A former Wall Street analyst with nearly 20 years experience in investing and capital markets, Todd Lechtenberger knew little about the health care industry when he joined First Med Urgent Care as its chief executive in January 2011. His only experience with free standing ambulatory care clinics was when he worked as an intern for Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc. in the early 1990s in New York City. And that story is a doozy.
His father had bought him new shoes for that summer and Lechtenberger, within the first week of walking everywhere, had rubbed a mighty blister on the heel of one foot, which he ignored until the weekend when his foot was so swelled up that he couldn't get a shoe on.
Having found last-minute lodging in the worst part of town, he was referred to what he soon realized was an indigent care clinic in what was known as Spanish Harlem. After an ambulance backfired, and the entire waiting room hit the ground because they thought it was gunshots, Lechtenberger finally saw a nurse, who urgently directed him to the nearest hospital where he received intravenous antibiotics.
Fast forward to three years ago when associates convinced Lechtenberger to take the First Med helm, join as a partner and serve on its board. “They'd approached me for an investment from the trust I was managing, and I told them they needed to fix some issues first,” he said. “They really needed someone to raise money, and they were running their CEO job by committee.”
“They came back to me and said, ‘What about you?,'” he said. “I thought they were joking, but after several months, they convinced me.”
First Med has five urgent care/occupational medical facilities in the Oklahoma City metro-area, with three more under development. The centers, which have labs and X-ray, are open from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., seven days a week.
Lechtenberger is happy about his industry change. “I like helping people who are sick feel better,” he said. First Med employs some 100 full-time and part-time workers.
From the northwest Edmond facility at 1221 N Kelly, Lechtenberger, 41, sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about his professional and personal life — including his path from Wall Street back home to Oklahoma. This is an edited transcript:
Q. Tell us about your roots.
A. My mother grew up in D.C.; her father worked in the Secret Service. My father is originally from Nebraska, but his family later settled in Chickasha. My parents met working for the State Department in D.C.; she as an administrative assistant to the secretary of state and he as a diplomatic courier and former military man. Tired of his business travel, he and my mom moved home to Norman, where he earned his accounting degree from OU.
Among other things, he worked as CFO and COO for Streets women's clothing store, and my mom worked as an administrative assistant for the technical training center in Norman, which is part of the United States Postal Service. My sister, who's three years younger, and I attended Norman Public Schools where I played tight end in football and forward in basketball.
Despite growing up in the glory days of Billy Sims and J.C. Watts, and living next door to Steve Owens, whose kids were my age, I chose to go to OSU to get away. I got an offer to play football for Columbia University, which in retrospect, I'd wish I'd taken. But I was young and dumb and stupid, and not thinking about their Ivy League school; only that their football program wasn't any good.
Q. When did you get interested in investment banking?
A. I started trading stocks when I was a 10- or 12-year-old kid. I'd buy four shares here, and a share there, with my allowance money. I remember the first stock I bought was Rowan Cos., a drilling company, and I made a bunch of money; thought I was rich. In the Beta fraternity house at OSU, I served as treasurer, and pursued — and landed — summer internships in New York, with Bear, Stearns, before my junior and senior years. My father worked with a gentleman whose brother worked for them. My first summer, I worked in internal audit, and got to work with all the departments in the entire bank. By my second summer, I knew I was interested in investment banking, and worked with company mergers and raising debt or equity financing.
Q. What were the highlights of your career before joining First Med?
A. I started out working 80- to 120-hour weeks for two years as an analyst with Bear, Stearns. I was paid a lot of money, but had no time to spend it so I took a job with Greenwich, Conn.-based Wexford Capital LLC, and worked the next three years as an analyst/trader in hedge funds and private equity.
Then, I decided I could do it myself and, with $5 million to $10 million in capital from friends' and family money, started my own fund, TSL Capital LLC, in November 1999. The dot-com bust came four months later and people were afraid to invest with my small, startup, single-manager firm, though I didn't have dot-com investments and had positive returns. I and my two employees kept going for three years. Then, I, working mainly from D.C., managed the company investments of one of my partners for the following five years.
Q. What drew you back to Oklahoma?
A. My sister serendipitously married my college roommate and best friend, and they started having kids. Then, after I moved home in March '09 to help manage the large Shawnee-based Bodard Trust, my sister urged me to reconnect with one of her friends. She said she — Andrea, who'd become my wife — was running around with a lot of my friends. She knew to couch it that way versus a setup.
I proposed to Andrea within six to eight months and we married in June 2010 in a small family wedding in Ravello, Italy, which is situated above the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy. It was a great setting, because it was all about the wedding and not the party. When we returned, we had a big reception at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman.
Q. What are your thoughts on the Affordable Care Act, and how the new laws might affect your business now and in the future?
A. It's a double-edged sword. In the short run, we should have more business with, ostensibly, 30 million more people nationwide with insurance. Currently, some 10 percent to 15 percent of our patients are cash-pay. But in the long run, I think it will push supply and demand out of whack — with slashed government reimbursements to primary care doctors, who already are at a shortage, and consolidations by large medical centers — like Mercy and Integris — which drives referrals to their own in-network ERs and specialists.
Last I checked my economics books, it's more competition, not less, that drives down costs.