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BrightStar Care's Shelly Sun: From Frustrated Consumer to CEO

(BrightStar Care's Shelly Sun is the fourth successful entrepreneur to be profiled in our series highlighting women in small business.)

GURNEE, Ill. (TheStreet) -- Shelly Sun and her husband, J.D., started BrightStar Care, a health-care staffing company, a decade ago after failing to find suitable care for his grandmother.

As CEO, Shelly Sun has taken the company to far-reaching success, helped by the fact that the franchise is smack in the middle of one of the hottest growing sectors of business: elderly care. BrightStar Care now has 180 franchisees with 260 locations, employs more than 50,000 health-care workers and services more than 31,000 customers every day.

Besides running BrightStar, Sun is on the board of directors for the International Franchise Association, the industry's main trade association, has written a book, Grow Smart, Risk Less, and was even featured on CBS's popular show Undercover Boss last year.

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Sun has been recognized by the Women Presidents Organization and American Express OPEN as No. 1 in their Top 50 Fastest-Growing Women-Led Organizations in 2011.

A recent conversation with Sun follows.

How did BrightStar Care get started?

Sun: In late 2001, my husband and I were looking for home care for his grandma, and we needed the whole range of services from companion care, some help with bathing and then she needed nursing care. It was difficult for us to find one company that could do everything. We had to coordinate through multiple providers. None of them really seemed like grandma was the most important thing to them. [Instead] quoting us a rate, getting us off the phone seemed like the most important thing to them.

Unfortunately, she passed away the day before my husband and I got married. It was very impactful for us. And so we spent a few months kind of thinking about what we wanted to do with our lives. I was a CPA working in corporate America. My husband was a trader. We decided to take the funds we had built up and go into business for ourselves, helping grandmas and grandpas, moms and dads much like we were trying to do for [my husband's] own grandmother. We started our business in October 2002, about six months or so after she passed away.

Neither of us were coming from a health-care background, [but] I had seen so much from a consumer perspective. What we were looking for and feeling so passionate about was the difference we wanted to make for other families. We knew we could do this well. We knew we certainly could do it better than the horrible companies we had contacted by phone and got their answering machine or their answering service after hours.

What was the best piece of advice you received when starting the business?

Sun: We really tried to spend time and talk to entrepreneurs. What we heard from them most frequently was starting a business is hard; it's going to take resilience, but if you're really passionate about what you're doing and you stay committed, then you can be successful. The best piece of advice that I got was a realistic expectation that there would be good and bad days, but with hard work and resilience, positive attitude and a passion for what we were doing that would see us through.

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