-rise office with a secretary and staff and living the dream … until the phone rang. It went something like this, “Mr. Webb, we have just sold the company and since you have no equity, you are terminated. Your desk needs to be cleaned out by the end of day.”
While I was initially shocked, I quickly realized that I had been chasing someone else’s dreams and not creating my own path. In short, I was a hired gun but not an owner. Because I was somewhat known in the industry, I had another job, in Atlanta, within a week. But this singular event of being terminated, without warning, started pushing me down the entrepreneurial road. Would I have possibly gone that route anyway? Maybe. But being blindsided and terminated taught me a true lesson: define your own fate and path.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I’ve sold most of my companies, but I can share with you my thoughts and culture related to Preferred Medical Imaging. When we entered the Dallas market, besides the hospitals, there were several “larger” competitors. As we evaluated our competition, including the hospitals, it was evident that customer service was secondary to cost containment and patient care. We chose to be the opposite, and in our terms, became the Neiman Marcus of outpatient medical imaging centers. We painted the machines and rooms with elaborate art (an aquarium, a flower garden, a wine venue, etc.). We furnished our facilities with beautiful décor. We also focused on the experience for the patient and the physician’s office. We wanted every patient going back to their doctor “raving” about their time with us and we wanted every doctor to have an MRI report, in hand, within 24 hours.
When we were opening our third facility, a local hospital administrator asked me to lunch. I naively joined him thinking we were being welcome to the “neighborhood.” It was quite the opposite and a veiled threat that if we opened in their market, they would “shut us down.” I learned a long time ago that people don’t attack you when they are confident; they “attack you when they are scared. We opened up anyway and proceeded to become the dominant player in that market for medical imaging services — all based on the quality of our operations and the customer experience. Word got out and we never chased another deal; they all came to us. Community leaders, physicians, and others came to us and asked us to bring that level of service to their communities.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There have been so many people who have helped guide and mentor me along my journey. Barry O’Brien was the gentleman who convinced me to leave the hospital world and go into the business side of medical imaging. I learned so much from him about leading people and directing business until about 2 ½ years into our relationship, we had a big falling out over a personal issue. It got to the point we had to be separated in the corporate office to avoid a physical altercation. I was deeply saddened by losing Barry as a mentor and friend and was eventually terminated from the company as outlined previously. I don’t think Barry had anything to do with that as he was removed as well.
Fast forward three years and he and I had a chance to meet for dinner, in Boca Raton, and mend our relationship. It was such a good dinner that we talked about joining forces again down the road. He left the next day for home in Connecticut to go snow skiing with his family. A few days later I received a call. Barry had died while skiing. I was shocked and devastated, but those emotions quickly turned to gratitude. I am forever grateful for Barry’s mentorship, but even more grateful that we made up and were friends again. I have learned so many times through my life that one never knows what tomorrow will bring, and this lesson, with Barry, reinforced that point.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
There is nothing reasonable about resilience. Quite frankly, it doesn’t make sense to get knocked down and then get back up to be knocked down again. But I am one of those people who doesn’t always think in reasonable terms. From a business perspective, when you’re knocked down, it is not just about getting up. It’s about getting up and finding another path. If you hit a roadblock, turn the corner and look for another way, or correct the path you are on. Resilience doesn’t just get back up. Resilience finds a way.
Resilient people do not give up. They do not ask, “Why?” but rather, “Why not?”
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
President Calvin Coolidge said the following:
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
President Coolidge will not go down as one of our “great” presidents, but his resilience will always strike a chord with me.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
All of us who choose this entrepreneurial journey have been told “it won’t work” more times than not. For me, the most recent example was Orangetheory Fitness. If I heard “boutique fitness” has too much competition and “nobody knows what that is” once, I heard it 100 times. When we became successful with the brand and ultimately sold it, I was told I was lucky. Of course, there is always some luck involved but, in this case, we had a new and exciting brand, access to capital, and a team that did not/would not sit on the sidelines and wonder if we could do this. Resilience at its best.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
My greatest setback and “bounce back” is a personal story that many people have heard. It was unexpected, devastating, and changed me forever.
On November 28, 2011, my wife, Marcia, was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. No previous recognizable symptoms, no hints, no pains, and yet we stood at a crossroad that morning knowing that with this disease, there was very little chance of long-term survival. In 48 hours, our world and the worlds of our family and friends were rocked to the core.
On May 20 the physician told us there was no hope left. In a private conversation with me, he estimated she had no more than 60 days to live. On that same day, while we were driving I suddenly had a very sharp and knife-like pain in my lower back and immediately self-diagnosed myself with a kidney stone. I couldn’t believe it and thought, not now, I don’t have time for this! I downed a few of Marcia’s pain pills and somehow we made it back to Frisco. Once home, I tucked her into bed and headed over to the local Baylor hospital emergency room. Some more pain medicine, blood work and a CT scan later, I received more shocking news that day. I didn’t have a kidney stone; I had a tumor the size of a baseball and a diagnosis of renal cell carcinoma. Yep, I had cancer. I again asked the doctor to see the films and, once I viewed them, and in some sort of zombie-like state, I simply walked out of the emergency room, against much protest, and went home to be with my wife.
The next day, while arranging hospice care for Marcia, I began meeting with doctors regarding my own situation. Chemo and radiation were offered as options to shrink the tumor and possibly save the kidney. I thought of Marcia, thought of my boys, and thought of our family and said, “No, just cut me open and take it all.” Two-and-a-half weeks later, I had my right kidney and a nasty tumor removed, and 19 hours later I walked out of the hospital and was home and by Marcia’s side. Six days later, she passed away.
Over the summer, the boys and I traveled together and began the process of rebuilding our lives. As a single parent raising two young boys, the “bar scene” was not for me. Enter Match.com, and I played on the site for a few months but no dating. Well, that was until Cathy came along. Like many things in my life, I did not see Cathy coming but eventually we had, what I describe as, my first, first date in 20 years and the last first date for the rest of my life. We slowly built our relationship, introduced our families, and were married three years after that magical first date.
There have been many times in my life when resilience served me well, but none served me better than during the time I took care of Marcia, survived my own ordeal, and gained the forward momentum that led me to Cathy.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
When I was in high school, my mom decided to go back to school for nursing. She was the first person in our family to go to college. I can remember her up at nights studying late and then being up early in the morning to make us breakfast, every day, before school. My dad never went to college but he told me. “I want you to go to college so you don’t have to work for a living.” I never understood what he meant by that until years later. I was stuck on an overpass in an ice storm and remember looking in the distance and seeing an electrical lineman climbing a pole in this terrible weather. Then I knew, this is what my Dad meant by “not working for a living.”
But wanting and achieving are two different things. When I was a senior in high school, my dad started an HVAC company. But one day the IRS showed up and took just about everything he had. Turns out his accountant was skimming and not paying the taxes. So in the blink of an eye, everything was gone and my dad was saddled with debt. He could have quit right there, but instead, he rebounded, got a job, and paid off every last cent to the IRS and to all his vendors.
When I think back on my youth, I see the building blocks of what I became. I got my mom’s instinct to take care of people, while still working long hours, and my dad’s work ethic and resilience in the face of failure. Work hard, don’t quit, and you can achieve your dreams.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are five steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Work harder than anyone else. When you are tired, send another email. When you are ready to quit for the day, make one final phone call. When your employees are watching you work late, send them home while you stay.
2. Find your mentors and use their knowledge. As you go through your journey, be open to new mentors but never forget what the others have taught you. Be appreciative and grateful to all of them.
3. Be prepared. Always. Hope for the upside but have a plan for the downside ready to go if needed.
4. When you get knocked down,” get back up, pause, and find your new route or direction. For me, I’d go away and play golf or go fishing so I could just THINK. Once my head was clearer, I’d address the issue, fix it or move around it.
5. Surround yourself with good people, both in terms of partners and employees. If you can’t trust them with your life (business) get rid of them. Once you trust them, implicitly, make sure they are part of the financial journey as well. Equity partners/employees who are riding the journey with you will almost always have your back. Even with full trust, there can be underlying deceit, but it eventually comes to the surface and you can deal with it then and continue forward. Equity, structured right, for your team can mean a lot when needed.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have always been a fan of education and, especially, education for the underprivileged in our communities. I’ve tried many times over my career to help young people remove themselves from bad situations and pursue education as the primary mechanism for changing their fate. I even set up an endowment fund in my deceased wife, Marcia’s, name for Community in Schools. CIS helps children fight those things that keep them from completing their high school education.
Two other groups have caught mine and my families’ attention. City House, based in Plano, Texas, works with homeless youth. They are an amazing group, and we are helping support their efforts. Additionally, someone I admire greatly, Scott Turner, is working on an initiative. Scott is a former NFL star, a Texas state representative and presidential appointee who is working on bringing economic opportunity, mentorship and access to sports to children and families in areas of low income and poverty.
I am a true believer in helping those less fortunate than me and my family, and I hope others will follow the paths of those like CIS, City House, and Scott Turner. Happy to make introductions!
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
I have always been a fan of our 43rd President, George Bush. I know many think he was not one of our “great” presidents, but if anyone demonstrated resilience in the face of 911, it was George Bush. He had some tough decisions to make, and maybe not all of them were correct, but he never backed down and he kept getting back up. He is a Texan. He is local. It would be cool to meet him in person.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!