Survival Guide: Herb Birch, founder of the Bubba Mac Blues Band

Herb Birch

Bubba Mac Enterprises

Herb Birch left government contracting in February 2000 when he and his partners sold their company, Birch and Davis Holdings Inc., for $75 million to Affiliated Computer Services Inc. The business started by Birch and Willie Davis in 1976 delivered health care management services to clients in all 50 states and in every department of the federal government involved in health care.

An avid blues guitarist, Birch used his portion of the sales to form a band. He also purchased a restaurant in Somers Point, N.J., so his band would have a place to play. Birch, 59, became Bubba of the Bubba Mac Blues Band.

To date, the band has released three CDs and has a fourth on the way. The band also has its own television and radio programs, plays at blues festivals and other events throughout the country, and has performed more than 600 shows at the restaurant, the Bubba Mac Shack (www.bubbamac.com).

Birch talked with Editor Steve LeSueur about what he's learned since leaving government contracting.

 

WT: Is it still a dream?

Birch: It's definitely still a dream coming true. The band is in its fifth year, and we're getting more and more popular. Running a restaurant is a lot harder than I thought ... but it's a lot of fun. When I'm on stage, I don't stop grinning.

WT: Is the restaurant turning a profit?

Birch: We have a nice, profitable restaurant. It's not unlikely we will have 20 more of them in the next five years.

WT: What have you learned in your present work that would have helped you at Birch and Davis?

Birch: The one thing I'm focused heavily on now is marketing and using the media for that purpose. The Bubba Mac Blues Band and the Bubba Mac Shack are marked, as they say in marketing. We are well merchandised, because we came up with a theme and a logo -- which happens to be my head -- and things that are catchy that have made us known.

We didn't do that in the consulting business at all. I always assumed it was too expensive. Obviously, you've got to take a different approach in consulting. Today, we're using radio and TV, which I didn't think to do before. But I think I would now.

WT:Has working in the private sector changed your view of government and how it operates?

Birch: I have a lot of respect for the government employees I've worked with. They can be frustrating when you're on the other end of the regulatory initiative, getting a license and so forth.

But I'm not impressed by the private sector being more efficient than the government, because I don't think it is. All organizations have good and bad sides to them. It is harder to change a public entity in a short time than one in the private sector because of the bureaucracy and the legislative process.

WT: Do you miss the management and consulting business?

Birch: I'm having a ball with Bubba Mac Enterprises, but I miss the health policy dialogue and interaction with the people who are in charge of implementing it around the country. So I've started up again a national health care leadership conference I used to co-chair with Birch and Davis. We hold it in New Orleans and call it the Cajun Christmas Conference. You can check it out at www.cajunconference.com.

At Birch and Davis, as we got more successful, we did the kinds of contracts we wanted to do. We helped to define our work, not just respond to the marketplace. That's what made it worth doing, and that's why I want to do some of it again.

WT: What's your restaurant like?

Birch: Pick your favorite wedding reception you've ever gone to, and that's it. You might see a grandfather dancing with his granddaughter, and next to him a young couple that just got married. We call it upscale but down home. Our band is known for playing the happy blues.

WT: Did you always look like Jerry Garcia, the late lead guitarist for the Grateful Dead?

Birch: I didn't even know who he was until he passed away. I wasn't a Deadhead at all. After he died, I'd be driving around in my convertible and everybody yelled "Jerry" at me. So I became quite a student of Jerry Garcia after that. I have one song I wrote that's a take-off on how I look like him. It's called "I've Been Here Before and I'm Glad to be Back Again."

WT: What advice would you give to former colleagues?

Birch: If you don't enjoy it, don't do it anymore. This isn't profound, but truly, you can't just do it for money.

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