A View From the Top: Teira Gunlock of First Stop Health

January 30, 2024

The interview below is part of a McGuireWoods series featuring interviews with C-suite leadership of private equity-backed portfolio companies. To recommend a leader for a future interview, email Holly Buckley at [email protected] or Tim Fry at [email protected].

Teira Gunlock is the CEO of First Stop Health, a virtual care company that provides convenient, high-quality and confidential virtual care solutions — telemedicine, virtual mental health and virtual primary care.

Q: You have held several roles at First Stop Health (FSH). How did that prepare you for your current role as chief executive officer? What do you look for in other leaders? 

Teira Gunlock: Ultimately, I think the other roles I held helped me establish trust with the organization. Charles Green, founder of Trusted Advisor Associates, uses a trust equation that assigns value to reliability, credibility and intimacy, and assigns a negative value to self-orientation. People can trust me to do what I say, to know what I’m talking about, to care about them as people and to look out for the team and FSH as a company rather than just myself. All the roles I have had allowed me to earn trust from the team that allows me to lead them today.

Trust is the single biggest factor I look for in any leader.

Q: You grew up on a cattle farm in Southwest Missouri. How did that help shape your perspective on healthcare at FSH? 

TG: Aside from perhaps the obvious desire to close gaps in access to care, including in rural America, I think my most basic skills in leadership were honed more on the farm than in any boardroom or classroom. For those who didn’t grow up on a farm, the one rule you should know is that there is often a creative solution to fix what’s broken — and often with the tools you already have available to you. I could give pages of examples, but things like a bolt fell off in the middle of a hay field, which is the closest thing we ever had to finding a needle in a haystack; a tractor won’t start; a newborn calf doesn’t seem to be nursing. By needing to overcome daily problems with creativity, I now approach issues with a certain level of quiet confidence. My approach to leadership is rooted in resilience when problems arise.

Q: This year, FSH was named for the sixth time to Inc. Magazine‘s annual list of 5,000 Fastest Growing Companies and for the second time as one of its Best Workplaces. How do you ensure that your corporate culture remains strong amid such rapid growth?

TG: I could give an answer about the importance of hiring and review processes — and I do think those are important — but what sets us apart is twofold: the attention we give to employees in helping them embrace change with more enthusiasm than anxiety, and our focus on delight.

Regarding the change factor, we spend a lot of effort communicating with employees. As one example, for three-plus years, the leadership team has sent out a companywide communication every Friday, aside from federal holidays. We haven’t missed one yet. Sometimes, these communications may include exciting metrics regarding improvement in a key area. Sometimes, they are reminders to employees to practice self-care or be thoughtful about their individual goals. Often, though, these communications are about change — a change we have going on in the organization currently, an anticipated change we see coming, or maybe some foundational reminders about where we are in our business life cycle and why change is important.

On the delight factor, we spend a lot of strategic effort here. I think that specific word, “delight,” is an important one. If you think about delights in your own life, they might be small, like that wonderful feeling when you pick out the perfect-sized container for leftovers, or large, like getting an unexpected raise. Whether it’s sending socks to employees to “finish running to the end of the year strong” or making individual phone calls to welcome new employees from an acquired company to our community or announcing a three-month paid sabbatical, we care deeply about delivering on delight.

Q: This year, FSH received a strategic investment from Sverica Capital Management. How does this investment enable you all to bring care that people love? 

TG: If I had to name one way, it would be that we can now tap into the expertise and experience of a wider network of professionals. We were green coming into 2023 when it came to mergers and acquisitions, and now we have one under our belt with a lot of support and resources from Sverica. Compounding that, though, is the shared desire between Sverica and FSH to continue to deliver on our brand promise — to deliver care that people love.

It’s critical to have a partner in growth who shares your values, and we feel fortunate to work with Sverica.

Teira Gunlock

About Teira Gunlock

Teira Gunlock joined First Stop Health (FSH) in 2015 with an aim to make healthcare the way it should be: accessible, affordable and delightful. As an experienced healthcare professional, she spent her early career in healthcare market research and consulted with leading health systems across the country to help them better use patient and physician experience data to improve care. She is well-versed in the fact that “good” is never good enough and commits herself daily to improving FSH’s service, so the company may, in turn, improve the state of healthcare.

Gunlock has worn several hats at FSH and has touched nearly every part of the business firsthand, from product development to client care and sales, to physician network management. Now, as chief executive officer, she guides the organization’s efforts on growth and patient impact.

Gunlock grew up on a cattle farm in Southwest Missouri, where her interest in increasing access to care was born. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s degree in health administration.