In honor of Veterans Day, NFIB presents a series of profiles featuring veterans who run successful small businesses. Air Force vet and NFIB member Bob Burns traveled a winding professional road before launching his orthopedics business.
At age 82, Bob Burns still leads Matrix Orthopedics, and he still recalls his Air Force days back in Korea. They call it the war no one remembers, but Burns and his comrades haven’t forgotten. “I can run into somebody who has been there, and we still talk about Korea and all the missions we went on. I wasn’t trying to be a hero! But I do think it has helped me over the years,” he says.
Burns walked a winding road before opening his business in 1979. He started in the chemical industry, then began importing teak, just because he liked woodwork. He used his engineering knowledge from his days as a flight mechanic to do sales work in the engineering field. When he decided it was time to fly solo and saw an ad for an orthopedics and medical supply firm, he decided to take the leap.
As he eased into the field, he saw a gap. Salespeople wanted to bend the doctors’ ears with engineering details, whereas Burns saw engineering as merely a practical tool, and he sold his devices that way: “What is it, what does it do, what is it for and what does it cost?” he says. “You have to be very brief and very educational.”
As he contemplates selling his business today,
Burns says he would like to see it end up in the
hands of another ex-military entrepreneur.
Once you’ve made contact, there is no point in just “selling.” For any business owner, the meaningful transaction is the one that lasts over time. That’s doesn’t mean being buddies: It means reaching a shared understanding. “It’s more than making a friend. First you have to get their attention, and then you have to get a little respect out of it.”
As he contemplates selling his business today, Burns says he would like to see it end up in the hands of another ex-military entrepreneur. “I’d like to see a vet get a shot at something,” he says. “Some of these vets have a good medical background, if they were in the medical corps or in dentistry. This company is structured in such as way that we could easily go into five or six other disciplines, so anybody from the military who has that background is going to be a good candidate.”
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