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Archive for September, 2013


MIT Sloan alumna finds elixir for successful integrative medicine practice

Boston-area resident Carol Spaulding, 58, suffered from debilitating, daily migraines from the age of 11. Not only were they excruciating, but they caused dizziness, facial numbness, and finally led to severe depression and the loss of her job. Years of consulting with medical doctors and rounds of anti-depressant medicines did not help.

Out of ideas and desperate for relief, Spaulding consulted with Dr. Basmaa Ali, MBA ’09, founder of Zanjabee, a private integrative medicine and primary care clinic in Woburn, Mass.

“I had never heard of integrative medicine … I went in to see her and she spent an hour with me. I changed providers that day,” Spaulding says.

Ali suggested weekly acupuncture and massage therapy, and prescribed some herbal treatments. After some time, the headaches became less frequent. Next, Ali recommended Spaulding purge all processed foods from her diet — a move that eradicated the headaches almost completely.

“She didn’t tell me I ‘had’ to do anything … It was, ‘Let’s try this and see if it works.’ I think she is a wonderful combination of Western and Eastern medicine,” Spaulding says.

Ancient traditions

Ali’s route to becoming a medical doctor and business owner began with her childhood in Pakistan, where Ayurveda, or traditional Indian medicine, is woven into daily life. Ali became a doctor, specifically a hospitalist, a hospital-based physician who treats admitted hospital patients only. But she became frustrated when she realized she could not “fix” chronically ill patients. “They came in; we patched them up, and then we sent them out into the world. We knew for sure they’d be coming back,” she says.

Business school beckoned, Ali says, because she wanted to learn more about how to “get things done,” although it wasn’t until her second year at MIT Sloan that she considered opening her own practice. “I used to daydream about a place where you did both lifestyle and medicine, and at that point in time, they hadn’t integrated into one thing,” she says. After some initial hesitation, Ali forged ahead. “I thought, ‘What’s to stop me from doing this?’ The worst thing that will happen will be that I fail. But if there’s one thing that Sloan does very well, is that it removes your fear of failure. You fail? Big deal? You dust yourself off and start something new.”

After taking a system dynamics course with Professor John Sterman, Ali was inspired by his teaching. Ali says that Sterman demonstrated, among other things, that “good solutions strike a balance between short-term needs and long-term goals,” and that “there are no perfect solutions that provide both immediate gratification and long-term stability.” He also taught her not to be afraid of tackling hard problems.

Changing the world, one patient at a time

Following a period of research and consideration, Ali decided to open a clinic that would look at the patient as a whole person. The practice uses tools ranging from Western medicine to lifestyle modifications, Ayurveda, acupuncture and massage therapy to provide customized solutions for each patient.

The clinic’s name, Zanjabee, is a play on the word zanjabeel, which loosely translates to “elixir of ginger,” an herbal remedy that has been used as medicine for more than 1,000 years. “Today, there is a lot of cutting-edge research on ginger. We look at older traditions, but we also look at what’s cutting edge in medicine today,” Ali says.

Two students from the MIT School of Architecture and Planning helped her design the 3,500-foot, open-plan, light-filled practice, which opened in 2010 in Woburn, Mass., and is affiliated with nearby Winchester Hospital.

The practice has been growing steadily, but one of the biggest challenges for Ali has been getting the word out to prospective patients. She hired classmate Nadia Minter, MBA ’09, to assist in a part-time marketing role.

Both Minter and Ali agreed that word-of-mouth marketing has been most effective approach so far. Currently, Minter is putting together a direct mail campaign and is looking into community sponsorships with local sports clubs and parenting groups. She says her MIT Sloan MBA gave her marketing and business development knowledge, as well as an ability to think about creative ways to engage prospective patients.

Messaging has been a hurdle, says Minter. “Zanjabee offers several services such as primary care, acupuncture, Ayurveda, massage, and yoga, but it’s the customized combination of treatments and close collaboration of Zanjabee practitioners that makes it so different from other clinics that offer just primary care, or just acupuncture, or just massage,” she says. That difference can also make it more challenging to come up with a simple marketing slogan.

Another marketing challenge is the fact that some people are skeptical about the integrative medicine approach, although Ali notes that the practice, with its staff of seven practitioners, is definitely not opposed to Western medicine. “We really believe in Western medicine. We just recognize its limitations. We really want to find the best solution for the patient,” she says.


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The Chatter for Sunday, September 22

Notable quotes from business articles that appeared in The New York Times last week.



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Tentative Agreement Over Heiress Clark’s Will

Recently deceased Montana copper heiress Huguette Clark, whose curious life and obsession with dolls made headlines, has a will that has been in dispute in a New York courtroom. It’s been reported by an anonymous party close to the case that a tentative deal would distribute more than $30 million of her $300 million estate to her distant relatives.

The court battle had pit nearly two dozen of Clark’s half-siblings’ descendants against a goddaughter, the hospital where she’d spent her last 20 years, doctors, a nurse, her lawyer, her accountant and others. An April 2005 version of Clark’s will cut out the descendants altogether, but a rehash from 6 weeks later left them almost everything. The latest tentative agreement would leave the relatives roughly $34.5 million after taxes. Clark’s chief nurse, Hadassah Peri, would have to hand over $5 million, along with a $1.5 million doll collection, and Clark’s lawyer Wallace Bock would get nothing.

Jury selection concerning the validity of the April, 2005 will began Thursday. In that version, Clark stated, “the persons and institution named herein as beneficiaries of my estate are the true objects of my bounty,” and noted that she’d had only “minimal contacts” with her true relatives over the years. Clark owned properties from Fifth Avenue in NYC to coastal California, but chose to live in the Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan at $400,000 a year in the twilight of her life, before passing away at 104 in 2011. Clark was first admitted to the hospital in 1991, emaciated and stricken with advanced skin cancer.

Some of Clark’s fortune would also go to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, at $10 million, and Clark’s mansion in California would become a foundation.

Over the years, Clark had dispensed multiple Manhattan apartments, a $1.2 Stradivarius violin, hundreds of thousands of dollars in Christmas presents, a painting by Manet, etc. to her hospital caretakers – and her lawyer and accountant stood to receive sizable fees as executors of the challenged will, on top of the hundreds or thousands of dollars they’d already received in gifts.

Clark’s relatives said the hospital, the doctors and nurses, and the lawyer and accountant had swindled the heiress. Their retort was that Clark was just a generous lady. New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office ended up getting involved in the dispute to protect charities’ interests. More money, more problems.

Image courtesy of Jungle Red Writers.