Name: Cherrill Farnsworth Number of companies founded: Six Why the big appetite: Irresistible opportunities
Most people don't enjoy reading through government regulations, but Cherrill Farnsworth does it whenever she can. There are too many good ideas buried in those pages of tiny print and bureaucratic cant for an entrepreneur to pass up. "Gosh, when you read through these things, you see dozens of companies you could form," Farnsworth says. Regulatory changes have inspired her to start a bus company, three equipment leasing businesses, and two radiology-oriented health care ventures, including HealthHelp (#213 on the 2000 Inc. 500).
Farnsworth, 50, who lives in Houston, got started in 1977. She persuaded the Texas Railroad Commission to grant her fledgling company, Suburban Transportation Co., a Houston bus franchise. "After we sold the bus company to the City of Houston, I sat down and evaluated what I liked best and what I was good at, and it was leasing and putting deals together," she says. That led her to open a series of leasing companies to benefit from investment tax credits and other tax provisions.
In 1983, Farnsworth found an opportunity in marketing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a technology that was then so new that hospitals were reluctant to buy their own machines, because Medicare wouldn't reimburse them for the tests. The result was a chain of MRI centers, which Farnsworth called TME Inc. When managed care got hot, in the 1990s, she started HealthHelp, which handles radiology programs for HMOs and other insurers.
Farnsworth has sold all the companies to strategic partners, except HealthHelp, which she still runs as president and CEO. Although each business has been very different from the others, Farnsworth says that she has stuck to the same basic strategy for everything from financing to hiring. "Early in my career, I used to think that entrepreneurship was more an art than a science, that it was a gift or something," she says. "I don't believe that anymore."