The Primitive Podcast: Marcylle Combs
Posted by Kade Wilcox | October 26, 2020
Leading with a smile-forward mentality and a quality-centric mantra helped guide Marcylle Combs into seeing her business, Accolade Home Healthcare, through 40 different offices, nearly 800 employees, and 15 years of growth and success.
In this episode, Combs explains how she comes to see herself as never failing a day in her career, and how being a leader truly means taking “no days off”.
Hear more Marcylle Combs in this episode of The Primitive Podcast. You won’t want to miss it.
Kade Wilcox (00:00):
Hey guys. Kade Wilcox here, host of the primitive podcast. Thank you for joining this week's episode. We're joined by Marcylle Combs. Marcylle Combs has owned and operated multiple businesses. The main one over a 15 year period of time she owned Accolade Home Healthcare had almost 800 employees and grew it to nearly 40 offices in 15 years. It was a real pleasure to interview her and talk to her about her experience as an entrepreneur and as a leader. As always thank you for joining The Primitive Podcast and for being a faithful listener. Thank you so much.
Kade Wilcox (00:50):
Marcylle, thank you so much for joining the podcast. I really appreciate our mutual friend, Kathy Crockett, introducing us and appreciate you taking the time to join the podcast. So for those who listen to our podcast who don't know Marcylle Combs, can you tell us a bit about your background and your story and just give us some insight into that.
Marcylle Combs (01:09):
Sure Kade. It's an honor to be with you today and I am so happy. I'll be flying out to your area tomorrow, to Lubbock, Texas for a couple of meetings. Happy to be here in person. And I'm hoping the wind is not blowing 800 miles an hour. Last time I was there, last month, it was I think 40 degrees, and I think the wind might've been blowing at 40 miles per hour. And I was not prepared for that coming from the Dallas area. Let's just say that. So a little bit about my background. I have five children and they are all grown now and they are delightful people. I did manage to stay married to one amazing man. And that's probably why I managed to stay married to him because he is an amazing, brilliant guy in his own right. In our journey, we were in partnerships with that, if you will. So my undergraduate degree is as a registered nurse. So right through high school, right through college, got out, and said I'm going to work by the bedside. I'm going to work with patients one-on-one and I'm never going to sit behind a desk and I'm never going to just do paperwork and that kind of thing all day long. That might be one of my themes to say, in in your 22 year old self, when you graduate from college, or even when you're younger than that, if you choose a different path, it's probably going to lead you somewhere you didn't expect to be, but that journey can be a delightful one. I said I might've been an accidental career person early on. I think somewhere in my being, I was always going to be an entrepreneur, always going to be someone who had their own business or their own thing in some way.
Marcylle Combs (03:16):
But I had that planned out in my mind's eye a lot further down the line than it actually happen. So my husband and I moved to Lubbock, Texas, and my husband was working on his PhD. And at that time I had four little children and unfortunately they all needed to eat on a regular basis. Due to a lot of events. I needed to go back to work and I had never worked with elderly. I'd always done labor and delivery, neonatal intensive care, the happy part, if you will, the happiest or saddest part of the hospital. But I met someone on that journey that was doing home care and I was curious with him. I think I was always kind of a born teacher to like that sort of thing. So she was carrying at that time, you'll see how this is a beeper.
Marcylle Combs (04:18):
And I said, what do you do with that thing? And she said, well, I'm able to go out into people's homes. And I teach them and we do skilled care and some kind of medical treatment for them. And it's a great part time job. And from that, my journey really began. It led me to business. I worked for an agency and that owner decided to sell the agency and I felt this compelling, overwhelming need. I had helped him grow it. And I had this overwhelming need that I wanted to do that. Now I wanted to buy it. I had no money. We had four kids. Craig was still working on his PhD. And there was no reason for me to be able to do that, but really through his faith in me. And I think I also was a pretty key part of the business then, he decided that he would help me.
Marcylle Combs (05:17):
And he would in essence support me in that effort and backed me in financing. And I bought that business. I will say in nursing school, you don't have a business class. You do have some math classes, but they're statistics. And they are, how do you calculate drug dosages? And at that point in class, we had to do that sort of thing. So I really didn't have any of that. I've never been taught how to read a profit loss statement. Everything I kinda knew either knew by asking lots of irritating questions to lots of people, or I learned in one of the two. And I had great friends and support people who were my accountants some of which are in Lubbock, Texas.
Marcylle Combs (06:16):
And I had people who would just take the time to teach me about those sorts of things. Within a couple years, I sold that business and then I formed what would become my career foundation management services and own that until 2018. When I was sold that and Accolade home care, I first had a big contract with the hospital, then moved on to going back out and into a direct provider of home care and hospice. And I did that until 2019. And then in 2018, I sold the business. It was really large, we had 39 offices and we had 750 employees. I loved the work and I loved the people. And I loved what I was doing. I'm a person of faith. So I had a faith based business, even though it was a for profit business and we had people of all faihs and some people of no faith who worked with us.
Marcylle Combs (07:25):
But my goal was to love all of them. Then I just couldn't stand it. So I went back into business in a consulting business that I have right now called Mac Legacy. And I have some commercial properties, which, you know, at the time seemed, as I said to you earlier, they seemed like a really smart move. I was a really smart gal in COVID and what people are doing accurately, perhaps not so smart, but cycles. So I'm doing a few other things on the side, like building houses and all kinds of personal and professional sorts of things.
Kade Wilcox (08:13):
How long did you lead Accolade?
Marcylle Combs (08:15):
We started in 2003 to 2018.
Kade Wilcox (08:22):
15 years. So let's think about that for a moment. How'd you see your role as a leader there? So you started that from the ground up. You started with no clients and no employees and grew it over 15 years to almost 40 locations and 700 plus employees. I'm sure you saw your role as a leader in multiple ways throughout those 15 years, so feel free to answer it as generally as you want, but when you think back to that time, how did you see your role as a leader?
Marcylle Combs (08:56):
You know my personal mission or responsibility, I'm a big John Maxwell follower. And if you know who he is good, if not, you should look him up. But I felt like as a leader of the company, I needed to be someone that I wanted to work for. And that in that role I had a motto and it was real simple and that was to come to work every day with a smile on your face and the day that you don't want to be here, then you should go. That was fundamental. Two was in whatever we did was quality. Whatever that looked like. It had to be a quality product, a quality followup. We needed to be people that we would want in our own homes.
Marcylle Combs (10:01):
My initial response as a leader was to trust them on face value, but expect more of them than they would expect of themselves. So I really believe in promotion within, I really believe in education. So everything I could do to help people perhaps achieve more than they felt like they could achieve themselves. My philosophy has always been to have lots of young college grads. One is it helps you not be so stuck in a rut, even if they drive me crazy. And two is, you're just helping them get to a point where they're gonna shape the future. And that's what it's really all about is someday the people that you're training will be training someone else. You know, I always felt I should work harder than anyone else there.
Marcylle Combs (11:01):
And sometimes in the end be willing to do whatever they were willing to do. So for me as a leader, I don't really think you get a day off as a leader. And the higher up you are in company the fewer confidants you can have, cause you have to portray any image that we can do this. Now I will say when someone came to my office with a problem, I would say to them, what is your solution? So don't come in here and expect me to solve your problems. I may not completely agree with your answer, but you need to come with an answer to your problem. Versus I say, it's kind of the vomiting thing, excuse me, if this is the nonclinical audience, which I'm sure it is. They come in and they throw up all over your office and they leave and they feel better, but you are left with this mess. So the goal to get people to grow is to allow them some room to make mistakes, but also a bar for them to try to follow that they can't easily achieve.
Kade Wilcox (12:13):
Yeah that's really good. What do you see your responsibility as it relates to vision? 15 years sounds like a long time. But if you've ever ran a business, you know that goes by really fast. So that growth was really rapid in the reality of actually leading a business. And so what did you see as your responsibility related to vision and what did that practically look like for you? Did you set time aside to do that? How'd you do that with your team? What role did vision have for you as the leader of your organization?
Marcylle Combs (12:48):
Well, I love new projects. We say I bore easily. So I love a new project, whatever that project is. I mean, give me a new project. I'm all in. I have learned that you can't leave the people in the dust that are behind you because there are very, I've learned this over the years. There are a lot of people that can follow the path, but there's very few people who can create the path. And I believe that can be learned, but there has to be certain personalities who love doing that. So I like small brainstorming groups, so I would allow time for that. Really a good group, the core of it in my mind would never be over 12 people, but preferably would be five to six with you.
Marcylle Combs (13:49):
And then that's not to say as that project gets along the way that you don't need to bring in other pockets of people, but too many voices is too much. I also said to set a time for the leadership more than just working on a project, but the leadership of the companies would come together and just get to know each other. I just heard something about the Supreme Sourt Justices that I thought was brilliant is that they set aside a time, and I could have this wrong, once a month and they come together just as a group to just eat together and fellowship together, if you will. But they're not allowed to talk about cases and they're not allowed to talk about politics, but I think that's a great example. You need to get people outside of their normal environment to do that.
Marcylle Combs (14:53):
For the largest offices I would bring them in for two days, from all over the state, diverse people, but key people to just set aside time. And in two days we would have their strategic plan made for the next year. What their strengths and weaknesses are, what their failures and successes were, what the challenges were, and then set out a particular goal of what number we needed to hit. And then it's more in the mechanics of how you get there. You know had a CFO tell me one time a CFO has a hard time making a transition to the COO cause a CFO just sees the numbers on the paper.
Marcylle Combs (15:52):
He doesn't see the possibilities of tomorrow, the COO or the CEO sees the possibilities of tomorrow. And that you have to look beyond what's just on the paper. And you had to have some time to do that of course, I believe in fun that you should have a good time every day. Cause you never know when it might be your last on this earth. So, you know, I would try to do something fun over a period of time and set fun goals. People are motivated by a lot of different things, not all money. I find that hard to believe that not everyone is motivated by money, but you know, things that they would be interested in.
Kade Wilcox (16:41):
Yeah, that's good. How did you treat failure throughout your leadership journey and throughout starting businesses and helping grow companies and start companies and manage companies? What's been your approach to really learning and learning from failure and how you practically treat it?
Marcylle Combs (16:58):
Oh, I never fail. My approach really to failure is I think that if you're not having some failures along the way you, you really aren't trying hard enough. Now your goal is to modify that failure. Because if you have a big enough failure the ladder to get back up is a lot harder. And I think it doesn't matter how many times you fall down, it matters how many times you get up. So if something isn't working, then you have to stop and regroup and go another direction. That's not keeping to your goals or it's not the exception of not focusing on that. It's that you are to experience some failures and it is going to be really hard. I have five children, I have four sons. And they're all a mix of your personalities on their own, but I have one who's been doing some business ventures and I just said there are many days.
Marcylle Combs (18:10):
I remember when I bought my first business and one day I had no debt and the next day was a billion dollars in debt. And I had about 200 employees or 150 that were depending upon me for a paycheck. So I was a little terrified, I didn't have any money when I started, so to lose all your money, if you don't have any money, I mean, zero, it's a little easier when you're younger and you don't have those kinds of things. And I knew, I would always be able to have a job, but so many times I would wake up and feel like we're not gonna do it tomorrow. And I've worked in a service industry. So when I sold our payroll was about 1.2 million every two weeks.
Marcylle Combs (19:05):
So unfortunately I couldn't just write a check out for that. Or make it up or not take a check myself, and at that point, there's a lot of other factors. And there were times in the past that I did mortgage my retirement and I did do all those things because the people needed to get paid. When you're looking back and you have some degree of success, people think it looks easy, but it's always hard. I've created the best friends and had the most fun ever to this business and multiple businesses.
Kade Wilcox (19:55):
That's great. How do you treat your own personal growth? How do you stay inspired? How do you prevent just focusing on putting out all the fires and how do you ensure that you are growing and you are staying inspired as a leader?
Marcylle Combs (20:11):
Early on it wasn't very hard to figure out that I needed to learn a lot more every single day. Cause I didn't know anything. One thing I knew was how to show up, how to follow up, how to make sure I kept my word. And if I couldn't keep my word to go back and do whatever I could to say, this is what I did. However I really believe in personal growth. And so one thing is, and I talk a lot to females and just my struggle with financing, being the woman. My husband and I didn't do this business together where we're very different and he has his own path. He went to Iraq a couple of times and he had his own path in the military.
Marcylle Combs (21:06):
So for me, I was independent in whatever I had to do. He was my greatest supporter from a personal level, but from a personal growth, I'm a big reader. And I don't think you can be a leader without being a reader. Now that doesn't mean that you have to sit and read a book that's a thousand pages long and boring to death. I have to read a lot of federal regs. If you want cures for insomnia. But to go ask for financing, to lead my people, to try to be a leader in the industry and know everything I could know about getting people's care, I had to read the stuff I didn't want to read. Now I love to read novels. I just finished a novel that's based on a true story called the Indigo Girl.
Marcylle Combs (22:02):
In my later years, as I got some degree of success, I tried to put myself in groups cause I was really comfortable in the home care and hospice space. Really comfortable on a national level or on a state level. So I had to find some other groups where I was really uncomfortable and as much as people think I'm a natural extrovert, I'm really not. And I do love people and I love that kind of thing, but I don't walk in a room and think, I'm so glad to be amongst a hundred people I've never met before at a reception. So I went back and got my master's when I was in my fifties.
Marcylle Combs (22:56):
And that was through Kathy Crocket and LCU. LCU had a Masters in Leadership program. And so six of us, our executives, I talked them into going with me when, and we spent three years doing our master's program online. And I also participated in some of John Maxwell's small groups. I went to Dave Ramsey's group. Anywhere I could. And I am finishing up a book just about my own particular management style. So I think it's important for you to be excellent in what you do. You have to learn everything there is to know about it and to be excellent, you have to continually put yourself in groups that you're uncomfortable in that you think maybe automatically they're all smarter than you. And I tell you, I still do that. And I still don't like it.
Marcylle Combs (24:00):
But I want it to be the last day that I take a breath on this earth to be the last day I learned something new and I'm never going to know when I'm there,.it's just remarkable, the things people know. I've been building a house, so building a house, I wouldn't suggest it, but I don't know hardly anything about making a structure stand up and not fall down. Very little information do I have there, and I marvel at the people who know how to do that.
Kade Wilcox (24:42):
That's good. When you think about back through your career, what things are, or who are a few people that have had the greatest impact on your leadership journey and maybe what are some of the things that really stick out to you in terms of why those things or why those people influenced you?
Marcylle Combs (25:02):
Oh gosh. You know, as I said, there's been so many people that believed in me. My mentor, who I bought my first business from. I mean, again, this was in the early nineties. So it was a little different wage time too. But I remember he asked me, do you have any financial goals? And I said, well, I would love to have $6 million in the bank free and clear with no debt. And most of my friends said you are crazy. You're a nurse, you're never going to be able to do that. And what he said was Marcylle, that's not near enough. And I thought that's not near enough. One, what that said to me was you could probably do this. And two is that it wasn't the ceiling.
Marcylle Combs (26:12):
Recently I was in a small group with John Maxwell last year. I went to London with him and I went with one of his small groups with this nonprofit called Equip. And he was talking about the problem with goals is that they're a ceiling. So I've had to say, okay, if I hit this goal, where's the ceiling above that? Or where do I need to sit down and say, okay, I need goals and stretch goals I can reach. Where are those? So really my first business mentor, he told me the billing and collecting, knowing where your money is every day. I have a good friend who is an attorney in Dallas. She is probably five foot tall and a hundred pounds soaking wet, but she is a fierce woman. We might be on different sides politically, but we're on the same side heartwise. She was really someone who helped me walk through the Medicare legalities in so many ways. I had another attorney who was just a small town lawyer who actually helped me with my adoption of my daughter, but more than that, he was a fierce defender of me. I haven't had that. It's not that I don't have attorneys and they're good, but from a business perspective, he just believed in me and nobody was going to hurt me. And I had a CIO, which computer people are interesting. And he was not your average personality, and he died a few years ago of cancer, but he taught me so much about computers and the cloud. Cause when I first heard about this cloud, I thought, where is that? I know most people don't even think about what you were in, but he would take the time to teach me. And I've mentioned John Maxwell several times. He's a great leader, a great force. He's now in his seventies. But he still does so much. And he's taught me so much about being responsible, being connected. So many people along the way.
Kade Wilcox (29:01):
There's two things I keep hearing you refer to on multiple levels. And that is you seem to have really surrounded yourself by a lot of really great people. You're able to acknowledge what your strengths are and the strengths you don't have and therefore you've surrounded yourself with these great people. And then you just seem to be really curious and always learning. And I think that says a lot about your leadership. My last question for you is if you could speak to your younger self, 15, 20, 30 years ago, what advice would you give yourself then based on what you know now?
Marcylle Combs (29:38):
Oh, goodness, take a business course. That would have helped me a lot. I think if I talked to my younger self maybe I would say don't worry so much. And something you learn along the way, and I am a person of faith, so you need to take this in that context, sometimes instead of staying up all night and fretting yourself to death about something that you're really not making steps toward just hold God's hand and walk forward. That's what we all have to do when the day is done is to focus on that. Somehow when you pass really hard things you don't think you're going to live on the other side of that. For me, I felt a great deal of responsibility for a great many people. I can't stay standing in the way of God working in their life either whether they believe in God or not, doesn't really matter. But I can't be everything to everyone.
Marcylle Combs (31:06):
If you understand nurses, a lot of times we take on the responsibility, things that are really not our style. So I don't know if I would have made any difference in that young girl. But that's probably what I would say to her is perhaps you should take a few more business classes. Couldn't have gotten me to do it then. I wasn't going to do that. I was stubborn and strong-willed and outspoken like any good Texas woman.
Kade Wilcox (31:44):
That's good. Well, it's been a real pleasure talking to you. Thank you for sharing all your insight and the knowledge you've learned over the years and just really appreciate you taking the time to be with us.
Marcylle Combs (31:55):
Thank you. And a shout out to Kathy Crockett. You didn't ask me about contact information, but if anyone needs to see anything that I'm up to on Instagram, it's Marcylle_Combs and Facebook it's Marcylle Combs Company and on the website it's Marcyllecombs.com. So if you can spell my first and last name, you can probably find me.
Kade Wilcox (32:25):
Thank you so much.