Q: How did you come to know Mark Brewster?
PZ: I've known Mark for 20 years. We have mutual friends. We went on a snowmobiling trip together in Canada and Maine. A bunch of us rented cabins and hung out up there and Mark and I hit it off. I owned my own business back then and we both had young families, too. I ended up selling my printing company and we always stayed connected, we also worked out together at the same gym.
He called me one day and said, "I want you to come work for Brewster Ambulance and be in my business development department." It was one of those things and I said, "I have no idea what you're talking about—I know nothing about the ambulance business." Mark reminded me of me when I was his age and was building my business. Mark had a vision and a passion to do what he's in the process of doing and building right now. We always stayed in touch and we'd see each other play golf and he'd say, "You're too young to retire," and finally it was one of those cold March rainy days and he called me and said, "Why don't you come in and see what we do here," and we sat down and I could see the passion on his face and in his voice and it was something new. Again, I said, "I know nothing about the ambulance business at all," but he was honest, he said, "Listen. That's what I want. I want someone from out of the industry. You know know sales. You're personable, you can talk to people."
He allowed me to design a sales force built with his and my ideas and he never throttled back and said, no, you cannot do that. Between the two of us, we put the sales team together and everybody is from outside the industry except for two people. We've got people that come from all different walks of life, experience and professions. The one thing they all have in common is that they've got great personalities. I'd like to say it's like an ice cream shop—we have all different flavors, and they're all great. They're all working the same process and it's all interchangeable. We all have one common goal that a lot of companies don't have or lose sight of—make Brewster Ambulance Service successful. It's one of the best teams I've ever built, and it's a true team. Everybody supports each other, nobody has egos—everybody wants to land accounts, yet we all support one another. With the Brewsters backing it—Mark, George Jr. and George Sr.—they support whatever we decide to do. They have full confidence in us.
Every person in our department is ultra-competitive, but not to the detriment of their partner or next door neighbor. We work together. I realize that without every person on my team I'd be junk. Without me, we wouldn't have what we have, either.
Q: Prior to coming on with Brewster Ambulance Service, you owned the largest private printing company in the northeast. How did that get started and what happened to the company?
PZ: I got into the printing industry when I was twelve years old. I come from a humble background. My father was in concrete construction and my mother cleaned houses. I have an identical twin brother. My parents said to me, "We can't afford to send you to college, so you'll need to learn a trade." I have an older brother that's nine years older than me. They had a print shop and he came home with a printed picture of Jimi Hendrix, and I said, "I want to go into printing."
I went to Vo-Tech and went to work in a print shop and I also competed in the Junior Craftsman's Club. We went to see real printing companies, met with CFOs and everything else including plant managers and it continued to grow from there. I did a work co-op program and my first job was filing flats and plates. It was in the basement of this place on the Charles River. Congraf, a premier printing company, did sheetfed printing and high quality work. My goal was to get into prepress, as we had the first Scitex proofer. I finally worked my way into prepress and worked on the light tables as a stripper. I was approached by my ex-business partner to go into customer service and ended up being his customer service rep, and he had an account in Orlando, Harcourt Brace.
My first account was when I was nineteen selling printing services in Austin, Texas. I was doing sales and breaking in a sales team. So when my business partner would travel, I'd cover his accounts and vice versa. We were bought out by another printing company. We had an unbelievable team. This other company came in and said to me, "We don't do teams, we are going to fire [the leadership] and double your accounts and double your salary." I thought, "There's no way I'm gonna cut this guys legs out."
So, I found myself on the outside looking in, and then we started a print brokerage company. I grew the company to $20MM in sales, killing it, and then decided to get into manufacturing business and started buying printing companies. We bought six over the years, and built a fulfillment and distribution operation and when I sold we were probably $90MM in sales. At the peak, we had five plants and over 600 employees. We ran 24/7 six days a week and it was a blast. We worked so hard.
Eventually, I sold my 50% of the company to my ex-business partner. It was early 2008 and then the recession hit. Perfect storm of everything. Myself leaving the company, the recession, the print industry dying, it was the best timing.
Q: What are you seeing that's impacting the ambulance and health care industry?
PZ: Some of the big things that affect us are the reimbursement rates and the attack on health care—from the insurance companies and some government agencies. They've changed reimbursement and continue to change reimbursement where it's almost like common sense is being taken out of the equation. You still need to move people, you still need to give people a decent wage to support their families, and it takes resources to do that.
Everybody wants to be able to help people support their families and earn a decent wage, but nobody wants to pay for it. If someone wants their mother moved to and from dialysis three times a week, you have to be able to pay for it. Our struggle is bringing people into this industry because the reimbursement rates are not where they should be to pay them a decent wage. The Brewsters recognize this and changed the landscape and are now the highest pay scale in the industry, always giving back.
The Brewsters and the industry as a whole has lobbyists that we are working with to get some of these changes at the State house, but it's an uphill battle. Insurance companies have deep pockets and they hire lobbyists and get people elected to make sure their word the last word.
Cash flow is king, if you can get paid. Sometimes it's a game with these insurance agencies. It's as if they're saying, "Let's try to figure out a way to kick this bill out because there's a comma out of place."
Our customers are dealing with the same thing—reimbursement rates and bringing people into the industry—not necessarily the hospitals, but more the skilled nursing facilities. They're pay is so low it's hard to retain good employees. They're really struggling.
Q: What makes Brewster ambulance so successful in your opinion?
PZ: There are a few things. One is their passion for this industry. When I started, I told Mark, "I don't know anything about this industry," and he said to me, "Take care of the patient and everything else will fall into place." That's his passion of taking care of people and taking care of patients. He's never wavered from that. How he treats his family is how he treats his entire company. It's a huge team effort and Mark has put that together. He has the same philosophy that he is going to put smart people in place in education, clinical, operations—what makes them different is that they recognize good talent and support them. The Brewsters are owners who are here and involved constantly and have a huge passion for what they do.
I'm the luckiest guy in the whole wide world and this is a job I absolutely did not need to take, but I'm here because I love those guys and I love the whole feeling. Yes, there are days when you beat your head against the wall, sure, but for the most part it's a great place to be.