Tom Shivers, the CEO of FourStone Partners, a West Chester-based provider of business services to a variety of constituents in the workers’ compensation managed care marketplace, spoke with VISTA Today about growing up in Delaware County, his interest in sports, and the competitive nature that drove him to succeed as a basketball player at Ursinus College.
Shivers also discussed starting FourStone Partners in his basement with just $500 and one client, his company’s growth, the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, and the enjoyment he gets from coaching his kids in basketball.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born the only child to a single mom at Sacred Heart Hospital in Chester, Pennsylvania, and grew up on 11th Street in Eddystone in Delaware County.
What did your mom do?
My mom was an administrative assistant and secretary at different organizations. I still talk to her every single day. She is very close to my wife and kids. We have a great family dynamic to this day.
What memories do you have of growing up in Eddystone?
The best memories always consisted of being outside all the time.
I lived in a rowhome community, so we were always together, sitting outside on the stoop or out playing in the streets.
We were always out playing sports somewhere in nice weather, and when the weather was bad, we went to the Boys Club and played inside. For a small community, it was filled disproportionately with very good athletes, so a lot of those innocent games which started out for fun ended up as intense sporting events.
What sports did you play?
Growing up, we all played every sport we could. When I got into junior high, I concentrated more on basketball.
I always liked basketball’s essence of team. The five best players didn’t always make the best team. It was essential to work together as a team rather than just play as an individual.
When I was in 7th grade, we moved from Eddystone to Folsom, and I played for the Ridley-Interboro Junior ABA. We won the state championship that year and played in an international tournament in Puerto Rico. It was an amazing thing for a kid from Eddystone to get on a plane, fly to Puerto Rico, and play in an international basketball tournament.
When did you realize you could excel at basketball?
Around 5th grade, I realized I was better at basketball than I was at other sports.
I was never really overly athletic, but I was always a good shooter. When I was young, the understanding of the game came very naturally to me.
Were you competitive?
Almost to a fault. My wife, I think lovingly, tells me that I can take the fun out anything. I have almost a pathological need to make anything a competition.
Where does your competitive drive come from?
I think I was born with it. I hate to lose much more than I love to win. If I win, I never take too much joy in it. When I lose, I take a completely disproportionate emotion from that loss.
Did you continue to play basketball in high school and college?
I played basketball for Ridley High School. My senior year was the first time in school history that Ridley made the state tournament. We ended up losing to Carlisle High School, who went on to win the state tournament four years in a row from there. We had a great team. I feel fortunate to have been on the court back then because of the sea of talent that was playing at the time.
Growing up, what jobs did you have?
We didn’t have much money, so I had to go out and make my own way. My first job was as a dishwasher at the Knight of Columbus in Springfield. To this day, when I smell the smell of a commercial dishwasher, it brings me right back to that kitchen washing dishes.
What kind of music were you listening to back then?
My friends and I still have the eternal argument to this day – Bob Seger or Bruce Springsteen. I will always go with Seger, and my friends will always give me a hard time for that. When they come for concerts, we start the battles over again. And as you can imagine, because we are all from Delco, those aren’t the nicest texts!
The one thing we have in common is that we all hate the Dallas Cowboys.
Where did you go to college?
I went to Ursinus College in Collegeville. I was recruited by a few schools in the area, but Ursinus felt right. I loved the campus and the people. Basketball gave me a chance to go to a great school and get a great education.
In hindsight, was Ursinus a good choice for you?
It was a great choice. I made lifelong friends. I’m still connected to the school.
After my freshman year, they introduced the three-point line into college basketball. Amen to whoever decided to do that! That is what I did – I shot the ball from a distance. The three-point line changed my ability to impact the game.
In my junior year, I lead the nation in free throw shooting. I can still score today as long as no one guards me.
Looking back over your career, Tom, who were the people who helped you get to where you are today?
I’ve been very fortunate to have had great mentors throughout my entire career. No one in my family ever had what would be considered a white-collar job. I had no idea what to do with a college education.
One of the reasons I love Ursinus so much is the school provides so much assistance to students looking for jobs post-graduation with career fairs and in-person interviews. In February of my senior year, I was offered a position at Hanover Insurance Company. I really had no idea what my choices were or what I wanted to do. Two weeks after graduation, I started the job right away.
Three months after I started, they announced they were closing the branch of the company, and everyone was losing their job. They gave us employees nine months’ notice, which taught me a lesson that stays with me today: even if you have to deliver bad news, there are good ways to go about it. I was concerned because I didn’t know anyone and thought I had no way of getting another job.
I had a supervisor at the time who gave me a few words of wisdom. He understood my situation, saw that I was concerned about where I was going to go, and he told me if I never want this to happen again, get on the revenue side of the business. He told me to always be involved in the revenue side where I was bringing in money into the company and not the side of the company that is spending the money.
He set me up with a Senior VP of Sales for Rehabilitation Planning, one of the vendors that served the company, for an exploratory conversation, which led to an official interview with the company for a sales job. I got the job and a company car, which was almost too good to be true.
When I was on the sales side, I realized I could control my own income level, my performance against my peers, and more. I recognized that my competitive nature would help me excel in that arena. That led to a series of higher level sales jobs and opportunities in my career.
What led you to start FourStone Partners?
I had a career on the sales side in the Workers’ Comp industry, and my contract was expiring with a company that was going to be bought out soon. I took a career’s worth of experience in selling, doing deals, and solving problems and decided to start a company that could consult with a variety of companies at one time to make a much larger difference in the healthcare community. I wanted to focus on helping businesses get to where they want to be through sales, revenue optimization, and strategic positioning.
The company started on December 4th, 2012, in my basement with $500. My first client was a longtime friend in the industry who needed some sales consulting. From there, the organization was born. I didn’t want to just be a consultant, but I wanted to start a consulting company. The goal was to grow it into a national consulting firm, which we have done. It has been a very rewarding experience.
Here you are 7 years later, what are the challenges and opportunities ahead of you?
The challenges are constant, but so are the opportunities.
We have some great consulting clients in the healthcare space and want to continue to grow and focus on that side of the business. We own a pharmacogenomic testing company, which recently won the 2020 Business Intelligence Group Innovation Award, and a toxicology
company, so we want to grow the products that we own in 2020. In 2019, we acquired a forensic bill audit company and a legal services and legal cost management company, so our goal for the next few years is to grow these companies while continuing to expand our consulting practice.
You have a lot on your plate!
There is never a dull moment. We are fortunate enough to have attracted employees who like to be busy, have multiple things to do and move from one thing to another seamlessly.
We have an incredible team of thirty-five employees now. I am so proud of our team and of this company.
The coach in me thinks there’s nothing more rewarding than to see people in my company mature as professionals and executives, start doing higher level deals and making increasingly complex decisions, and creating value for our clients that they couldn’t have done a year ago. I take immense pride and pleasure in watching the success of our team.
What do you do to stay sharp and stay out in front of them?
I’m a believer in the player-coach approach and am involved in the business every day. I have goals for myself that I share with the team. I’m in the weeds with the team every day. I think any good leader is going to play in the game with you and experience first hand the things that need to be addressed.
What have you done to create a corporate culture that is unique and distinctive?
We take culture at FourStone very seriously because we know how much it matters. It’s a family environment here, and we genuinely care for one another. We respect the work-life balance and try to hold everyone accountable to each another. No one wants to ever let the team down, and that mentality leads to exceptional organizational performance.
I think we’ve done a great job of fostering a team environment with a good balance of competitiveness and compassion. We have two mottos: “if you have a shot, take the shot” and, “show beats tell.”
Whether it is business or a cornhole tournament in the office, it’s always a sweat to the death event. I usually manage to take all the fun out of that too! We may be the only company in America that celebrates February 4th as a national holiday every year. It’s in our handbook as a holiday, like Christmas and Thanksgiving, where no one comes to work and continues to celebrate “Eagles Day” as we commemorate the day when the Eagles won the Super Bowl!
You recently completed some work at Harvard Business School, what was that like?
The first piece of the program was a week on campus. I thought it was a tremendous experience. I lived on campus for the week and attended various classes and sessions with executives from all over the world They use a case-study method where you dissected the cases and learned from them.
The biggest lesson I came away with was that there’s not always going to be a right and a wrong. There are different ways to think and different perspectives, which can all be correct in some ways and yield great results.
You need to make a decision and then make the best out of that decision. My team was usually 50-50 on whether we should turn left or turn right. I thought that was eye-opening because even though we had all these great minds in the room, there was little consensus on the right strategy to pursue. The varied points of view were really fascinating to me.
What do you do in your free time, Tom?
I spend any time I can with my wife and my kids. I am fortunate to have the best wife in the world. She is beautiful, kind, and the most positive person I’ve ever met. She is incredible.
I have a 17-year-old daughter named Gracy, a high school junior, who is also extraordinary in every way. She’s an exceptional student and basketball player. She recently made her 100th career 3-point shot!
I have a 14-year-old son named Cooper, who is a wonderful young man. He’s just as competitive as I am. He has a chip on his shoulder like his father, which I love about him. He’s a great student and basketball player too.
They get most of their exceptional traits from their mother, but I’m taking all the credit for their great jump shots!
I coach both my kids in AAU basketball. I very much enjoy spending time coaching my kids and their friends. It is probably my favorite thing to do.
Finally, Tom, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
On a professional note, I would go back to “always be on the revenue side of things.” Having that moment of panic at twenty-two, where my company was closing and my job was gone, and someone took it upon themselves to guide and mentor me, it really stuck with me.
On a personal side, it would be so hard to pick just one, I think it’s more observational in nature. I have taken pieces of advice and lessons learned from many coaches, friends, leaders, and mentors throughout the years and then added my own authenticity to it. Again, I’ve been very fortunate.