The first in a series of weblogs on the most inspiring CEOs on this year's list from the staff of Inc. magazine
Rhonda Turner's company, The Prosthetic Center, may not be racking up the whopping revenue figures that some on the Inc 500 do. But I guarantee there's no other company like hers on the list. Turner is a rare case, both in her background and in the changes she's pushing for in her field. She's an MBA and a certified orthotist and prosthetist, which, for a female, is unusual enough. Of the 5,000 certified prosthetists in the country, roughly 4,300 are men, and the women in the industry rarely own their own shops. The business of attaching prosthetic limbs is a curious niche in the medical field, mainly because the industry can fluctuate with, for example, the country's involvement in wars that result in limb-less citizens. The prosthetics biz can also be somewhat old-fashioned. When Turner took over The Prosthetic Center from her father, she inherited a business that offered a wide range of services, from fitting and molding new arms and legs to helping patients pick out walkers and wheelchairs. But Turner decided to take a shrewd MBA's look at her father's company, and she immediately pared down. She picked only a handful of products to sell, but she made sure that they were the best the industry had to offer. She began specializing in lower limb work and post-mastectomy breast-fitting. Instead of using a ten-step process to mold and carve a new artificial limb, she invested in computer equipment that let her do it three to four steps, with fewer mistakes.
Turner also brought with her progressive ideas about what her business should be. Prosthetic limbs, she believes, should be a last resort. She noticed that a large number of her patients had lost limbs because their diabetes was so advanced that their wounds didn't heal properly, which resulted in amputation. But rather than simply cater to surgeons who might send amputees her way, Turner and her staff have begun aggressively promoting healthy eating habits and exercise regimens that prevent diabetes in the first place. Though it might seem like such a campaign would translate into fewer patients for her clinic, the patients -- and the local community -- get the message that Turner and her staff genuinely care about the health and well-being of others. Turner also promotes breast cancer awareness programs, and her clinic sets itself apart by offering counseling services for breast cancer survivors.
Turner says she is often moved by her patients' stories. But the breast-cancer survivors are particularly exceptional. "When you help a person walk again, it's pretty amazing. But my ladies are closer to my heart," she says. "When you fit a woman that has gone through so much -- you're giving her back something she's lost. I always think, when you don't get a hug, you didn't do a good job."