A lot of people in medical device sales started out in the profession with passion, but Clay Steves didn’t have that when he first started out in orthopedic device. Life happened and necessity forced Clay to put in the work, but when he did, the impact that orthopedic had on patients inspired him to persevere. Consumed by the idea of combining physical restoration with eternal restoration, Clay founded Habakkuk Orthopedic Distributorship, a small firm in Oklahoma City that supplies high-quality implants and provides consulting services to orthopedic surgeons. Clay is a good example of how the most successful people in the industry and elsewhere are able to hurdle the biggest obstacles because they are deeply centered into something that they believe in. In his case, that motivation comes from a deep faith and devotion to Christ. In the first part of his conversation with Samuel Gbadebo, Clay tells the story of how he went from being a college dropout to owning a boutique distributorship that continues to rake success and impact people to this day. He also shares some of the things that leaders need to understand if they’re running a distributorship or planning to do so.
We have an interesting guest. He’s living and leading one heck of a life. He is the CEO of a company called Habakkuk Orthopedic Distributorship out there in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. What’s fascinating about Clay Steves and what he’s doing is that he dropped out of college. He dropped out of university and he found his way and still was able to create a distributorship and get to where he is now with his growing organization and do the great things he’s doing out there in the world.
One thing you’re going to find out when you read about him is he is extremely centered and he centered around his faith. Habakkuk was a prophet back in the Old Testament and it means to embrace. Clay talks about some of that in this interview. He put this entire concept into the integrity of his organization. It’s taken him far and he’s still going places as his organization is growing. It’s an interesting episode. Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoy this interview.
Clay, how are we?
Samuel, I am better than I deserve. Thank you for asking.
We have with us Clay Steves, CEO of Habakkuk. Before I say any more, I’m going to let you go ahead and introduce yourself. Please tell our audience who you are and what you do.
I appreciate the opportunity to be here and to share. I am from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in the heartland of the country. I am, first and foremost, a son and a follower of Christ. That’s something that I’m passionate about. It will come out as I tell some of my story and even our organization. I’m a husband for many years. If you know me, that is a miracle. Life is full of grace and patience. I’m a father of five incredible kiddos. Four biological and one adopted. The adoption realm is a big passion in my life. I have the privilege of being the Owner and CEO of Habakkuk. It’s an orthopedic device distributorship based here in Oklahoma City for a couple of years as an organization. That’s 50,000 feet of who I am.
Tell us a little bit more about Habakkuk. I understand orthopedics but for those of our audience that might not know specifically what that means and what you’re covering. Why don’t you give us a little more insight into the company?
I’ve been in orthopedic device sales for a couple of years to paint the whole picture. Shoulders, knees, and hips were the wheelhouse that I got into. Originally, my father is a retired orthopedic surgeon. That’s a bit of my story of how I got into the realm and had the connections to. About eight years in, I grew a huge passion for not only the physical restoration, which is remarkable that we get to do every single day, like a patient loses whether it’s playing with their grandkid, golfing with their buddies on the weekend, dancing with their spouse, sometimes it’s getting out of the car. My own aunt has bilateral hips. I can remember one Christmas where she couldn’t even get out of the car. We were going to help her get out and now, with a hip replacement, she’s dancing Zumba, she’s teaching a class, and all this incredible stuff. That’s a physical restoration that, in my personal belief, will run out because we’re still going to die.
For me as we wanted to find a company that had this physical restoration but also an eternal restoration. That’s where the name Habakkuk comes from. Habakkuk is an Old Testament prophet. He’s a Hebrew minor prophet whose name means to embrace. When I founded this company, it’s based on the concept of embracing healing because we wanted to help restore life here physically and we wanted to go internally as well. That’s what Habakkuk is. It’s a small distributorship that was a few years ago. We’re up to seventeen employees now. I shouldn’t say small one when we started with one in a rented house that I had, and now we’re up to seventeen. It’s still small by most definitions.
You guys have so much depth to your company, even down to the name. I love that. Let’s take it back, though. I want to understand where you started and you already said that your dad was an orthopedic surgeon so you were brought into that. Take us back to college. What was going on in your mind with your dad being an orthopedic surgeon? What was it that you wanted to do and how did you move forward?
I attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas so Sic ‘Em. If anybody is reading in that realm, Sic ‘Em Bears. I was a history major. I love context. I love learning from the past. I love the stories of great heroes and heroines and learning from them. I went on my journey and I ended up dropping out of school. I had a lot of personal battles. I failed at school. That’s even a more authentic way to accurately say it. I left school, I battled addictions and substance abuse previously in my life. I dropped out with eight hours left. I shared that for anybody out there who’s either in that season themselves, has been in that, and navigating. That’s a real thing but it’s an overcomable thing. That’s a part of my story.Keep sowing where you need to sow and trust the process. The results will come. Click To Tweet
It was only through grace. It was a gift so I know not everybody has this. Years before I’d been in my dad’s office flirting with the nurses, shaking hands, kissing babies or something, my dad’s rep was there and said to my father back then, “Someday, when he’s finished with school, I’ll give him a job.” I was given an opportunity, a lifeline, and I tried to seize that moment. When I left school, I was given a chance to step into the industry. I’m an entry-level, grunt work, running sets, doing the dirty work late at night, back and forth between hospitals and cities, and all over building a territory. I was given a chance that way. For me, I didn’t study medicine. I wasn’t on the physiological side, PT, or any of those aspects. I was a history guy. It was an opportunity given that I’m thankful for now but I tried to seize back then.
How old were you?
I was getting married right out of school so I was 23 years old at that time.
What was that like? That’s interesting because a lot of people have an interest. They get into this industry and they have an interest already. They’re ready to embrace the science and the anatomy of the body. They’re ready to get their hands dirty in that regard. You being a history major, I’m going to take it that you probably weren’t into it.
No. I was not into it. You’re 100% correct. The principles for learning and understanding apply across all realms. It doesn’t matter what you studied before because I can remember lying in bed at night next to my wife studying implant sizes for our reverse shoulder system that I used to sell. I was like, “I need to memorize these. I need to do that first but then I need to understand why between size 2 and 3 changes 4 millimeters, and 3 to 4 changes to 5 millimeters. I need to email the engineer.” If you know how to learn, study, and you’re beginning to be passionate about the realm you’re in, whatever med device, pharma, you’re going to find a way to learn that and understand it. Just because you haven’t studied the medical side, or anatomy, etc., apply the same principles and you’ll be able to find a way to succeed there.
What drove your passion, though? Did you get into and say, “I like this,” or was there something else behind it?
In the beginning, I will say, providing and surviving. If I look back at myself looking in a mirror, to be honest, it was providing for my family. I had failed previously, literally, and professionally at school. For me, it was an opportunity to say, “I’m going to find a way to win. I want to provide for my wife and our first son.” When my wife got pregnant, we were pregnant with twins. We lost one of the twins. That was a challenging season for us and our son was born at 33 weeks and went to the NICU. The story still gets me. I can remember to this day, Samuel. He was in the NICU for 30 days. He’s healthy and thriving now so I’ll add that caveat. I can remember him coming home.
My wife was working at that time and she’s like, “I’m not going back to work. I want to stay home. This child needs that.” I’m like, “I get it.” In the next month, I got the bill from the hospital and the total bill was over $250,000. I got my commission check for $72.81. I remember that moment being like, “My wife is not going back to work. I’m going to have to find a way.” It didn’t matter what I studied or what I learned. Life was real. For the record, everybody who’s reading, life is real.
That’s my story and my unique aspects of it but everybody’s got that. Are you kidding me? We’ve all experienced this. That’s what I’m saying. Things are out of our control, the stressors, the challenges, and all these aspects. We get to stop for a moment and look in the mirror and go, “What am I going to do with this?” I can’t control the circumstances but I can control how I respond to the circumstances. I can’t draw what I do with it. For me, that was one of those defining moments in the journey, so to speak.
You’ve experienced a lot early. Amen to that. You get into it, you have these life experiences, and now you’re motivated. You’re like, “I’m going to go out and make something happen.” What was the situation that let you know, “I’m doing it. This is happening. I’m living a completely different life?” What happened there?
What’s fascinating about it is I don’t think there is a profound moment. Maybe that’s the thing that I fell into a trap of and I don’t want anybody else to. You’re going to be doing the right work for a long time without seeing any results yet. It’s this concept of a lead-lag metric, cause and effect, sowing and reaping, all these fundamental principles. You’re going to be doing the right sales work, service work, and focus work for quite a while before the fruit shows up.
There’s this element that you’ve got to have the right people in your life who know wisdom, who maybe know the trusted sales process. You’ve got to be able to have people who could speak on a trusted sales process in your life. Even a personal growth or development about who you are and the way that you can transform or elevate yourself because a lot of that, you’re not going to see the results. For me, I don’t know that I had an a-ha moment. I’m making it. I do remember the first surgeon that I ever sold to who said, “Yes.”
I wanted it but I was such a bad salesman. I probably still am. In our world and in the orthopedic device world, you cover every case. The doctor’s rep wouldn’t show up to cases, and I still couldn’t get his business until the day he was in the surgery griping. He was griping about his rep not being there. This is no joke. His scrub tech looks out the window of the OR and goes, “Do you see the guy standing in the hallway who’s waiting to talk to you after this case? You should work with that guy if you want them.” I was going to find a way. I didn’t know what I was doing but I kept showing up. That’s what I’m saying. I’ve been doing that for months and there’s no result, but that moment happens where other people take notice. You treat people right. You do the work. You keep sowing where you need to sow and trust the process because you’ve got wise people speaking into your life. The results will come.
This is with Futur Tek. You’re doing this and making things happen with Futur Tek. I want to understand what happened that allows you to say, “I’m going to take this to a different level and I’m going to get into my own distributorship?”
I look back with such gratitude for the opportunity that I was given there and that was a small distributorship. It was the distributor, me, and one office person. It wasn’t a business of scale. It wasn’t one of these large distributorships you see covering big swaths of territory but it was a wonderful place for me to be pruned, refined, grow, and have a great opportunity for those things. I probably got into two tension points, personally.
One was I’ve always felt a vision for leadership and scale. For me, I desired to be either a part of or even more so to lead something that began to scale and have a larger impact, not only the financial aspect to be frank. If you’re reading this and starting your distributorship, you’re going to take steps back for quite a while. If you’re going to do it financially, which is why a lot of people don’t, because it’s going to cost you money. It’s going to take investment, time, and you’re going to have to totally re-shift what your job is and all these aspects.
The second part was, I was filling a burden and a calling for a company that served a larger purpose than the physical restoration. That was part of my journey in that spiritual restoration aspect when I talk about larger impacts. Those two tension points led to the inflection of starting the distributorship leaving Futur Tek and being able to do that. Our organization is seventeen team members and we expanded into multiple states. We know we were doing the thing we set out to do.Money can be used for good, but it can’t be the reason we do something. If you can do it for a larger purpose, it's always worth it. Click To Tweet
When I look back at that point, if I could talk to that young knucklehead kid years ago who was going through that, I wish I would have done that whole process with more grace, honor, and respect for the people who came before me. I learned some hard lessons about myself and those tensions. It wasn’t a beautiful transition and shaking hands and, “We’re all on the same page.” It was a pretty disruptive and challenging season to be able to start this new company.
Can you speak a little bit of insight