Monday Q&A: The accidental acquisition

Eight years is all it took for Linda Nash to build her business to a point where a deep-pocketed buyer wanted a piece of the action.

Nash founded PartnerMD, a concierge medical practice, in 2003 with one doctor and 40 patients.

Today the practice has 4,000 patients and nine doctors spread across offices in the West End, Midlothian and McLean.

The company’s clients pay an annual membership fee and in exchange receive around-the-clock attention, even getting their doctors’ cell phone numbers with permission to call them anytime, day or night.

The company also takes care of the region’s top executives, with corporate contracts to provide primary care to the top brass at Capital One, Brink’s and Dominion, to name a few.

PartnerMD also has a new owner, as the company announced last week that Markel Ventures had acquired it for an undisclosed sum. BizSense caught up with Nash to talk about the deal.

Below is an edited transcript.

RBS: What is the idea behind PartnerMD?

Linda Nash: Health care is very hard to deliver based on the issues that doctors have. A typical doctor has 4,000 to 6,000 patients. It is a production model: They have to see more and more patients to make a better living.

We have a lower ratio, where each doctor sees no more than 550 patients. It makes things much easier for the patients, and it is a better experience for the doctor.

RBS: How much does it cost?

LN: First, we still work with your insurance, and you have your own co-pay. It’s like your regular doctors office, but we have a membership fee.

The membership fee is $1,900 annually, which is roughly $160 a month.

RBS: How did the deal with Markel come about?

LN: It came about accidentally. Markel is one of our corporate clients, so we got to know a lot of the principals. I met Tom Gayner [president and CIO of Markel] at a conference in Charlottesville and just started talking and that’s how it came about.

RBS: So you weren’t actively looking for a buyer at the time?

LN: No, we weren’t running a process. In the life of any entrepreneur, you get your company to a certain level and you start thinking about succession.

I was 76 percent owner of the company, and I wanted PartnerMD to go on indefinitely. Markel was the perfect solution. They follow the Berkshire Hathaway model, which is to buy companies and keep them and allow the owners to continue running them.

RBS: Is there any plan to expand?

LN: Absolutely. We would like to expand regionally. We want to have a larger presence in Northern Virginia. We are looking at the Ashburn area. We would like to move into Virginia Beach and perhaps Raleigh and into the Carolinas.

It is such a wonderful model for physicians and patients. I don’t see any reason that we can’t expand it now that we have stronger backing.

RBS: As a business that offers its services at a premium, did you experience any difficulties during the economic downturn?

LN: We were very worried about it at the time, but we did not even see a hiccup. We didn’t lose any corporate clients, we kept our retention rate of 95 percent, and the business continued to expand. Between the three offices, we continued to take on 50 new members a month.

RBS: Does the federal health-care overhaul have any potential effects on your business?

LN: What will happen with medical care in the future, as wonderful as it may be for society as a whole, there will be a lot more people entering the system: 32 million newly insured and 36 million people entering Medicare.

At the same time, most primary care and internal medicine doctors are boomers, and they are retiring. There is a crisis brewing where we are going to be 100,000 doctors short. It will be very hard for people to get the type of medical care they are used to.

There is a beautiful opportunity for us there to expand and help other people get this kind of care.

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