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Starting over at 47: Phil Carter tackles a new challenge at I Care.

R.P. "Phil" Carter, 47, appears to be a genteel Southerner.

In other words, he's not the type of man one would expect to be embroiled in a controversy.

The former president of Conway's Acxiom Corp. handles questions about his departure last fall with accommodating ease. That's despite speculation he was forced out by Acxiom Chairman Charles Morgan Jr.

"Charles and I came to a disagreement in terms of leadership and direction," Carter says. "As you know, he owns a large portion of the company. So I took off to improve my golf game."

Pressed about his departure from the integrated marketing systems company, Carter simply says, "I would say there was no disagreement on either of our parts when I left."

These days, Carter is more interested in talking about his new role as president and chief operating officer of the I Care Cos. of Little Rock.

The home infusion company, founded 10 years ago by Gene Graves, had 1991 revenues of $12.5 million, up 42 percent from the previous year. Graves is hoping to make I Care a $100 million company in five to seven years.

Graves and Carter were fraternity brothers at what is now the University of Central Arkansas at Conway. But they didn't see each other for more than 20 years.

A mutual friend reunited them.

Graves is a pharmacist who also has a master's degree in management.

Despite that management training, Graves says, "The more I talked to Phil, the more apparent it became to me that, 'Hey, I need somebody like this.'"

Graves thought someone without a background in the health care industry could provide a fresh perspective as the company charted its growth plans. It is easier to teach Carter the home infusion business than it is to teach a health care professional to manage a company, Graves figures.

Across the country, it is becoming common for companies to hire managers from outside their industries.

Before joining Acxiom in 1986, Carter worked for International Business Machines Corp. That's where he met Morgan.

Once at Acxiom, Carter helped the company grow from 250 employees and revenues of $20 million to 1,800 employees and revenues of $100 million.

"He did it in five |years~ for Acxiom," Graves says.

The Quest For Growth

In the first 18 months Carter was at Acxiom, the number of employees grew from 584 to 1,405. By 1990, however, earnings were off and the price of the company's stock was down. For the first time in five years, Acxiom did not make Forbes' list of the 200 best small companies in America.

Part of the blame fell on Carter. Some analysts viewed him as a proponent of growth for growth's sake.

And now there is widespread talk in the investment community that Carter was brought aboard to take I Care public and expand its operations nationwide. But Carter says he is planning a path of calculated growth for I Care.

Graves began I Care operations from Williamson Drug, a pharmacy located between the Square Deal Pawn Shop and a Christian Science Reading Room on John F. Kennedy Boulevard in North Little Rock.

Now those driving by on Interstate 630 in Little Rock see the prominent "I Care" sign on the Freeway Medical Building. The company occupies most of the eighth floor and part of the first floor of that complex.

Some people assume the company has something to do with eye care.

"I did, too," Carter admits. "I think just about everybody who drives by here thinks that."

Carter didn't know much about Acxiom before taking a job there, either.

He was a quick study.

Before officially joining I Care, Carter spent three weeks learning about company operations.

The I Care Cos. administer various services, but I Care of Arkansas Inc. is where Carter will focus his attention. The program, which began 10 years ago, allows patients to receive care in their homes rather than at hospitals. A nurse accompanies a patient home to teach the patient and family members how to connect intravenous tubes and assist in intravenous feeding. Sterilization techniques and other procedures are taught.

After that, I Care serves as a sort of pharmacy, supplying medicine once a week.

I Care provides services to complement its home care operations.

Eldermed Inc. is a long-term care pharmacy that serves nursing homes.

Family Medical Center Pharmacy of Little Rock is a retail pharmacy that falls under the I Care umbrella.

I Care Health Services retails medical equipment.

I Care also operates a franchise program called I Care Home I.V. Affiliates, which teaches others the business and helps them set up their own companies. There are no visible signs the businesses are associated with I Care, but I Care receives fees and a percentage of each affiliate's gross.

There are 40 affiliates in 29 states. Graves expects that number to double by the end of the year.

I Care has company-owned facilities at Little Rock and Fort Smith. There are facilities under construction at Jonesboro and in the Fayetteville-Springdale area.

Carter hopes to add two to four company-owned locations each year. Most I Care locations will be in areas of 500,000 people or less.

The company's name may sound corny, but Graves and Carter espouse a philosophy they call "high tech, high touch."

Unlike Carter and Morgan, the two men have similar management styles.

It's clear they respect each other.

Carter describes Graves as a pioneer. But that doesn't mean I Care is without competition. I Care has six competitors in Arkansas, including national firms. There are at least 30 such companies operating nationwide.

The competition promises to become even more intense as the nation's population ages.

Home care can save patients and insurance companies from 50 to 75 percent on medical expenses. Because of that, it can be a lucrative field for companies that plan their growth wisely.

I Care hopes to be one of those companies.

"The driving thing for me is to be challenged and have fun," Carter says. "And I'm doing both."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:president and chief operating officer of I Care Cos.
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Mar 29, 1992
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