Cautious Growth Pays Off

When sitting down with the Courant, Julie Paolino, 49, identified herself as a physical therapist who, in addition assisting patients, also oversees and supports nine physical therapy clinics. An employee surveyed this year by WorkplaceDynamics acknowledged Paolino's "passion and endless dedication" to physical therapy, her employees, and the community. These qualities have helped her establish and lead a company that this year ranked as number seven in the small business category.

Paolino began Integrated Rehabilitation Services, Inc. in 2001. She oversees the firm¹s five locations in the Hartford area and recently assumed the managing partner role at the other facilities in the southern part of the state. Paolino, who received a degree in physical therapy from Quinnipiac University, attributes her success to surrounding herself with intelligent people and soliciting feedback to help create a supportive and open workplace environment.

The name Integrated Rehabilitation Services comes from the relationships among patients, the community, and the staff, Paolino said. Through these relationships, Paolino works to integrate physical therapy services and provide quality care to patients as well as employees. Paolino extends herself into the community by serving on the Tolland County Chamber of Commerce board of directors. In addition to these roles, she still takes the time to see patients, helping improve the health of her community and earning the respect of her staff.

Q: Did you always think that you would have a leadership role, or is it just something you came to?

A: I always had goals. I was someone who really made decisions and went for them, and I think based on having goals I have now been in the situation of being a leader. When I was a child, I always wanted to have my own business.

I really liked small business. I always felt you could do anything if you put your mind to it. I just had an opportunity in the early 2000s. I worked for a private practice for physical therapy, and the owner sold to a large public company. I was there for a year, and I liked being in small business and part of the decision making. I think that¹s probably why I went out on my own.

Q: Do you think you need to have different qualities to be a small-business leader vs. a corporate leader?

A: I don't think there¹s a difference if you have the same values as a leader. It's about building trust and relationships. You can be large or small. I think it' easy to do the right thing. If you're honest, and you listen to people, and you admit when you make mistakes, and you try to fix them people will respect you, and I think you have to respect them. It doesn't matter what business you¹re doing. You service the people who work with you, and you service that which you provide to. I think it¹s pretty easy.

Q: What qualities do you think define a leader, and what qualities do you have that make you a good leader?

A: I'm really open to feedback. I create an open-door policy. I feel like people are not afraid of me. I solicit, and even when I don't solicit, people feel that they can provide feedback to me, and there's nothing to be afraid of. I do everything that everyone does in my organization. There¹s no job I can¹t do or haven't done, so I think people appreciate that.

Q: What has been the most important decision you have made, whether it was a struggle or something easy?

A: I think the most important decision I made was to create an environment of openness. People really have an understanding of how the company is doing, when we have good times and challenging times. Last year, when we had that snow storm, it closed our operations for close to a week. I made a decision to pay all of our people, and I think people really appreciated that. We postponed our Christmas party, but everyone understood why we postponed it so people could be paid. This year we've had a better year so we¹ve been able to give back to our employees like we¹ve traditionally had.

Q: Would you have changed something you have done since you've been a leader?

A: No, I'm really proud of what we've done. I think we've positioned ourselves in such a way that we've grown but grown in a cautious way. We haven't overextended. We've kept our principles of providing services and quality care. There are times when it's been challenging when we've gotten busy or when we're short staffed, but we all band together and get through those times.

Q: What advice would you give to a physical therapist who wanted to branch out and start their own company?

A: Advice to any leader is to know what your culture is and what your people are feeling and experiencing. It's very important that you're part of the solution with your staff. If you lose sight of that, then your staff doesn¹t feel your support, you have to back your staff. I think there are times we have difficult situations that occur, and you want to give your staff support in both positive and growing ways.

Q: How do you build a reputation for your company?

A: It's important to be in the community. Develop relationships with your patients, with the physicians in the community, and give back to the community. You network with people and utilize their services hoping that potentially if they need your service they will in turn utilize you

Q: What should a new leader be wary about?

A: Don't overextend. You have to start small. It's no longer an 8-to-5 job once you commit to your own business. It becomes part of who you are all the time. You represent the company no matter what you're doing. People recognize you as that.

Q: Do you think you have changed at all since you¹ve been in this role?

A: I think I've grown. I've surrounded myself with people who are smarter than me, and I've learned a lot. My degree is in physical therapy, but I've had to learn a lot in business and finances. I don¹t have an MBA, but I could probably write a pretty good book on business. Now I'm learning in regards to the aspect of social media. I'm way behind in that. Forms of communication are changing, which have been a little bit of a challenge for me. I want to talk to you, I want to have a conversation with you, but I think I have to adapt to it.

Q: What is your favorite part about Connecticut?

A: I grew up in Springfield, and Connecticut is really where I established relationships. I love the community of Connecticut. This is where my family is; this is my home. I love the community here. I love the four seasons. I love everything about it.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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