Vision, Challenges, and Lessons Learned: Excelas Celebrates its 19th Anniversary

According to recent small business statistics, one in five small businesses fail within the first year, and 50% fail by year five.  Another source reveals only 30% of businesses make it to year 10.  All the more reason to celebrate Excelas’ nineteen years of success.

Over the years, Excelas has established itself as a key player to support insurers, corporations, and law firms in defending medically related cases, with a particular interest in the long-term care sector.  The business has weathered many changes through the past 19 years including technology growth, staff expectations, good economic times, as well as the Great Recession and global pandemic.  In this two-part series we will first dive deeper into how this woman-owned business has faced these challenges and the greatest lessons learned.  Part two of our series will focus on the unique approach to managing a 100% remote workforce.

Jean Bourgeois

Excelas’ Founder, Jean Bourgeois, took a risk in 2005 by combining her successful career in healthcare and consulting with her vision for a company that could provide flexible work options without sacrificing impeccable customer service.  In a recent interview, Jean reflected on how she has guided the firm over the past 19 years and how her perspective has changed as the company expanded.

What inspired you to start this business?

Prior to starting Excelas, I worked for several women entrepreneurs and I saw the success they had achieved.  That inspired me to try it myself, utilizing what I had learned from them, but conducting the business ‘my way’ with a focus on excellent treatment of clients, employees, and partners.  Excelas was designed to support the industry I am most passionate about – healthcare – allowing me to utilize my experience in leadership, health information management, and medical litigation support. 

What was your vision in the beginning?

In the beginning my vision was to execute my business plan, and quite frankly, hope for the best!  My advisors at the time encouraged me, saying that “one day people will talk about Excelas and the way your business helped them.”  That was beyond my wildest dreams at the time; however, what they said did come true – thankfully.

How has your vision changed over the years?

With success comes responsibility, and my simple vision of ‘do good work and have some fun’ changed to a much broader and more sophisticated focus – including formal mission/vision/values.  My vision is now documented (see table below) in a statement for the company that discusses our responsibility to our clients, our team, our partners, our community, our industry, and ourselves.

What has been the biggest factor that has helped you be successful?

There is no single factor that helped the business be successful, but I can highlight a few. 

  • Advisors, mentors, coaches, and peer groups taught me best practices for leading a business. They held me accountable, identified my blind spots, helped me formalize my unique approach, and encouraged me to grow as a leader.
  • Hiring the right people, with values that are consistent with the core values of the company and who are a good ‘fit’ for their roles, was critical to the growth and stability of the business. Employee engagement and high retention provided consistency, collegiality, and communication between our teams and with our clients – helping us achieve the highest level of performance.  
  • Courage – to make the difficult decisions.

What is the top challenge you have faced as a business owner? 

The biggest challenge has been to face fluctuations in the industry that had a significant impact on the business – growth that challenged us to quickly scale up to meet demands, and the opposite, retraction, that resulted in the need to downsize the company. 

What mistakes have you made along the way and what did you learn from them?

There are truly so many that listing them would make this blog a novel.  However, to speak generally I will categorize them as follows (there might be a theme here): 

  • Hesitating to make a decision because it is difficult and may negatively impact people I care about.
  • Procrastinating on a project that is a personal challenge and focusing instead on the shiny objects that distract me.
  • Disregarding the metrics that inform me of the status of the business – particularly if those metrics point to a need for me to take action.

What advice would you give to women entrepreneurs? 

  • You can do this!
  • Stand your ground.
  • Don’t listen to the inner voice (or other voice) that says you aren’t good enough, smart enough, talented enough, prepared enough, financially stable enough,
  • Give yourself the grace that you deserve when you miss/mess up/struggle/doubt/ fail/give up – and then start again!
  • Find a peer group/mentor/coach to provide the support/guidance/information/ feedback you need to be successful or at least to help you be the best you can be.
  • Regardless of the company or industry you’re in, leadership challenges tend to be similar. It may be lonely at the top, but you are not alone – help is all around you!
Excelas Vision Statement

According to the National Women’s Business Council 2023 Annual Report, there are 14 million women-owned businesses which make up 39.1% of all U.S. businesses.  Of these women-owned businesses in the U.S., only 10.2% (1.42 million) are employer firms.  Excelas has established itself as a leader in the medical litigation support industry and an excellent example of a woman-owned business.  We appreciate Jean’s candor in reflecting on Excelas’ longevity, growth, and success.

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