Tips From The Top: One On One With Shelly Sun

I spoke to Shelly Sun, CEO of BrightStar Care, about her journey and best advice

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Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise

Shelly: Something that always seems to surprise people is hearing that I didn’t come from a healthcare background. Instead, I was a CPA in corporate America until a passion of mine led to a bigger idea. I had seen so much from a consumer perspective when seeking care for a relative that I knew I wanted to make a change in the senior care space. It was my first client who really kept me moving and pursuing my dream. When I opened my BrightStar Care agency, I met with my first potential client to discuss his skilled needs. After we talked for some time, I asked him to please consider allowing us to provide care to him, and with a smile, he gave me the opportunity. Over the years, he became not only a client but also a close friend. When he moved away to be closer to his family, he said he would not go anywhere unless my care came with him. I continued his care with a 24-hour nursing team and was there for him every step of the way. We expanded in 2005 through franchising after investing in a hotel franchise and believed BrightStar Care could franchise too. Serving families everywhere always was an important piece of the puzzle since the inception of BrightStar Care as I desired to provide high-quality, dependable senior care resources to families in need across the globe. I think people are surprised by my hands-on approach. As a passionate CEO, I truly value our caregivers, nurses, franchisees, employees, and everyone who makes BrightStar Care what it is today, and I love expressing my appreciation for them. I love seeking ways to show gratitude for our caregivers, nurses, and franchisees as they are the heart of our company. I always make an effort to have face time, whether that be attending ribbon-cutting events for our new franchisees or taking franchisees out for dinners as a gesture to show how thankful I am for their continued hard work!

Adam: How did you get here? What experiences, failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Shelly: In late 2001, I was seeking home care for my grandmother – who required a full range of services from companion care as well as bathing and nursing care. There was not one provider who could do everything, and I had to coordinate through multiple agencies to accomplish our needs. I knew there were others in the same situation, so I started BrightStar Care in October 2002 to provide a higher standard of care families could trust. The biggest challenge I faced when launching the company was not thinking of the hurdles that came with being a CEO – and solely focused on bringing this much-needed service to fruition. As a CEO, nobody tells you that you are doing a great job – you have to live that day by day, motivating yourself. It was challenging to find that inner voice of mine and it was important to seek out mentors and advisors early and form an advisory board to help me continue to develop as a CEO but also to have a safe place to go with my challenges and get the pat on the back that I needed to push through the tough times. 

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Shelly: Be approachable and be able to give and receive constructive feedback. To grow a business, you need to work together with your team. In addition, to better your teams, you have to be open to implementing new strategies. I’ve personally adopted the book Traction by Gino Wickman in my company to get everyone on the same page in terms of prioritizing and seeing the big picture. This gives us all an open line of communication and ensures we’re on the same page. We introduced the book to our organization in 2013, and since then, it has been a tremendous leap forward for us all. I’d advise all CEOs to adopt this into their business model as it has proven to be extremely beneficial.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Shelly: Find a mentor that will benefit you in the long run. Being a CEO can be a lonely place because you have to stay positive and be available for your clients and your employees, even when you may be a little scared of the next steps in your business or when you’re having a rough day. Having a specific person in your corner or an advisory board where you can have open and transparent conversations is essential. Everyone is human and speaking to those who have been in your shoes will benefit you.

Setting specific goals is important to hold your team and YOURSELF accountable. It’s important to set realistic and attainable goals and stick to them. This will keep your priorities, as well as your team’s, in order.

If you don’t believe in the good of what you’re doing, finding success will be difficult. The reason BrightStar Care is where it is today is because I believed that I was providing a service that consumers would be able to trust.

Adam: What is your best advice on building, leading and managing teams?

Shelly: I am a big believer in maintaining a strong professional network and think it helps better your teams in the long run. Whether that be through women’s organizations, Young Professionals Organization (YPO), Entrepreneurs Organization (EO), International Franchise Association (IFA), or any other organization that may be beneficial to your business, learning best practices will always make your organization stronger. For instance, I love connecting my CMO to other CMOs as it not only helps build their network but helps them see different angles and points of view that may not have been in their line of sight previously. By connecting with like-minded individuals, you can learn the most effective practices when it comes to technology, development, and so much more.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Shelly: Starting a business is hard; it takes resilience, but if you’re passionate about what you’re doing and you stay committed, then you can be successful. The best piece of advice that I’ve received was to set realistic expectations. Someone told me that there would be good and bad days, but with hard work and resilience, a positive attitude, and a passion for what we were doing, that would see us through.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Shelly: Find opportunities to give positive recognition, whether this is to your hard-working team, your kids, or family. It costs absolutely nothing, takes no time, and will encourage people to be the best they can be.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Shelly: My hobbies always involve my two boys. I love spending time with them, whether that means getting outside or planning a family vacation. I have learned the art of prioritizing and how to balance being a mother and a CEO. Some days I know I will have to pay more attention to work items; other days I’ll be a super mom. Overall, it balances out where I feel I can be phenomenal at both.

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