How to find and harness your ‘magic dust’ for real-world success

An excerpt from 'Magic Dust: What Is It? Who Has It? How Do You Get It?'
September 7, 2021, 11:00 AM UTC
Book Roundup-Magic Dust
'Magic Dust: What Is It? Who Has It? How Do You Get It?'
Courtesy of Brown Books Publishing Group

Subscribe to Fortune Daily to get essential business stories straight to your inbox each morning.

Thinking about a career shift? You’re not alone. In fact, CNBC reported a survey by Prudential Financial’s Pulse of the American Worker showing “one in four workers [are] planning to look for opportunities with a new employer once the threat of the pandemic has subsided.” Additionally, “72% say the pandemic caused them to rethink their skill sets” earlier this year.

When I started writing Magic Dust: What Is It? Who Has It? How Do You Get It?, I had no idea how timely this book would be for the moment we’re currently facing in the job market. Those who have been reevaluating and building upon their skills for the past year are now newly motivated to find jobs that meet evolving workplace values and expectations. The newfound realization and harnessing of key strengths that maximize an individual’s ability to thrive at work is essential for business success. This unique makeup of workplace potential is something I like to call “magic dust.”

Within the pages of Magic Dust, there are 19 profiles of prominent businesspeople (Mark Cuban, Shark Tank host; Doug Dawson, former NFL star; Charles Pierson, former CEO of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America; Stephanie Nunez, former CFO of Maxim Management Group, and more) that exemplify four leadership styles: visionary, implementer, motivator, or warrior. This book is meant to help readers identify their leadership style by recognizing their workplace magic dust qualities. It is a lead-by-example guide to determining an individual’s best career path forward, with confidence.

Author Mark J. Harris
Courtesy of Brown Books Publishing Group

The excerpt included below from Magic Dust: What Is It? Who Has It? How Do You Get It? (Brown Books Publishing) focuses on the shift I (a visionary) made, from computer technology to medical technology and hospital leadership. I had the esteemed privilege of working with the legendary Mark Cuban at his first company, MicroSolutions. After four years there as a top salesman, I found myself in the position of many today, intrigued by the idea of doing something entirely new. I found the things I liked most about what I did at MicroSolutions and what I was good at, and I applied them to a job in which I’d be continuing to grow to the level of achievement I desired. I found my magic dust and learned to rise to my full potential in a new line of work.

My message to readers is this: Your current situation does not define your success. You do. Your magic dust does. May the stories you read here remind you of how strong you are. May they show you what is possible. And may they inspire you to take those next steps to get there.


I graduated in 1985—an event that couldn’t come fast enough. After graduation I made my way to Dallas, where I started my career in computers and electronics. As you’ve just read, one of my first employers was MicroSolutions, where I gravitated toward the style and vision of Mark Cuban. The environment was just what I needed to excel: There was less supervision, an opportunity to prove results, the niche allure of LAN, and a team of strong players all dedicated and motivated for success. Let me add that Cuban was full of differentiating ideas and applications to gain customers’ attention. I was fortunate to be with them when the LAN technology was gaining momentum, and I was able to act fast enough to achieve a foothold in some large organizations with a higher volume of needs. After four successful years in technology, I saw an opportunity to make a change.

From technology to health care

A friend of mine had been telling me about his father’s job in sales for orthopedic joint replacements. I had the chance to observe a couple of procedures. The father said he knew of a new opportunity in outpatient procedures that would be a great foot in the door if I wanted to enter the health care field. He helped set up an interview for me with Paul Herchman, and before I knew it, I was hired.

After three years with Paul and his company, I received a phone call from a recruiter by the name of Bill Vick. He told me he’d gotten my name from a highly regarded friend of mine and invited me to lunch. I went. Bill said to me, “I’m a recruiter. I got your name—I won’t tell you how or where, but you’re well liked in health care, and some of the physicians and people I talk to all the time gave me your name. I’ve got a company that’s in the hospital business that would like to talk to you and look at your résumé.”

I said okay and sent him my résumé. The next thing I knew, I had an interview with Continental Medical Systems in the hospital arena. They offered me an administrative position and asked if I was going to get my master’s in health. I said yes, even though I had recently learned of my LSAT results and had been busy applying to law schools. Once I was in the surgery center, I realized that to transition to hospital administration would require a master’s. I made a quick pivot and found an 18-month master of science in health administration program I could attend Friday evening, all day Saturday, and a half day on Sunday, continuing to work as I studied.

My new role was at a hospital in Alexandria, La. They called the position the COO; I was the chief operating officer and marketing director all in one. I would be working for the CEO, who told me he was going to be moving back to Oklahoma and that I would get his job in the next six months.

“Sure,” I told him. “Let’s do it.” I went to Alexandria because I thought it gave me the best opportunity to become a CEO. There was just one little problem, which I didn’t learn about until I was already there. I walked into work on day one only to learn that nine other people had already resigned.

“Boy, are you a fool for moving to Louisiana and taking this job,” one of them told me on the way out.

The two doctors who were there told the staff in a meeting that the hospital was going to shut down in 10 days. Although there were 49 beds, there were only 17 patients in the hospital. “They are all going to be discharged in the next 10 days, and you all are going to lose your jobs,” the two doctors said.

They left the hospital and went across town to their nice little office. Meanwhile I called the corporate office and said, “Hey, what’s going on?”

“Oh, yeah,” they told me. “These guys resigned 90 days ago. It took us that long to find you and a new medical director.”

It was like a sucker punch. I had come all the way from Dallas. Now I was there, and I didn’t have a whole lot of options. The next morning, I was walking down the hallway when this man with a thin frame and a lab coat past his knees came up to me. He said, “Hello, my name is Vasudeva Dhulipala. I am the new medical director. You must be Mark.”

We shook hands, and I said to myself, Oh my God, we really are going to shut down in 10 days, as this guy is not from here either. Two guys with no connections to anybody in this town are going to somehow turn this bad situation around?

Thirty days later, we had 41 out of the 49 beds occupied. We continued to maintain a census average of more than 81% over the next 18 months. We were recognized as the “turnaround hospital of the year” and had jumped from $9 million to $18 million in revenue.

We did it by going out to referral sources and knocking on doors. I would introduce myself directly to doctors and ask them to give us a try. We also hired a couple of terrific nurse liaisons who were dedicated and excited about their roles (shout-out to Denise and Melissa). We worked hard to build a team, opened the door to as many connections in the community as we could, and simply asked for the opportunity to treat the patients who required our services. This combination brought in the patients. And 25 years later, Dr. Dhulipala is still there.

I’ll never forget the time we had 113 referrals and more than 80 admissions in one month. The company’s executives were just freaking out. They even brought in their independent outside legal counsel to interview me. They wanted to know what I was doing and saying to all these people who were sending us patients.

“What are you talking about?” I said. “I just go and talk to them and say, ‘Hey, give us a try.’”

When I spoke to doctors, I’d tell them the hospital’s other doctors—those who quit my first day—weren’t there anymore and that we had a new medical director, whom I called Dr. D. A few months later, I would go back to a doctor’s office, and everyone would say, “Hey, Dr. D’s charts are very detailed, and all the patients like him and say he’s really nice.”

And that was it. Both Dr. D and I were in the same situation when we showed up, and I wasn’t the only one who turned things around. Obviously, he got off on the right foot, and he was well liked too. One of the local physicians, Dr. Miguel Garcia, was a big supporter of the hospital while I was affiliated and worked well with Dr. D on program development.

Sometimes I’d bring Dr. D out with me to visit other physicians one on one. He’d always say, “Hey, Mark, this is so much fun. You make it so enjoyable.” Dr. D had a great bedside manner that made people comfortable with him regardless of the situation. He generously shared a few of his trust-building techniques—which obviously made our patients enjoy his care—with me and my team of nurse liaisons.

We went from $9 million to $17 million in revenue within the first year. In the second year, we opened up an outpatient clinic and added another million to make it $18 million in revenue. After that, it was time for a new challenge. I moved to a brand-new, yet-to-open 21-bed inpatient physical rehabilitation hospital in Opelousas, La., just an hour and a half down the road. I took the position of CEO, and in just two weeks, we had all 21 beds occupied and fully staffed. I took this success as proof that it was time to venture out on my own. I started my own management company focused on inpatient physical rehabilitation hospitals, both freestanding independent facilities and hospital-within-hospital types. That’s when it really all began.

All of a sudden, I was approached by the CEO of a small hospital in Eunice, La. He wanted me to open a hospital-within-hospital physical rehab facility in one wing. Then a physical therapy practice run by two therapists invited me to consult with them. Next, the doctor who had recruited me to the Opelousas physical rehab hospital contracted with me to help him grow his practice. Shortly after these three streams of income started, I found another opportunity in direct patient care. This was in the outpatient setting referred to as an ORF (outpatient rehabilitation facility), which focused primarily on the geriatric population. I opened up one clinic and grew to six clinics within a year, with revenue exceeding $2 million. Over the next three years, we went from one inpatient physical rehabilitation hospital to six hospitals. Demand for my skill set exploded in growth. By the time I was 33, I had made more than $1 million net. By the time I was 35, I had more than $2 million net. It was crazy for me to comprehend how this paper boy from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was now a multimillionaire at the age of 35.

I never knew what the limit was going to be. Sometimes I would say to myself, “I’ve done enough. It’s time to get out,” because I was not sitting at home counting money anyway.

I also learned that some things would always be out of my control. I learned this lesson in a very real way, since in my line of work, I was forced to realize that I was never going to experience anything as difficult as losing a baby. That was the hardest challenge I ever faced. In business, I knew what I had to do. My job was to go out and get more business, and I was good at it. But when I was holding a little baby and every medical professional I dealt with was reminding me, “Just be prepared, she might not make it”—that was a feeling of utter powerlessness.

Know when to fold

After a few of my competitors sold, I started thinking about it too. About 10 years ago, when I sold the three for $20 million, I realized that I needed to just keep doing it. Once I had the first taste of that $20 million, I knew I could go back and do it again, and that’s exactly what I did. I built and sold four more businesses. Next I had the opportunity to develop six more physical rehab hospitals as a joint venture partner. This deal fell apart because the big acute care hospital sold its interest to another big acute care hospital and killed our deal. I didn’t take it too hard. Instead, I told myself, “You know what? I don’t need those six hospitals to make $100 million.” I’ll just settle for making half of it.

“Hey, let’s stick around,” I told Stephanie Nunez, my CFO. “Let’s open one more hospital and push ourselves to $50 million.” And when we reached $42 million, I said, “I’ll take the 42 and the previous 20, and that was going to be enough in the 24/7/365 hospital business.”

People have to pick a number and know when to stop, and I figured I’d picked mine. I have no regrets and am extremely grateful. For 25 years, I fulfilled my passion. I created more than 3,500 jobs. More than 22,000 patients were treated in the 30-plus facilities with which I was associated. That was extremely rewarding, and I’m proud of the work we did.

The best thing I ever did

Businesses come and go, but family is forever. My proudest accomplishment—make that my five proudest accomplishments—are my five kids. I may have been growing a company with hundreds of employees and been responsible for patients’ lives and millions of dollars in revenue, but once I was home, I was just Dad. My kids always had to ask me to explain what I did for work. My reply was, “Health care,” or simply, “I just work like everyone else.”

The most important things in our home have always been work ethic, humility, integrity, commitment, teamwork, and family values. All five kids enjoy active lifestyles and travel. They can all tell entertaining stories and are well-liked individuals in their own right. Morgan, Zoe, Abbie, Tanner, and Sophie will all one day tell their own stories of growing up, but from my perspective, I am just a dad who couldn’t have asked for better kids to raise.

One of the benefits of all those years of working was meeting many of the people I’m going to introduce you to in this book. These are people who inspired me with their magic dust. For years, I’ve known I wanted to write about, speak about, maybe even lecture about magic dust. Now I finally have the time and the passion to do that.

As you continue to read about the special people in this book, you will see key words that describe the qualities of magic dust. For the visionaries, those words include leader, driven, persistent, determination, facilitator, team builder, committed, dedicated, strategist, and charismatic.

Excerpted from Magic Dust: What Is It? Who Has It? How Do You Get It? by Mark J. Harris. Copyright © 2021 by Mark J. Harris. Reprinted with permission of Brown Books Publishing Group. All rights reserved.