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Posted: June 01, 2014

Executive edge: Dr. Ken Weiner

Denver psychiatrist tackles underserved market of eating disorders

Lynn Bronikowski

Kenneth Weiner is founder and CEO of the Denver-based Eating Recovery Center, which by year’s end will operate 12 centers in four states, including five in Colorado. The company, founded in 2008, will employ 600, half of whom will work in Colorado.

A native of Long Island, N.Y., Weiner moved to Colorado in 1977, when the Tufts University graduate completed his residency at the University of Colorado.  He previously founded three other eating disorder programs specializing in the treatment of anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder.

Q.  Why did you choose to specialize in eating disorders?

A.  I got exposed to the field when I was in my third year of medical school and did a pediatric rotation. The piece that was most fascinating to me was why the best and the brightest could get so sick and have so much trouble getting better. So, when I completed my residency I opened an outpatient eating disorder program in 1981 in Denver.

Q.  The Eating Recovery Center ranked 1,102 on the 2013 Inc. 5000 list of America’s Fastest Growing Companies. To what do you attribute your growth?

A.  Eating disorders is an underserved market, so there are not enough quality programs around the country to take care of all the patients. That, in part, is why private equity has identified this as one of the sectors of behavioral health that they’re particularly interested in investing in. That has helped us grow.

Q.  Starting such a venture was quite a gamble. Do you consider yourself a risk taker?

A.  What to other people might seem like a risk seemed obvious to me because I had the vision, the model and the work ethic. It didn’t feel like I was taking a big risk.

Q. How did you transition from practicing psychiatry into your role as CEO?

A.  My dad was always a businessperson, so I grew up around that. I used to be a lifeguard on Long Island during summers. If you came on early in the morning or stayed late, you faced an empty beach. I would do numbers in my head to stay awake. I’d always been really good at numbers, so when I opened my practice in psychiatry, I always saw it as a business. And rather than trying to do what I don’t know, I identify people who can do it better than I can and engage them to come join me on my journey.

Q.  What books are you reading?

A.  I’ve been reading quite a few business books lately – Malcolm Gladwell’s “David and Goliath,” “Great by Choice” by Jim Collins. “The Advantage” by Patrick Lencioini talks about culture and the role of culture in organizations. “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese is a fascinating novel that has a lot of medical pieces.

Q.  You’re 62. Are you making retirement plans?

A.  I’ll retire in place. I love what I do; I just would want to do less. Not for a long time will I retire. But I will change my role and hopefully will find people who can make sure that the quality and excellence are maintained. And I would remain involved in those areas where Eating Recovery Center might need me.

Q.  What do you hope your legacy will be?

A.  I feel really good about the patients I’ve helped over the years and the centers of excellence that I helped create. I would hope that Eating Recovery Center continues to provide the highest quality of care and employ 600 people in good jobs.

Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.

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