Pharmpreneur of the week Jesse McCullough: ‘Seeing people step into their potential is exciting’

While being my own boss is exciting, being able to help pharmacists maximize their success is equally exciting. Seeing people step into their potential is exciting. And being able to solve the various problems that come up along the way is also exciting.
a man wearing a suit and tie smiling and looking at the camera



PharmD, University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy (April 2000).


Founder of Keystone Pharmacy Insights (KPI), which offers consultative services and leadership training for pharmacists.  

I worked as a store level pharmacist for several years before transitioning to full-time clinical services manager/director at Rite Aid in 2007 and then director of business development and pharmacy services in 2015. I left Rite Aid in 2018 for Pharmacy Quality Solutions (PQS) and left PQS at the end of 2019, since which time I have been on my own. 

What excites you about being an entrepreneur?

What excites me most about being an entrepreneur is that I get to be my own boss. Interestingly, that may also be the biggest challenge. When I worked in corporate, our work was largely defined for us. For some period of time, our focus would be on project #1. There was a lack of flexibility, so when problems came up, we were not able to address them thoroughly. For example, as we were training pharmacists to provide immunization services, we had strict timelines to get everyone through the process. As you can imagine, not everyone going through the training had the same level of enthusiasm. Some pharmacists had concerns about how to operationalize the program in their stores. Some pharmacists did quite well while others struggled to get started. It became obvious that additional training was needed to help them enjoy success. 

While being my own boss is exciting, being able to help pharmacists maximize their success is equally exciting. Seeing people step into their potential is exciting. And being able to solve the various problems that come up along the way is also exciting.

How has your entrepreneurial career evolved since your graduation?

I don’t know that I had any inkling of being an entrepreneur when I graduated. A big part of my mindset was to work for a good company, and never have to worry about anything. That mindset did not serve me well. So, I started looking for ways to serve more people. I was later bit by the entrepreneurial bug as I began seeing things that could help more people. These opportunities required more flexibility. I eventually left corporate to go out on my own. Advice I was given by Lou Mongello was that as an entrepreneur you need a “whatever it takes” mindset. To that end, I have found myself involved in a number of things over the years that I never imagined I would be doing. I started out thinking I would help pharmacists improve medication adherence largely by leveraging the appointment-based model. What I have learned along the way is that you can have any number of really good tools, and you still may struggle for results. So, my major evolution has been to train and equip frontline pharmacists with leadership skills. These skills are not reserved for only the people at the top of any organization, these are skills that are necessary at all levels of an organization. Sadly, most pharmacists have spent very little time on the idea of developing their leadership skills and have passively picked up skills that may not serve them well at all. And when people cannot lead well or are not led well, frustration sets in rapidly.

I still have a great interest in addressing medication adherence, I now go about it in a much different way. 

What was your key driving force to become an entrepreneur?

The driving force was to help more people. And to help people that wanted to be helped. What I found in the corporate world is that not everyone wants to be helped. Some people just like being unhappy. Some people are super negative. As it became more and more apparent to me how I can help more people, it also became more and more apparent that I can work with people who want to be helped! 

How do you define success? 

My definition of success has changed for me a great deal over the years. When I started down this path, I thought it was a number. I don’t know that I think that today. I think success is seeing people improve and advance. It is getting the feedback for how I have helped people thrive in the face of adversity. And it is the uncovering of what the next step to address is. Earl Nightingale defined success as “the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.” I had no idea what that meant initially, and I probably still do not fully understand it, but I can say that I have had a taste. For me, success is doing work that matters with people that matter to serve people that matter. 

As a successful entrepreneur, what continues to drive you?

I am answering this in the context of “what keeps me going?” It is seeing that problems still exist. I view myself much closer to the beginning of this journey than I do the end. I recognize that there are some people I can help right now, and there are others that I will never help. But between those two groups is are people that I haven’t helped yet. Every day when I read or hear a story of a pharmacist struggling, I can often find a leadership thread that can be explored to better serve my colleagues.

What are the biggest challenges to being an entrepreneur?

The biggest challenges are:

  • Serving clients in a way that meets their needs right where they are.
  • Staying consistent with the things that matter.
  • Avoiding “shiny object syndrome.”
  • And as with any business, getting/keeping money coming in so more people can be served tomorrow. 

How do you manage work/life balance?

I may view this differently from many others. I subscribe more to the concept of balancing over balance. There are times where more effort and resources are required in one place over another. Something that I have learned, and I still need to be reminded of, is that you absolutely must take care of home base first. I must have support on the home front in order to push things forward. So, we are intentional about not just spending, but investing time as a family, so that we are creating memories and setting expectations about things we would like to do. As my kids have grown up, I teach them many of the same principles that I teach pharmacists about leadership. They were a bit resistant at first, but it brings a smile to face when certain comments are made. My favourites are: “It’s like dad always says,” and “Dad was right about that.” And every once in a while, a lesson I have taught at home comes back to me from my wife or one of my kids after a challenging day. That is balancing. Sometimes I am investing in my family and other times my family is investing in me. 

The reality for pretty much all of us is that there is way more work to do in any given period of time than we could ever get done. So, another way I look for balancing is to include my kids in the business wherever I can. For example, my son is studying communications at college, so he is handy to have around to help me look and sound good. My wife will go with me to speaking events whenever possible to document the event. And my daughters will pitch in and help as well.   

What books/resources do you recommend for every entrepreneur to check out?

  • Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. The classic. There is so much wisdom in this book about to take an idea and turn it into a business.
  • Business Made Simple by Donald Miller. Donald helps simplify so many considerations about running a business. It is one thing to have a great idea, but you need some practical frameworks to make it go.
  • Tax Free Wealth by Tom Wheelwright. One of the hurdles I faced in starting at business was how to structure things properly. This book radically impacted my perspectives on how to do just that. 

What advice would you give to colleagues who want to become entrepreneurs?

I would give this encouragement that was given to me by Paul Martinelli: “Any idea will work, if you will work your idea.” So, if you have an idea, it’s not by accident. You should explore it. It may change a dozen times, but you should explore it. Napoleon Hill says in Think and Grow Rich that most ideas are stillborn. They require a lot of energy to give them life.  

The other advice is to find a tribe of other people who are travelling this road as well. You need people that you can share wins and challenges with. You need a group to hold you accountable. You will have some people who will support your idea, but you need the accountability to gain traction and progress.  

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