Driven to Succeed: Stan Harrell

Stan Harrell stands in Jordan-Hare Stadium Photo Credit: Todd Van Emst

March 28, 2019

AUBURN, Alabama – As he completed his bachelor of science degree in pharmacy from the Alabama Polytechnic Institute in 1958, Cecil Stanford Harrell thought he knew where his map was taking him. His older brother John, a 1938 pharmacy graduate from Auburn, owned a drug store in Pensacola. With graduation approaching, John asked Stan an unexpected question:

“Do you have a job?”

The question came as a surprise to the younger Harrell, who expected to move down to the coast and work with his brother.

“That came as kind of a shock to me, I thought I had a job,” said Harrell. “He said, ‘No, you don’t know anything except what we’ve taught you. You don’t have the first new idea, so you need to find yourself a job.’”

Needing a job and armed with determination, Harrell called on a Rexall salesman he had met at his brother’s store. That took him to Orlando where he worked in a few different pharmacies. Being a young guy with pharmacists in demand, he had an unusual comment each time he took a job.

“I told them I was going to work for six months and then I was going to quit,” said Harrell. “I wanted to see what business was out there and what I felt my career path wanted to be.”

This approach worked with Harrell learning more about the drug business. He also refined his skills as a salesman, something that was noticed by a sales representative from Eli Lily & Company.


RELATED: Auburn University Entrepreneur Hall of Fame

A job opportunity with Eli Lily took him to South Carolina as a sales representative. He began with a rural territory and quickly moved to the coveted downtown Charleston territory. While the work with Eli Lily was successful and lucrative, he knew this was not the path his map was taking him.

“It just wasn’t what I felt like I wanted to do,” said Harrell. “But, what it did was expose me to selling and having the self confidence of being able to promote a drug to a physician who had much higher education than I did. I felt that I knew more about the drug than he did.”

Unemployed in his late 20s and uncertain of what to do, Harrell moved to Tampa and enrolled in graduate coursework in marketing at the University of South Florida. The move to Tampa would prove fateful, but not necessarily for the education he received.

Going to school during the day and working in pharmacies in the evenings, Harrell was asked by one of his employers to run a new pharmacy he had just opened. Located in a new medical complex, the pharmacy should have been set for success. However, it opened pre-maturely before many of the buildings in the complex were occupied.

Determined and seeing an opportunity, Harrell invested in the pharmacy. He eventually brought his older brother Jim in as an investor and bought the whole business.

Determined to make it work, he pushed through, making ends meet by working with nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals and a general hospital. Eventually, the medical complex started growing and Harrell had some success working with physicians practicing occupational medicine. This work would lead him to what became a pivotal meeting with Traveler’s Insurance.

“I went back and collected the bills and went down to the Travelers Insurance Company, they owed me the most money,” said Harrell. “Travelers said, well we didn’t insure this person and they took you, they took the doctor and everyone.”

In exchange for forgetting about the unpaid invoices, a rehab nurse with Traveler’s Insurance told Harrell about a patient that was a paraplegic that needed help getting his medications.

“She said, ‘Look we have a patient who is a paraplegic and if you can get his wife off of my telephone and onto your telephone, then I’ll set you up an account with her and we’ll pay you and you will make more money off of him than you will anybody else,” said Harrell. “So, I created that and started selling to him. The first month, sure enough, the bill was $500-600. Travelers cut me a check very quickly.”

The case of this patient was not an unusual one. Suffering from an on-the-job injury that is covered by worker’s compensation insurance, many times the patients are not able to leave their residence to get their medications from the pharmacy. Working in collaboration with the insurance company, Harrell was able to use a mail-order system to fill the prescriptions and take care of the injured patients.

Seeing the growth opportunities, Harrell set out to meet with insurance carriers to see how many more patients were out there in a similar situation and in need.

Traveling to Orlando, Birmingham, New Orleans, and other outposts throughout the Southeast, Harrell was able to take on more and more patients. Building a sustainable business, Harrell points to the influence of a friend named Charlie Guy, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy who had owned his own business called Plan Services, Inc., before selling it to Dun and Bradstreet, who gave him the guidance and encouragement to take his business national.

“Charlie met with me every Saturday when I was in town and he was a great influencer, a great mentor,” said Harrell. “Charlie always used the word that was like an rudder to a ship. He kept me on course.”

So, the company went national. First with Stan’s brother Jim, an early investor, taking the Midwest and eventually the West Coast. Others were hired in Chicago, Dallas and Philadelphia, armed with a goal: 8.8.

“We were going real strong and then in 1986 we were doing $6.8 million, it was $8.8 million by 1988,” said Harrell. “That was our slogan, ‘8.8 by '88,’ and our sales force kept expanding and expanding.”

To this point, the business had been growing with patients from regional and local insurance carriers. Now a national company, it was time to call on the big national carriers. Harrell set out for Cincinnati for a rehab nurses convention with his sights set on Tom Magliozzi, an executive with Liberty Mutual Insurance.

Magliozzi was not in position at the time to give Harrell business, but he recommended him to others and when he eventually retired from Liberty Mutual, he came down to Tampa and helped set up an advisory board made up of representatives from insurance companies from across the country.

“That was probably the focal point of when we were really starting to expand and the credibility got in there with the fact that they allowed us to come into the insurance offices, our employees, and help them decide which claimants were giving them the most problems and where we could be most helpful for them,” said Harrell.


Business Week magazine cover
In 1991, PMSI was listed No. 21 in Business Week Magazine’s annual listing of the 200-best small companies in the United States.

From the humble beginnings in a medical center pharmacy, PMSI had continued to grow and was bursting at the seams in its current offices. Harrell made the decision to build a new office for the business. Believing he only needed about 25,000 square feet, he gave in to the suggestion of others that he build a 100,000 square foot building and lease out the empty space. By the time they moved in, they took up 50,000 square feet. A year later, PMSI took up the whole building, and a year after that a second building was under construction.

With the 1990s approaching, settled in his new office with his first-ever set of new office furniture, Harrell was ready to enjoy the success they were having, but Guy was back in his ear. This time it was to take the company public.

After meeting with some investment banking firms, the decision was made and Harrell was back on the road, this time selling his company instead of its services. A marathon trip that included stops in Paris and London in Europe, and then back to the United States with visits in Baltimore, New York, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver, and San Francisco, culminated in a successful initial public offering. Now with investors and a board to answer to, Harrell was back in growth mode, expanding the services offered by PMSI.

“We focused on acquisitions that would be complementary to the company. Our first group of acquisitions was a software company that we developed into a call center, which was new in those days,” said Harrell. “Then we bought two nursing rehab companies, so we had rehab nurses scattered all the way from Florida all the way up to New York state on the eastern seaboard. We bought these companies to serve as a feeder to us from the people going through rehabilitation.

“Then we bought a PPO company in Detroit, which we had 300-400 hospitals under contract to protect the pricing of workers comp. Plus, 100s of doctors scattered all across the country. The company was working very good, very smooth”

In 1995, PMSI merged with Beverly Enterprises. With the merger, Harrell gave up his title of president, chairman and chief executive officer, but has since devoted his time to advising other companies as a member of various boards and giving back through his philanthropic efforts.

While a timely meeting at an insurance office played a big role in discovering PMSI’s niche market, former employees credit the drive of Harrell and the culture he created in the office as the reason the company reached such heights.

“The culture emanated from mainly the founder of the company and the mission of the organization. The owner of the company was Stan Harrell. He was just a good ol’ boy from Alabama. He liked to work, loved technology, and enjoyed humor,” said Laurence Bratcher, a former PMSI employee. “Stan expected you to come to work, take care of business, and have fun while doing it. This culture was absolutely critical to producing the revenue generation that was accomplished. This was due to the culture that Stan had created, probably unknown to even him at the time.”

Among Harrell’s philanthropic work is the establishment of the Cecil Stanford Harrell '58 Fellowship supporting students in the Pharm.D./Ph.D. program. Coming from a family that included pharmacists, a doctor, and a lawyer, education is something that is important to Harrell. But, with this fellowship, he set out to provide support for someone interested in helping mankind.

“I am setting up something that is not just getting a degree, but doing research that accomplishes something and helps mankind,” said Harrell. “What can this person accomplish? They have a desire to do something and are driven to do something to help mankind and make the world a better place to live in.”

Just as he explained to his employees at PMSI, to get to Two Egg, Florida, you just have to find a map and go, Harrell followed his map from a small medical center pharmacy to a multi-million dollar business. With his eye on the next generation of pharmacists and researchers, Harrell hopes to plot a course for advancements in health care.

----------

About the Harrison School of Pharmacy

Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 20 percent of all pharmacy schools in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. Fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), the School offers doctoral degrees in pharmacy (Pharm.D.) and pharmaceutical sciences (Ph.D.) while also offering a master’s in pharmaceutical sciences. The School’s commitment to world-class scholarship and interdisciplinary research speaks to Auburn’s overarching Carnegie R1 designation that places Auburn among the top 100 doctoral research universities in the nation. For more information about the School, please call 334.844.8348 or visit http://pharmacy.auburn.edu.

Making Medications Work Through Innovative Research, Education and Patient Care

Last Updated: March 28, 2019