Business: Traveling Man Hal Rosenbluths Next Act
In the ’80s and ’90s, after Rosenbluth had led the company from a few offices booking cruises and vacations to one of the largest corporate travel companies in the world, his social conscience blossomed, too. He read about a terrible drought in North Dakota in 1988, and decided to send people to the Bismarck area to see what could be done to help. In the tiny town of Linton, Rosenbluth opened up a Rosenbluth data entry and customer call center. He was so impressed with the area and its hardworking residents that he’s owned a ranch there since the early ’90s, amassing some 3,500 acres of starkly beautiful land along the Missouri River. He took to wearing boots, and went to North Dakota whenever he could, but with offices in 30 countries and frequent work trips to China, Russia and Europe, there was little time at home in Gladwyne, let alone riding horses across his ranch.
Rosenbluth sold the travel business in 2003 — his timing was perfect, since online travel bookers like Expedia were on the rise — but not surprisingly, he felt some aftershocks. “I took six months off and literally moved big brown bales of hay,” he says. “I didn’t have plans to do anything — I was exhausted.” Those who knew Rosenbluth’s stamina and obsessive focus on work, like his friend Peter Miller, then a Johnson & Johnson exec, weren’t surprised that his Dakotan exile didn’t last past Christmas.
Miller asked Rosenbluth if he’d consider starting a company with him. “We looked at the biggest problem the private sector could solve,” Rosenbluth recalls, “and for me, it was providing affordable health care.” His best friend, a neighboring rancher in Linton, had recently found he had advanced diabetes, and his organs were shutting down. “He never got tested,” Rosenbluth says. So starting a business that might help the uninsured, or the underinsured, was something that appealed deeply to Rosenbluth’s compassionate-businessman ethic. He’d done a lot to provide jobs in North Dakota, but this would be an opportunity to have a positive impact on a huge scale.
Of course, just as Rosenbluth was pondering what his next company would be, Americans were becoming increasingly frustrated with even getting an appointment with a doctor, let alone paying for it. Those who had health insurance might have a G.P., but didn’t want to wait a week to see her.
But Rosenbluth and Miller didn’t yet know exactly what their new health-care business would be, so Rosenbluth says he locked himself in his home office, tucked inside an “electronic cocoon” of seven computers positioned around him, all logged onto news sites. (His wife, Renée, understandably was concerned.) By immersing himself in what was going on in health care — what was working, and what was missing — Rosenbluth was closing in on his concept: medical care that was customer-focused (and that would make a profit, too).