Taking Good Care At PJ Care!
11th April 2017 Paul Andrews
The newspapers are full of stories about the UK’s demographic ‘time-bomb’, and the difficulty of funding long-term care for the elderly and vulnerable. One Midlands family firm is delivering great results.
So what’s their secret?
PJ Care was founded in 2000 by Jan Flawn, who was then a senior manager in the Department of Health. She saw a way to provide high standards of care at a price the NHS couldn’t achieve, and had the courage of her convictions. “I put a business plan together and worked out I needed £750,000 to build the first home, but none of the big banks would lend me any money. They told me I was a nurse, not a business woman – that I had no experience, and my model for a care home was completely different from the traditional approach, and there was no evidence it would work. But I knew what I wanted to do was a better way forward.”
Jan and her husband mortgaged their family home to get the loan she needed, and her son Neil joined them, after spending 10 years working for the Diplomatic Service. “Our first home was a highly specialised unit for people suffering with a rare form of early-onset dementia, which can afflict people as young as thirty. Because of this age profile, their care needs are very different from those of elderly people. We opened on 1st April and by September we were full and already making £1m profit. How did we do that? By providing the care more cheaply than the NHS could do it. And that’s possible because we’re designed to do what we do and the NHS isn’t. We’re set up to do long-term care, that’s what our homes are designed and built for. That’s not the case in the NHS.”
Since then, the company has continued to expand; “In fact we could grow a lot more quickly if we wanted to. We could easily open another ten homes in the next two or three years by bringing in an external investor, but that would inevitably change the way we operate. We have always had a passionate belief that the residents come first – that whatever they need, we’re here to provide it, even if that means a £10,000 bed. If we had an external investor we couldn’t do that. We’d lose the control we have now. And we’d lose the ‘family feeling’ which is so important here.”
PJ Care isn’t just a family firm in terms of its ownership, it also cares for families, and employs families: “We don’t see ourselves as just caring for our residents, we also help their families adjust to what can be a very painful process of change. As for our staff, they are far and away the most important people in the company – the management is just here to make sure things work behind the scenes. That creates a really positive working environment, and many of our employees came to us because they know someone who works here. We’ve got a receptionist in Peterborough whose father is a resident there and it was visiting him that made her want to work for us.”
All the staff are empowered to make decisions, and supported to develop their careers: the company is funding a number of the care assistants to get professional nursing qualifications through the Open University. “That’s one reason why our staff turnover is so low, and we also pay way above the minimum wage. Our turnover is in the low teens, which is very low for the industry - I know some care homes where it’s 150%. In fact, we compete for staff with companies like Amazon and John Lewis, not with other care homes, because it’s easier for us to train somebody from scratch than to un-train what they’ve learnt somewhere else in the sector.”
Jan’s son Neil Russell is now Executive Chair, and her brother looks after Health & Safety and security. “Right from the start it was a family affair, and it still is. We have great external hires supporting us in some of the senior positions, and we did have an external CEO for a while, but it didn’t work out, and we’ve decided that, for us, it works much better to have one of the family running things day to day.” And Jan is still involved, though, she’s concerned to ensure that ‘involvement’ doesn’t mean ‘interference’: “I know PJ Care was my baby but now it’s all grown up and I’ve handed it over to my actual babies. I still want to be around but you don’t want to be there all the time because that’s unhealthy. You’ve got to give the next generation the freedom to make their own decisions, but be there when you’re needed to support them.”
About the piece - This feature forms part of the PwC Global Family Business Survey 2016, a piece of research that interviewed over 2,800 representatives around the world. It has been reproduced with permission of PwC. Click here to find out more