Much of what made him a success, Ralph L. Falls Jr. (BSBA ’63) learned from UNC Kenan-Flagler and William Shakespeare. If there’s anything business schools should teach entrepreneur types, Falls said, it’s this passage from Shakespeare’s“Julius Caesar”:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat, And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures.”
Falls twice took those opportunities that led to achievement. He combined his innate business acumen, competitive spirit and affinity for hard work with a solid business education. In his resulting career, he helped create the modern medical industry.
At UNC Kenan-Flagler, he focused on marketing, which proved to be his professional springboard. Falls took his tenacity and desire to excel with him to southwest Georgia, as a salesman for American Hospital Supply. He recognized the “explosive” impact new social insurance programs, Medicare and Medicaid, would have on hospital services.
He got to know the owner of a local for-profit hospital. A rarity in its time, the hospital was earning close to 50 percent on sales pretax. “This demonstrated to me that hospitals had the ability to earn unbelievable returns if they were run with sound business practices,” he said.
The hospital owner mentored Falls and taught him how to run a profitable hospital. But where the mentor saw only one hospital doing well, Falls recognized the potential for hospitals to be combined and taken public. “Because of what I learned at UNC Kenan-Flagler, I saw that a hospital could be no different than a Holiday Inn,” Falls said. “My mentor offered me the opportunity to buy the hospital for what he saw as its value. I found investors to buy into the value I saw.”
And that was the beginning of Charter Medical Corp., which ultimately became the largest operator of private psychiatric hospitals in the country.
Years later, Falls recognized a second opportunity when he saw insurance companies pushing medical procedures out of hospitals and into the alternate care market. He converted a hospital supply company to alternate care and later sold that business to Henry Schein, who developed it into a global corporation.
“I knew the medical companies that were listed on the stock exchange and how they were valued. I could go into a hospital and read a balance sheet; you’d be surprised how many CEOs can’t do that. I understood the implications of a merger and the legalities of a franchising. These are business basics that count, no matter what industry you’re talking about,” Falls said.
Gratitude for an education that allowed him to hone his innate talents inspired Falls to give back to UNC Kenan-Flagler. He endowed the Falls Prize, which gives a $25,000 stipend to six MBA students each year.
UNC Kenan-Flagler goes beyond teaching students how entrepreneurship operates, he said; the atmosphere at the School convinces students to seize opportunities. “If you don’t take a chance,” Falls said, “you’ll end up with a mediocre career.”