Tory Archbold is building a network of amazing women through her Powerful Steps programme. Here, we talk to Michelle Mennillo, CEO and Founder of OTFC Group.
The OTFC Group has transformed people’s lives. Tell us what services it offers
OTFC Group influences the lives of the young people and families we support. We create possibilities by empowering those we help and encourage each young person to achieve their goals, making a difference every day in family’s lives.
OUR SUPERPOWERS ARE PEOPLE, PURPOSE, and PASSION where OT is play with purpose, pay offs and progress.
What we do looks like fun, feels like fun, is fun. Life changing fun!
We are not only the longest standing, private paediatric occupational therapy clinic in South Australia, but we are innovators in our sector, providing world-class clinical spaces specifically designed to challenge every child in just the right way to achieve positive outcomes.
We like to think about clients as Beautiful Kaleidoscopes. Everyone loves a kaleidoscope. Where most people only see the broken bits, we see a mixture of constantly changing bits. They are all different. All beautiful. And when you look at them all together, they are quite, quite perfect. Just like a kaleidoscope, some young people’s development can be made up of broken bits and pieces. We get this. With skill and love, we help them, and their families, to see something beautiful. Our experienced and passionate team combine evidence-based techniques and child-centred approach to a young person’s therapy where customized sessions are not just fun, they also promote independence, confidence, and a sense of enormous wellbeing for everyone. The results are extraordinary for the entire family.
What is the key driver that has enabled you and your husband to build this multi-million dollar venture?
The one thing I can say for certain is that It is never one driver that ensures your success from sole trader to a multi-site, multi-million dollar organisation. In the beginning, it is many hours of hard work, uncertainty, sleepless nights, but most critically, consistent effort doing something you are deeply passionate about and not caring about the revenue. Once you get over those first few roller coaster rides, I think there are a few drivers:
- Clearly defining your purpose and living our values
- Client centric care that is tailored to the individual and the family, is holistic, is planned and is consistent
- Innovation – continuing to build service offerings as the industry has evolved over the last 18 years. Not being afraid of change or pushing the boundaries of the industry and potentially upsetting people
- Working in and on your business; Knowing every bit of your business to understand the intricacies of how it all fits and works together and then working ON your business to know exactly what leaver to push or pull at the right time. It is a balancing act in the beginning but as time goes by, you see how vital it is to intimately know both sides and how you the decisions you make affect your outcomes and P&L’s
- Digitisation – being comfortable with taking our business online through covid and using this platform to continue providing critical services to our clients and the wider community
- Not caring about fads but always being aware of what is happening in the industry.
- Trust – People need to trust you – be vulnerable and care about the people you work alongside and those you work for.
How has your leadership style changed over the last 12 – 18 months?
It changes regularly and what I have come to accept about what makes me good at my job, is that because I have been in the business since its inception and have worn every hat possible to grow it, I know what it needs at different points. And depending on the need, the strategic objective, the landscape, the environment, or, the people – I believe the most effective leader sits back, collects all the data, listens intently, and then decides what to do and how to enact that decision. My values do not change. My belief systems remain the same. The way I show up remains the same. The difference will be in the story telling, the communication style, the time and attention I dedicate to different departments. I heard a story about how Nelson Mandela came to be the leader he was. His dad was the leader of their tribe and Nelson often sat in the tribal meetings watching the goings on. What he noticed was that his dad was the last person to ever speak. He allowed his tribe to go back and forth and discuss points of the agenda without him feeding into the conversation altering its outcome. He sat there and collected the data he needed from his most trusted advisors so he could make the best decisions with all the information he had. He trusted his tribe and he thrived because of it. As we have grown, I have realized how incredibly powerful it is to be the last person to speak and to importance of trust within your team.
As a side note – because we are all human; As we grow, I have realized that my daily job tasks have needed to change and I have had to give away tasks that I once loved doing, such as sitting in on every performance management meeting across every department and feed into each employee’s blueprint for their future. But, to grow, and for me to bring our purpose to life, I have had to let some of these tasks go. However, I still am a part of the recruitment process and meet every possible staff member that spends time at any of our practices.
You appeared on Tory Archbold’s Powerful Steps podcast. How has Tory helped your business? What have you learned about the power of networking?
The power of Tory is immeasurable. She has been instrumental in helping me write my story, learn about who I am and what has made me that way, and then love all those messy and awesome parts of my being and stepping into my power as a woman, a leader, a wife, mother, daughter, sister, cousin, aunty and friend. She has very practical approach to her learning and keeps you accountable so each time you meet, you are continually building. And if you are not ready to do the work and make your goals a reality then don’t do the program. What you soon realise is this incredibly safe learning space is a time for you to let all of your armour down and start to shine a light on who you are. its freeing and liberating and quite literally life changing.
The power of networking is simplistic yet so powerful and the beauty of Tory’s community is that it brings together a diverse, powerful group of industry experts, start-ups, entrepreneurs, and c-suite executives who are happy to share their story with anyone minus the ego. Although I am a very hand-on CEO and have access to my team face to face, it can sometimes feel very lonely in my position. To be able to share this with other women in similar roles is comforting as we can workshop ways of managing this, or alternatively, jump on a quick virtual coffee date.
How do you benefit from technology in your business?
I think I have touched on this in another question but quickly two points:
- Automation within a business is critical for success in any B2B or B2C environment – the more you can automate the more operational efficiency you will have and the happier you team and clients will be.
- Face to face service industries can push the boundaries and provide online services for people if they allow themselves the opportunity to think beyond what has been done before.
What did you learn from your upbringing and past experiences that you bring to your work and intentions today?
I spoke a lot about this in my podcast with Tory and touch a lot through my LinkedIn posts. The greatest learning, we all have is from our childhood and experiences throughout adolescence and young adulthood. This is the time where we need to experience, and experiment and put ourselves out there to fail and fail and fail – so we can develop grit which leads to resilience which leads to being able to bring your dreams to life. I could write a book about how my upbringing has shaped my life and sometimes my husband looks at me and says “how the hell did you end up to be so amazing when you endured what you did?”
The one thing that was missing in my childhood that has had the biggest impact on who I am today was self-belief. I grew up doing things out of fear and never believing I was good enough.
Deeply knowing who you are is the foundation for everything else. I read an excerpt from one of Seneca’s essays recently about Tranquility where he uses the Greek word euthymia, which he defines as “believing in yourself and trusting that you are on the right path, and not being in doubt…”. This leads to tranquility of heart and mind and mental clarity and peace with who you are and what you are doing. And when you have this type of peace, you can be unashamedly you and do not have to settle for anything less. I have found in my leadership journey that self-belief is the missing piece for a lot of people, and it makes up a very large piece of what I give to my team as a leader. I believe in them. I empower them to believe in themselves. To see that they have everything they need inside of them. I teach them that they are enough and help them see the value they contribute to the world.
How do you navigate the work/life balance? How do you run a business and a home and family together successfully? How do you overcome the bumpy moments?
I have a very strict morning routine. I wake up at 4:10am each morning, meditate for 15 minutes, have a short black, write in my gratitude journal, get ready for the gym and en route to the gym I listen to a guided mediation (usually by Sarah Blondin). I work out at the gym for at least 90 minutes every day 6 times a week. I then drive home, eat breakfast, get ready for work and arrive at work by 8:15am after dropping my son to school. Three days a week I ensure I pick my 16 year old son up from school and take him to training (I love this time in the car together and know in 12 months he will be driving himself everywhere so cherish this time with him). I go home continue working, prepare dinner to eat around 7:30pm and then ensure I sit down with my husband and FaceTime our daughter (who lives in the Gold Coast) before going to bed by 9:30am.
I have learned the importance of boundaries and unashamedly do not break them for anyone. My family comes first. Fullstop!. Life is the gig and work is a part of that. Bumpy patches will occur if you do not anchor yourself to your values and set very clear boundaries with your people. I make time for my husband, our relationship as a married couple first and as business partners secondary. He grounds me every single day and no one can make me laugh like he does.
I have also curated an incredible team of people who I collaborate with daily who work incredibly hard to bring the OTFC GROUP vision to life and enable me to be a mother and a wife first and CEO second and I cherish this and enable that for them also.
Why is your business/practice unique? What gets you the results?
There are a few reasons:
- Our clinics are world-class, purpose-built facilities that are designed to hide therapy in play. But our greatest assets are not our buildings. Don’t get me wrong, we are proud of our buildings, our set-up is world standard and there is no other practice globally that does what we do in the way we do it. We have spent millions more than our finance team told us we should making our facilities the absolute best they can be. Each site custom built for the age group of the clients accessing the service. No expense spared. We believe when you are laughing, you are learning. We call it the Trojan Horse Technique – learning, carefully hidden in huge amounts of fun. What may seem a small achievement for some children, is a huge leap for others and we are there to catch them and celebrate every step of the way.
Its play, with a purpose and a pay-off.
- What we know to be true is bricks are bricks BUT the people that make up our team are the GOLD of our organization.. We give our teams bonuses for working hard and making a difference in the lives of the young people that access our service. But when we think about it, that’s not why they come to work. I think the number reason is that we are quite possibly the happiest workplace in the world. I think we have nailed the happiness equation.
PURPOSE + COMMUNITY + GOALS + RESULTS = HAPPINESS
The only people who love our brilliant outcomes more than us are the kids and the parents we live for. Happy people do great work and combine this with a sense of real purpose and passion, and it really is the secret to a successful organization. We literally change lives. Measurable improvements within weeks. Happier families. Potential they have never dared dream of. And what’s more, it is not another medical appointment – it’s the one where the child or young person wakes up in the morning delighted that today is the day, they are going to OTFC to play. Possibly the only medical appointment a child looks forward to.
- We provide a rigorous and thorough occupational therapy assessment, that looks at the developmental, functional, social, and emotional needs of the individual. The assessment process uses detailed information from caregiver’s, educators, and relevant health professionals to make informed and wholistic goals that help the client reach their full potential. Add the purpose-built clinic facilities into the mix, we believe this provides the opportunity for the most efficient and effective therapy. We specialise in Ayres Sensory Integration® which requires post graduate certification, and we certainly love what we do. We get to “hang out” and “play” with young people to improve their skills and remediate their deficits and through a neurodevelopmental approach that has a strong scientific base.
Our success is based on a rigorous data-driven decision-making framework that is client-centric. This means we can continually grow our service offering to meet the needs of those who want a therapeutic approach that works. Our service extends beyond the clinic to the community, with initiatives such as CampEVOLVE® and group-based therapy supporting additional social and emotional development related goals imperative for client empowerment and independence.
Do you have a personal story about a client’s life which, thanks to your work, is utterly transformed?
There are so many transformations that we have been lucky to witness over the past 18 years and all of them are equally special. We have had babies that are recommended to us where they are told would never walk or have be able to attend school, let alone live a long life and these kids have proven all of these predictions wrong by doing life their way. There are the daily wins, where a child is non-verbal who through play, can utter their first word. Other stories of social interactions between young people who have not been able to tolerate social situations in the past and then swap phone numbers or social media banners so they can continue a friendship. There have been the trophy stories of some of our poster kids who have been with us since they were two years old and are now 18 and are living wonderfully happy lives impacting others around them. One special story recently was of one of our long term clients with ASD who was accepted in to his university course of choice studying speech pathology after being told he should not attend a main stream school. And these stories amount to nothing when compared to the daily wins experienced at each of our sites by all of our OT’s. it’s the continuous small wins that over a period of time make up the huge gains in someones life. And we are there for all of it.
A business is only as good as its team. How did you find your people and what do they bring to the practice?
It is an employee centric landscape and to attract the right people to join the team, especially in a period of high growth can be difficult. We have been in the industry a long time and we know the traits, behaviours and EQ profiles of successful, engaging, passionate OTFC GROUP fit team members. We don’t employee everyone and some people choose not to work for us because we have very high standards for our service delivery to meet the needs of our families who pay a lot for our service. We essentially leave the recruitment of the therapy team up to the therapy team. They have to work together, so we find it works best when they find and choose the occupational therapists they want to work with that fit the OTFC model and that they know are going to work with the families and the clients.
We have an impressive EVP and a robust training and induction with weekly supervision provided for their entire working life. We provide opportunities for growth through clinical or leadership channels, have an in-house Emerging Leadership Program, executive coaching for all of our leadership team and with a national footprint on the horizon, the opportunities to travel and work around the country is an additional opportunity.
The right people grow your business. We enable a safe space for them to share their innovative ideas and we financially back them and enable them to bring them to life – a win win for both parties.
Lastly, the team of people we have, genuinely care about each other and to turn up to work knowing someone is always waiting there to smile at you, to care about how you are feeling, to hold space for you when life isn’t going to plan or when things seem a little challenging, to celebrate the wins with you – is life changing. Work isn’t work when you are surrounded by this every single day.
We hear a lot about the importance of embracing vulnerability even and especially as a leader. What does this mean to you and how does this look?
Every single day, whether it be face to face or online, over the phone, or via e-mail, I share a story. It is important to me that my learnings in life (both personal and professional) are used as anecdotes to hopefully give perspective or impact another life. I never wanted to just be told what to do – I wanted the story and in opening my life story to others, it hopefully means their journey is a little less lonely or painful or complex. I do this as a mother and as a leader and I find it works so well in building trust, holding space, giving feedback and basic culture building.
What values most drive the way you show up in your business?
I am foremost a warrior of people and I show up in my business in this way. I ask questions, I listen, and I watch, and I love creating a pathway for people where they can see their future selves. I bring courage to work as a daily companion to remind me of the importance of facing my challenges and trusting myself to do what is right for me, my team, our clients, the organization (now and in the future).
I am solutions focused, have an open-door policy which means I am accessible to anyone that needs some assistance working through challenges.
I am a visionary and love collaborating with people to bring projects to life.
I dislike laziness in people.
I am a ridiculously hard worker and everyone knows it. Deep down in my heart I think I can still do everything on my own just like I used to when we first started. I never expect my team to operate at the same level as I do because although I have a more balanced life now than I ever have, I still work a lot of hours. But I think that is an entrepreneur’s brain.
I love what I do and I love seeing people succeed and be happy.
You are about to spread your wings from Adelaide and go nationally. Tell us about your growth and what we can expect from the OTFC Group?
We have just expanded regionally in South Australia with OTFC RIVERLAND and signed a deal to build another purpose built facility North of the state in Angle Vale. We have also just agreed to develop a property in the Gold Coast. This will be three new physical sites in 2023 taking our total to 6 plus HQ. 2024 and 2025 will see us come down the east coast into NSW and Victoria and then 2026 and 2027 we will look fly west, and maybe south.
When COVID came to play we were considered an essential service, however a lot of our clients were in the high risk category and opted to isolate. We had to work quickly to take the physical nature of our organization and make it digital. We created teletherapy (essentially online OT and regular check-ins with caregivers to help manage long periods of isolation and little respite). To translate ASI therapy online is impossible because it is based on a lot of swinging and movement and – however we found a hybrid model which worked and enabled our clients not only to survive during this time, but thrive. We would like to continue to play in the digital space offering a different service to people who cannot access one of our physical sites but who still need to work with an OT with the potential use of VR and are speaking with a few super cool humans who are creating the gateway for this – very exciting!!!
And then there is the educational arm of the organization where which is the most exciting (for me) as this is the space we can create huge changes for our caregivers. By empowering our caregivers with the knowledge we have so they have an armory of tools to pull from in any situation is going to change their lives.
And lastly, there is the political space where we want to affect change in the early intervention space. Currently speech therapists assess every reception child but there is nothing to assess the motor planning, physical or social needs of the child and if we can provide a baseline for all schools to collect this information on their students, two things can happen. 1 – they can look at providing services that can improve their learning experience within a school system with awesome outcomes and (2) early intervention is only useful when there is early diagnosis. The OTFC GROUP has spent years creating an online screening program whereby an OT does a range of fun activities with each child that can determine future need – how awesome is that! We have a huge amount of work to do in this space which is essentially making alterations to the current curriculum that looks at improving the physical, social and emotional parts of every child. Think of a child like a kaleidoscope – we help fit all the pieces together so what you see is the beautiful sum of a million parts – how cool is that.