Small business owner overcomes illness and financial struggle to build successful company

Marla Beck was named the state
Marla Beck was named the state's 2012 small business person of the year.
— image credit: Nat Levy, Bellevue Reporter

Marla Beck is no stranger to hardship.

Growing up in a middle-class family in Kitsap County, Beck didn't have a lot of choices for college. When she graduated, she was more concerned with finding a good job than doing something she loved.

But after years in the financial industry, things just started piling up: a divorce, a bout with cancer. Beck found herself going through the motions, and then suddenly it became clear.

It was time for a change.

"It was just that kind of point in your life where you throw caution to the wind and you figure, if not, then when," she said.

So Beck, who had always held a special relationship with her grandparents, started a home care business for seniors. It was a life-changing risk.

Looking back, Beck wishes she had thought it out a little more, but she was prepared for potential failure with a decent savings account, and the readiness to return to bookkeeping.

Eight years later, Beck has struggled through further hardships – more cancer treatments, and a disastrous falling out with a business partner – but the company has grown to employ more than 100 people. And last week Beck was named the state's 2012 small business person of the year.

Beck said the award will help differentiate her in an industry becoming increasingly more competitive, where each company claims to be the best in the business.

“She is a business owner who has exhibited staying power," said Calvin Goings, assistant associate administrator for the Small Business Association. "She has demonstrated an outstanding ability to respond to adversity and the struggling economy while, at the same time, continues to contribute to her local community.”

It started small for Beck and Andelcare – which is derived from the Czech Andel translated as angel or guardian. In 2003, the company supplied basic services that focused more on companionship and small tasks rather than live-in care, which has become the trend over recent years. As the industry evolved, Andelcare began adding more services.

Beck learned lessons in small business ownership as she went. Her original partner wanted to sell the business, and a lengthy court battle ensued. Beck said she made some rough hires in the office that set the company back. She worked all the time, seven days a week, including taking calls while sitting on a boat in Lake Washington waiting for a glimpse of the Blue Angels.

But things turned around. Additional services brought in new customers, and a great office staff helped elevate the business, Beck said. In the last three years Andelcare has grown more than 200 percent.

With this success comes scrutiny. Requirements to become a caregiver are stringent. Andelcare does not offer applications online, and applicants must complete forms in person and speak with office members before an interview is even discussed. Once a job is offered, applicants are subjected to drug tests, state and national criminal background tests and FBI finger print examinations.

"We're so picky about who we hire because that's our product," Beck said.

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