Interview - Gary Tomlinson

Interview: Gary Tomlinson, Tomlinson & Associates, Master of Ceremonies and Educator for Entrepreneur$ - The Reality Show & Chief Learning Officer for EventsLeader: 19th Dec 2004

Media Man Australia continues on it's quest to interview many of the world's top entrepreneurs and reality TV entities. In this interview we achieve both, with a gentleman the world will be hearing a lot more about...thanks in part to Media Man Australia.

Gary, I see from you bio that you have started four businesses. Tell me about them.

I was 27 when I started my first business. It was a medical home care company. My partner and I pioneered infant monitoring to prevent crib death. We also pioneered oxygen concentrators, which at that time was a new source of oxygen therapy delivery systems. And we were the first company to take patients home on total life support equipment.

How did you get into that business? Did you have a medical background?

Yes, I did have a medical background. When I was growing up, I wanted to be a doctor. At the end of my freshman year of college I applied for a job at the local hospital. The only opening they had was for an orderly in the Operating Room. I took the position. The first week I was there, I saw people not that much older than me, who were all gloved and gowned, involved in the surgical procedure. When I asked who they were, I was told they were operating room technicians. I was then asked if I would be interested in learning how to become one. Immediately, I said yes. That summer I trained to be an operating room technician. That training continued during the next two summers. When I graduated from college I didn't know what I wanted to do. But I had this skill set. So, I applied to several hospitals for a position of operating room technician. I accepted an offer with a hospital that was also a teaching institution. I worked along side of residents and interns. They taught me more about identifying anatomy, handling tissue, suturing, cutting, and assisting during the surgical procedure. I learned a valuable lesson during this time. Although I was an avid student, the residents were reinforcing what they had just learned by teaching me. I discovered that teaching is a great source for learning.

A year later, I was hired away from the hospital to pioneer US Surgical Stapling Instruments in Virginia. For three years, I went from hospital to hospital to promote, teach, and sell Surgical Stapling Instruments. My main job was to teach the surgeons how to use the stapling instruments. At the end of the third year, I had accomplished my goals of getting the surgical stapling instruments in every hospital. It was then, that the opportunity to move to Raleigh, North Carolina to start a medical home care company occurred.

Did you ever want to go to Medical School?

Yes and no. First of all, my grades in college were just fair. I doubt I would have been accepted to any medical school because of them. I also saw the tremendous strain on the residents when I was working in the hospital. Their workload was incredible and they had no personal life whatsoever. At the age of 22 this was not appealing to me.

However, I did go to Eastern Virginia Medical School for Cardiac Technology in 1977. I had received my EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) Certificate the year before and by completing the year-long course at Eastern Virginia Medical School I was allowed to be a full paramedic in the State of Virginia. I was volunteering at a local Rescue Squad and they paid for my education. Although, I wasn't a very good student in high school or college, I did graduate number one in my CT class at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

Tell me about your other businesses.

My partner and I sold the home care company after being in business for a year-and-a-half to an organization that wanted to take our policies and procedures nationwide. I immediately started a second home care company, that was an independent contractor, for the organization that had purchased the first one. I had my own staff and my own territory. My contract was based on growing the business by 15%. In the first eleven months we had grown the business by 115%. The company that had purchased my first business then offered to purchase my second business.

So you started two medical home care companies and sold them to the same buyer?

Yes. And I'm proud to say that both companies are still in existence today.

What did you do next?

I accepted a position with that company as Director of Operations. It was during this time that we got involved with durable medical equipment. Things like wheelchairs, hospital beds, patient lifts, etc. This equipment was big and bulky and would often damage the other equipment during the transportation cycle to and from the patient's homes. I saw a need for a product that wasn't in existence. I went to a local upholstery shop and asked them if they would produce protective coverings for my equipment. I gave them my designs and two weeks later went to pick up 200 protective covers. This turned out to be the first order for my third company. During the next six months I marketed the covers to other medical home care companies throughout the United States. I had enough success during that six month period to give me the confidence to start a manufacturing company. For the next 18 years, we custom designed and manufactured protective covers, carrying cases, and medical therapeutic bed surfaces. We had two manufacturing plants and over 100 employees. During those 18 years we designed and developed over 6,000 products. In November of 1999 I sold out to my partners.

You've had a great amount of success. Did you ever fail or fear that you would fail?

Yes, all the time. When I tell my story I can make it sound great. But the truth is there was as much adversity and failure as there was success. When I sold my second home care company, I got caught up in believing my press. I believed that all I had to do was start a company and a year or two later someone would give me a bunch of money for it. I felt that I was special. Unfortunately, that feeling was short-lived. My third company had a lot of drama during my tenure. There was embezzlement, hostile takeover attempts, having to give up controlling interest to keep it alive, and all the heartaches of being a minority share holder. I learned more about business and myself during these tough times than I ever did when things went smoothly.

Gary, expand on that. What kind of things did you learn?

I learned about character and perseverance. I learned that things I thought were barriers to my success were only obstacles. I learned that with hard work, determination and education, I could accomplish anything I set my mind to.

I also learned that business is not easy. I know that sounds trite. But, I was extremely lucky with my first two companies. I didn't realize how fortunate I was until I experienced the struggles with third one.

Do you think those struggles helped you become a better businessperson?

There is no question about it. I'm not only a better businessperson, I'm a better person. You learn a lot about yourself and others through times of adversity. You learn what you're made of. It's easy to lead a company when things are going great. It's during bad times that you find out what kind of leader you really are.

Gary, what kind of leader would you say you are?

I aspire to be a leader that understands that the highest achievement you can earn as a leader is to win the trust and respect of those you lead. I try to lead with integrity. I work to partner with those I lead. And I try to see more in my team members than they see in themselves because I know that people rise to their belief of your belief in them.

Leadership is a privilege, not an entitlement. Leadership is a verb, not a noun. As leaders, we have many responsibilities. We have to influence those under our supervision is a positive way. We must be interested in finding the best way rather than having our own way. As leaders, we must make sure that those under our supervision understand that they are working with us, not for us. But most important, a leader must always generate enthusiasm if we wish to bring out the best in those under our supervision.

In becoming an effective leader you have to be a student of leadership as well as practicing the practice of leadership. And if you're not capable of teaching and motivating those you supervise - you can't lead! Knowledge alone is not good enough to get the desired results. You must have the more elusive ability to teach and motivate. This defines a leader. And these are the principles that I try to achieve.

Gary, I understand that you are the Master of Ceremonies and the Chief Educator for the contestants of Entrepreneur$ - The Reality Show. Tell me more about this.

In July of this year I was introduced to Bob Winstead, who is the Executive Producer of the show. Bob and I had a series of meetings where we learned quite a lot about one another. He shared his vision of the television show and talked about the importance of sharing business education with the contestants. He wanted to create a Reality TV Show that not only was entertaining but educational as well. After hearing about my experiences as an adjunct professor at NC State University and the development of my Art of Business programs, Bob offered me the position.

What is the Art of Business?

The Art of Business is my latest venture. My purpose is to discover the best business education, package it in a way that is simple and concise, and deliver it in a manner where others can't ignore it. I believe that when you combine great business education with your own business experience the outcome you'll receive is far greater than the sum of its parts.

I deliver this education by consulting, conducting workshops, and delivering keynote speeches throughout the United States. The education is designed to help others work "on" their business so that they can work better "in" their business.

What are you teaching the contestants?

I'm teaching them the collective wisdom of my teachers, mentors, and advisors as well as my own business experiences over the past thirty years. I share with them education on leadership and communication. I talk about business strategy and corporate culture. I teach about the importance of systems to carry out those strategies. And I talk about the characteristics, traits, and skills of being an entrepreneur.

I stress the importance of being a life-long student. I encourage them to be an avid student of leadership and communication. And I let them know that if they master these two skill sets, they'll leap ahead of 95% of the people they compete with. And maybe the most important point to get across is that these skill sets not only will serve them well in their business life, but in their personal life too.

Gary, I thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I wish you, Bob and the others the best of luck in Entrepreneur$ - The Reality Show. How can my readers contact you?

First let me say it was my pleasure. We thank you for your support and promotion of our show. Should any of your readers want to get in contact with me they can do so by e-mail or by phone (919) 847-6235. I also invite your readers to visit my web site at My web site contains book reviews, book reports, business articles, and business tools that they can download and print off. Please enjoy the education!


Editors note: The art of education has never been so much fun. If you are serous about getting some real educatin from someone qualifed in both theroy and life experience, Gary could be just the person you need to make contact wiht.


Tomlinson & Associates - Gary Tomlinson


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