In spring 1994, Jonathan S. Sherwin went looking for a consultant to help promote the Frontier Group, his newly formed post-acute services company.
He turned to BBK, a Chestnut Hill, Mass.-based strategic marketing and consulting firm. There he met 1997 MODERN HEALTHCARE Up & Comer Maria A. Verrier, who served as Frontier's account manager.
Impressed by her ability to "keep her head in the clouds and her feet on the ground" when developing strategies for the venture capital-backed startup, Sherwin hired her away from BBK to become Frontier's director of marketing in May 1995. Then in July, she was promoted to executive vice president of corporate planning and development.
At 31, Verrier is the youngest member of Frontier's senior management team, which includes Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sherwin, 45; Chief Operating Officer Alan E. Cormier, 46; and Chief Financial Officer Ellen Richstone, 45.
"Given the energy level needed for a developing organization, it's pretty logical that someone young is more likely to survive the time involved and the changes that have to be made," says board member Michael Cronin, general partner for Boston-based Weston Presidio Capital, which has invested some $30 million in Frontier over the past two years. "Maria has led the charge to isolate a number of acquisition opportunities that support the strategic plan of the company."
Perhaps Sherwin, a 1990 MODERN HEALTHCARE Up & Comer, saw a little of his entrepreneurial self in Verrier, who says "the ability to shape the culture of an organization gets me up every day."
Sherwin previously served as president of Boston-based Mediplex Group. He led its initial public offering in June 1992 and grew the company to its current 48 facilities from 25 and to $400 million in annual revenues from $220 million.
He founded Boston-based Frontier in January 1994 with three other former Mediplex executives. To date, the private company has secured a total of $130 million in venture capital and expects 1997 revenues of $175 million as it continues to form a post-acute network in the Northeast by converting nursing homes into facilities that link skilled-nursing, subacute and home-care services. The network serves more than 3,100 patients daily.
In her first position with Frontier, Verrier laid the foundation for the company's marketing strategy and built up its research capabilities for identifying new acquisition targets. She also developed relationships with physician groups and managed-care organizations.
She recommended the acquisition of two home-care companies that have added a total of $24.5 million to the company's revenues over the past year. In addition, she initiated plans to develop a new information system for the company and paved the way for managed-care contracts with Tufts Associated Health Plans, Oxford Health Plans, Aetna U.S. HealthCare, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Connecticut and others.
"What pulled me into the Frontier Group was the opportunity to have a lot of responsibilities," Verrier says. "They filled my plate with responsibilities others may not have given me."
Her new post has further expanded her role. She now is entrusted with identifying and developing strategic business opportunities, securing managed-care contracts, and overseeing corporate marketing communications, investor relations, market research and information systems development.
"I'm definitely a builder, not a maintainer," Verrier says. "I want to be part of a group that's willing to take risks. That's why venture capital is so compelling."
Verrier got her first taste of venture capital after graduating with a bachelor's degree from Boston University's College of Communication in 1988. In her first job, she helped launch Boston-based SportsMedicine Systems, a rehabilitation services provider. She served as the company's director of marketing and communications and ran SportsMedicine Boston, a nine-physician orthopedics and rehabilitation center.
Verrier, who one day wants to start her own business, says her passion for strategizing comes from her father, who has run his own architectural firm for more than 25 years. "He brought the passion of the entrepreneur to the table every night," she says.