After learning how to run a company with her business partner and husband, Gordon, Pueblo native Erin Gibbs is preparing to celebrate almost nine years as the owner and CEO of the American Vein & Vascular Institute.
Named one of ColoradoBiz Magazine’s Top 100 Women-Owned Companies, the American Vein & Vascular Institute, a vein and arterial diagnosis and treatment center founded in Pueblo, has eight locations throughout Colorado and Texas and employs 64, 47 of whom are women.
Though she came from a family steeped in the medical field, Gibbs started her career as a journalist and eventually worked at the Mayo Clinic and created content for its first website.
Gibbs partnered with her husband, a doctor, in 2009 to open their own treatment center in Pueblo. Gibbs said she manages the business side of the company, which has seen positive growth every year.
Gibbs spoke with the Business Journal about being a woman CEO and learning how to run a business.
Why did you decide to own a business?
[Gordon] had a referral one day for a patient who had vein disease and that was something he [specialized in at] the hospital [in Pueblo]. After that one patient he treated so successfully, more came, and it ended up that those patients don’t need to be treated in a hospital. It was better to treat them out of the hospital. He came home with this idea, ‘Let’s try starting a business.’ We agreed. We had three babies at the time, so we knew it was going to be a big commitment for us. … Looking back now, I can probably write the book on what not to do. We made business mistakes, but patients always had the best care. Almost [nine] years later, our intention, mission and vision is almost exactly the same.
What does it mean for a business to be successful?
Financial success means you can grow. That is outwardly the easiest way to measure success — can you deal with the downturns and climb out of that? Can we make a profit? And do we have enough money to grow? … Then there’s the soft side, the human side — are the employees happy? Are they equipped with what they need? Is there a place in the company for them to [grow]? If you have great culture, that is also a measure of success. That is as hard to achieve as profitability. Sometimes it’s ignored and it shouldn’t be. In our line of business, success is ‘Do our patients feel better when they leave us?’ If the answer is yes, then that’s success.
“If you are going to own and run a business, learn and understand every job.”
What is your leadership style?
I’ve evolved and now I’m much more hands-off. If someone makes a mistake, I want them to make that mistake and then own it, fix it and move forward. Before, I might have taken over and fixed it myself. My leadership style now is more guiding and less demanding. I want the people we hired to do the job we hired them for. As an owner, my role now is to be a resource and a checkpoint — not so much a director.
What challenges have you faced as a woman CEO?
It was a struggle because I’d walk in and everyone would look to my husband, and the assumption was since we started this business together, I was the wife, that I had no role. So in being partners we agreed that we needed very clear definitions for what we do, so we ended up creating two companies. We have the business office, which I own, and the medical clinics, which belong to my husband. So he’s responsible for anything that touches a patient and I’m responsible for everything that relates to the business services.
What advice would you give women aspiring to be CEOs?
To younger women, my advice is to take business courses in college. Understand business accounting, understand the money side of marketing — being creative is not enough, marketing is actually an accounting exercise. If you are going to own and run a business, learn and understand every job. The last thing is exercise great emotional intelligence. Stay calm. It’s very easy to get worked up over the wrong things.