President, Alternate Solutions HomeCare

Tessie Ganzsarto

Alternate Solutions HomeCare was launched in May 1999. For both Tessie and her partner, David, who is also her husband, it was more than a way to make money. It was a heart-felt mission to provide quality care for primarily older folks at a point in their lives where they need help in order to stay in their homes.

 

She worked for a home health care company after high school and had a basic idea of how the business worked. She approached David—several years prior to their marriage—with the idea of launching a business of their own. Her idea was passion-driven; the extent of her thinking at the time was that, between the two of them, they could make it happen. They met at a Skyline Chili, and after an hour and a half, had mapped out on a napkin what they thought was a business plan.

Tessie was drawn to the field through an experience with home health care professionals who worked with her godfather, a diabetic who had undergone a series of amputations. Their care enabled him to walk again—which in turn, inspired her to seek out a career in the home health care field.

 

She worked for a home health care company after high school and had a basic idea of how the business worked. She approached David—several years prior to their marriage—with the idea of launching a business of their own. Her idea was passion-driven; the extent of her thinking at the time was that, between the two of them, they could make it happen. They met at a Skyline Chili, and after an hour and a half, had mapped out on a napkin what they thought was a business plan.

 

Four months later, Alternate Solutions HomeCare was up and running with a staff of 20 employees.

The Problem

 

The turning point for Tessie Ganzsarto came with the frightening realization that, while her business was growing, it wouldn’t continue to grow unless she and her partner did something differently.

 

What that “something” was, she had no idea.

 

“The first few years had been almost easy,” Tessie says.

 

“We were successful based on our growth, but we weren’t managing it properly. We needed to change, but we didn’t know what needed to be changed or even how to figure out what it was that needed changing. We felt all along that the two of us could make it happen and that we didn’t need any help to get through it. But we were feeling the exhaustion. We were starting to have uncomfortable conversations.

 

In those first years, I don’t think we knew enough to understand we were actually running a business. We just went at it knowing we both had enough to contribute something. The business was flowing, almost under its own momentum—then it hit us like a ton of bricks:

 

The conversations between us became awkward and uncomfortable. What were we going to do? How were we going to get through the next day and keep up the pace we’d set for ourselves? We’d just been going on, day after day after day, never taking a look at where we were going. At that point, we hit the wall.”

 

David had attended various courses aimed at helping small businesses overcome their challenges and would report back to Tessie. He would usually glean one insight or another, but nothing that helped move their business forward in any meaningful way—nothing that convinced Tessie he was learning anything that would make a difference. She went with him to some of the classes but always came away with the feeling that she hadn’t heard anything that could lift them to the next level.

The Solution

 

David kept searching. In the fall of 2005, he signed up for Aileron’s Course for Presidents.

 

“He came home and told me we needed to talk, which always meant, ‘Uh-oh, what is it now?’ We went for a very long walk. He told me he really felt something when he walked out of Aileron. He felt like they were talking specifically to him. Of course, the conference room was full of people, but he had the feeling that it was just him, Dave Sullivan, and Bill Matthews in that room.”

 

Again, David persisted. He believed his partner would find real value. Tessie reluctantly agreed. But she drew a sharp line, telling him it would be the last business development class she would ever take.

 

“A couple weeks later, David and I enrolled in another Course for Presidents. I remember meeting Dave Sullivan and Bill Matthews and walking out of there just thinking, ‘Wow!’ I didn’t know what it all meant—it was an overwhelming amount of information. You hear things you don’t want to hear, which was exactly what David and I were dealing with. But for the first time, I had a sense of what we needed to change in our business.”

 

Very quickly, Tessie and David went a long way from the business plan they’d drafted on that napkin at Skyline. In the new world they were creating for themselves, they saw the need to professionally manage their business, as opposed to letting sheer growth do it for them. They signed up for another Aileron class, then another.

The greatest thing about our Aileron relationship is that we’ve been able to surround ourselves with people who want to help—people who have been there and have done it,

The Results

 

“One key takeaway was that we needed to bring in people who could work in the areas where David and I were trying to work, but didn’t have the expertise. And that means bringing people into our organization and trusting them, which also means letting go and letting them make mistakes.”
“Let me tell you, letting go is tough. Especially when it’s something you’ve built and had some success. But while we were successful, we were also killing ourselves. And we were at the point where we weren’t going to be able to handle any more success.”

 

The company brought in additional leadership team members, people with experience in the home health care industry. Tessie credits Aileron with helping develop a process for finding people who would fit with Alternate Solutions’ family-style culture. Prospective employees spend hours with staff people before they ever meet with Tessie and David. One of the first things they tell potential hires is that if they don’t feel aligned with the company’s core beliefs at any time during the first 30 days of their employment, Tessie will pay them to leave.

 

“Culture is our biggest concern,” she says.

 

“We have no problem with that 30-day rule because we would much rather someone tell us today than to go down the road and find out at some time in the future that they don’t fit with our culture. So we don’t hire quickly. We’re looking for people who are going to make a difference in our clients’ lives.”

 

When Tessie and David attended that first Course for Presidents in 2005, Alternate Solutions HomeCare had about 100 full-time employees. As of late 2009, the payroll had increased to nearly 400 employees, with offices in Dayton and Cincinnati.

 

Tessie says the relationship she and David have with Aileron has made all the difference. Despite their company’s impressive growth over the past few years, she says the process has been a smooth one, owing mainly to the counsel that she and David have gotten from Aileron.

 

“The greatest thing about our Aileron relationship is that we’ve been able to surround ourselves with people who want to help—people who have been there and have done it,” Tessie says.

 

“They’re happy to do whatever they can, whether it’s through Aileron or through a connection Aileron can make to someone who has been through what we’re encountering. Because of Aileron, we’ve had networking opportunities with very successful people as well as people who are just getting started. But we’ve learned from everyone. Without Aileron, we wouldn’t have had those kinds of opportunities.”

 

These days, Tessie and David are getting calls from Aileron asking if they have time to help other entrepreneurs facing challenges of their own. They get excited when the phone rings and it’s someone from Aileron on the other end.

 

“We want to help,” Tessie says. “We want to give back. We’re grateful to be in that position.”

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