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“Don’t judge people based on their worst moments” with Shital Parikh Mars

Don’t judge people based on their worst moments. We are all vulnerable to making poor decisions under stress. I have found that most of the time, people perform poorly at work because of stress outside of work. Financial troubles, illness, familial struggles all contribute to employee stress and it’s hard to leave that at the […]

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Don’t judge people based on their worst moments. We are all vulnerable to making poor decisions under stress. I have found that most of the time, people perform poorly at work because of stress outside of work. Financial troubles, illness, familial struggles all contribute to employee stress and it’s hard to leave that at the door when it feels like the walls are closing in around you. So, I tend not to make rash decisions in the heat of the moment, try to get to the root causes of problems and provide my teams with the tools they need to be successful both in and out of work. I try to allow people to improve whenever possible and that also allows me to sleep at night when I have to let someone go because it becomes clear that that person may thrive in a different environment.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Shital Mars. Shital is the Chief Executive Officer of Progressive Care, a personalized healthcare services and technology company. Shital’s passion for creating an ethical proactive pharmacy model led her to her current position in January 2016. As CEO, Shital has guided Progressive Care and its wholly-owned subsidiary PharmCo LLC on a rapid growth trajectory with the signing of an investment deal in June 2018 and the acquisition of Touchpoint pharmacy. In June 2019, Progressive Care Inc. acquired Family Physicians RX, Inc. dba Five Star RX and Florida corporation and now boasts 4 physical pharmacy locations with 5-star performance ratings and nearly 125 employees from which to launch further expansion and sales growth. Shital has continued to focus on creating and implementing systems that improve patient adherence and provide risk management practices for physicians and providers. She is also responsible for spearheading Progressive Care’s new campaign focused on pain management alternatives to opioids.


Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I always wanted to be a leader, waffling between politics and business. I come from a family of healthcare professionals, so scientific thinking and acumen for healthcare were in my blood. That being said, when I was initially approached to be CEO of Progressive Care shortly after my 30th birthday, my answer was “no.” I was fearful and lacked confidence that I was prepared for such a position. I am fortunate though that I have people who saw past that and forced me through the open door of opportunity.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I think for me being a female and so young in this position, people often don’t know what to make of me. I have an ethnic name, so people who have never met me assume I’m a male. When they do meet me, they assume I’m someone’s assistant, and when they find out my job title, they assume I must be older. No matter which room I walk into, if I’m accompanied by an older male, the people in that room immediately assume that that man is the one in charge. I went to a conference with my husband. We walked from booth to booth and at each booth, the company rep (whether male or female) at that booth would get up, shake my husband’s hand and begin asking him about the business. At first, I played it off as funny, even allowing my husband to pretend to know what he was talking about. However, after a while, I was tired of being ignored and very loudly proclaimed “Excuse me. I’m the CEO, he’s just my husband.”

I think this is not a unique experience to me, but it has helped me learn how to take up space in my professional interactions and assert myself to be taken seriously.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my professional career, and I will make plenty more. When I became CEO, I quickly learned that that meant being the public face of my company. I would be booked to deliver presentations, do interviews, and give speeches. I routinely do not wear make-up or elaborately do my hair, so I needed to have advance notice of any public appearance or instance when I would be filmed or photographed. Early on, I did not have that luxury and last minute I was booked to do a TV interview. I showed up at the interview, looking as a normally do, with no make-up, hair in a messy bun, and on this particular occasion, wearing a green dress. The producers took one look at me and said they needed to reschedule. The interview was being filmed in front of a green screen. We all had a good laugh about the multitude of miscommunications that occurred to get me to the studio so unprepared. Now, I keep things at the office to freshen up for those last-minute things and I very rarely wear green to work.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There are a lot of pharmacies and all of them say they care. For many, that is probably true, but my company is unique. One of the things I am most proud of is how many females we employ, how many females occupy positions of leadership, and how much community diversity my company represents. We believe that our business should reflect the community in which it exists and that our customers will trust our company more if there is someone who not just looks like them but someone who understands them is working for the company. Healthcare is personal and to get the best healthcare outcomes, you have to reach people on an emotional level. The only way to do that is to be compassionate and understanding and that comes through cultural competency.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My company is constantly trying to innovate. We are working to deploy a pharmacy app that would provide patients with the ability to have personal face-to-face interactions with the pharmacy digitally. This will help a lot of patients understand their medications, get answers to basic questions, get coaching and training on medication administration, and the ability for doctors and hospitals to get a patient’s full medication profile before they prescribe.

We are also working with a partner to pilot a program that will validate the integrity of medications that need to be kept cold. Currently, the US has no regulations on monitoring temperature once a medication leaves the pharmacy. That will soon change, but we are spearheading the effort so that patients can know that their medications did not spoil during the delivery process.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

My company is unique in that there are no two people who do the same job. In most companies, that is not the case, so most leaders like to create a competitive environment to bring out the best in the workforce. I have found that competition doesn’t always bring out the best work and can lead to toxic work environments when colleagues view each other as rivals and not teammates. What has been successful for me is to make each employee compete with themselves. When I do evaluations, I don’t compare one employee to another, I compare that employee to themselves. If that employee has shown improvement, initiative, professional development then they are eligible to move up in the company or receive higher compensation. I think that having that philosophy has helped my staff be their best individual selves while also fostering an environment where people do not hesitate to help each other and work as a team.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Being a female leader has its own challenges, but my advice about managing a large team is gender-neutral. Be clear. Be consistent. Be decisive. Treat others how you would wish to be treated. Lastly, control the direction of the ship. Whether you are guiding a meeting agenda or inspiring a company-wide staff to move together with passion and common cause, you must make sure you have control of the dynamic. I’m 5’2” tall and I’m a relatively young woman, but when I walk into the room, I make sure it’s clear that I am in charge. Meetings can get off track and people can lose their way, as a leader you have to cut through the noise, speak with authority and lay out the direction for everyone to follow.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many people who have believed in me when I did not believe in myself. But I would not be where I am without the controlling shareholder of the company. I worked for his company as my first job out of college. People tell him, I was the best Craigslist hire in history, which I find funny. But he never lets me say “I can’t” and he pushes me forward no matter how hard I resist. He encouraged me to become the CEO of Progressive Care and I will forever be grateful for that.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I believe in building people up. I want people to achieve their dreams and I feel it is part of my job to give my employees the tools to do that. I give my team opportunities to succeed in manners that they find significant, while also pushing them to see that they are always more than the sum of their parts. Not everyone wants to be CEO, but that should not mean that those who do not aspire to be academic professionals or entrepreneurs are not successful. Success can simply be getting a great job you love that provides for your lifestyle and allows you to be happy. There should be nothing wrong with aspiring to be self-sufficient and happy and there should be nothing wrong with aspiring for more. Success should be self-defined, and I think I will have brought good to this world if the people I work with and mentor achieve their version of success.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Leadership is more than managing. Supervisors and Executives are not by default leaders. Leaders do more than require people to follow, they inspire people to follow because they believe in the point of what you are doing. Leadership is convincing people to want to help you and convincing people that they are important no matter what they do. Leadership is about people and not about tasks and understanding that is what separates truly great leaders and people who just make a lot of money or manage a lot of people.

Leadership is a sacrifice. It has taken me a long time to understand this concept, but leadership for me has always been about giving. I give up personal time, I give up time with my family, I give up opportunities for self-advancement for the advancement of others. I don’t look at my job and say, “I should get this, or I am entitled to that.” I always think that I should only ask of my employees what I would be willing to do myself. I think that has earned me a great deal of respect because everyone sees me working along with them, and it makes them feel good about the things they contribute to the company.

Show no fear. Every person has their insecurities and moments of self-doubt. I find myself feeling anxious or nervous all the time. The difference is not showing it to those you wish to lead. If you are fearful or sheepish about what you want to accomplish, people pick up on that. They question your resolve, they question your message, and in worst-case scenarios, they question your ability. That doesn’t mean being stubborn and resistant to change in all cases, what it means is inspiring confidence that you know what you are doing and why.

Don’t judge people based on their worst moments. We are all vulnerable to making poor decisions under stress. I have found that most of the time, people perform poorly at work because of stress outside of work. Financial troubles, illness, familial struggles all contribute to employee stress and it’s hard to leave that at the door when it feels like the walls are closing in around you. So, I tend not to make rash decisions in the heat of the moment, try to get to the root causes of problems and provide my teams with the tools they need to be successful both in and out of work. I try to allow people to improve whenever possible and that also allows me to sleep at night when I have to let someone go because it becomes clear that that person may thrive in a different environment.

Be yourself. I think for women especially we feel like we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. If we dress more conservatively or more masculine, we are trying too hard or are too intimidating. If we dress more provocatively or more feminine, we are too soft, untrustworthy, or incapable. If we are stern and succinct, we are B******. If we are nice, we are pushovers. I for one am tired of the quagmire. There is no one right way to be a leader and certainly no one right way to be a female leader. I am always myself. I can be hard and soft. I can be compassionate and understanding and also call BS on a room full of men twice my age. Find the path that makes you comfortable and work from there. There are ways to improve performance as a leader while also being authentic.

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 learned professionally about how important it is to look for diamonds in unexpected places. I think as companies we can have such rigid ideas of what perfect hires should look like or sound like. We do that to make hiring more efficient, but in so doing we leave our companies vulnerable to becoming stale. I don’t think I am any fortune 500’s idea of a great CEO. I would never get hired to be the executive of a big company because I don’t fit the mold. But does that mean I don’t belong there and wouldn’t be successful if I had the opportunity? I’m not so sure. I think more companies should invest in training and invest in hiring people who don’t always have the pedigree because there is a lot to be said about finding someone hungry for success and giving that person an opportunity.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There is a quote I have lived my entire life by which is “Those who can do better, should.” I shouldn’t have to be asked or required to do the right thing, to do the right thing. I can control my actions and when given the choice, it shouldn’t matter that the right thing makes little difference or if anyone will notice. If I could get an A on a project in school, it didn’t matter to me that I would have teammates who would get a good grade because of my efforts. It’s not my job to police their success, it’s my job to do my best. I can do better, therefore I should. Therefore, I will.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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 if we tag them 🙂

If I had the opportunity to speak with anyone today, it would be Bruce Broussard, the CEO of Humana. My company performs better than 90% of all other pharmacies in Humana’s network, so I think he would benefit from understanding why we are so successful and what solutions we have to make the industry as whole better.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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