ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Johonniuss Chemweno confesses that he was a rather annoying kid who directed a lot of questions to his teachers and coaches.
It might have gotten even worse when he took up debate as a middle-school student.
“Sometimes just asking question after question would just maybe annoy people more than anything, but it’s just my way of understanding how the world works,” said Chemweno, owner of Inverse Medical Inc., an Albuquerque-based medical supply company.
Asking questions – and listening to the answers – is what helped Chemweno rapidly develop the company he started in 2012. Inverse now has 13 full-time employees, with independent sales representatives in Texas and Arizona.
And Chemweno – whose company markets medical supplies and post acute-care services to patients, doctors and insurance and home health care companies, among others – is working on a new venture tapping into the state’s growing film industry. His fledgling VIP Star Network will offer medical services to movie sets in rural parts of the state.
“I still have that approach: Just ask questions, ask questions, without being confrontational,” said Chemweno, 33. “Our company has that culture … whether it’s working with a patient, a physician, a nurse, so we gain more of an understanding of how we can meet their needs.”
Chemweno’s approach was cemented a few years ago when he went to see a specialist and was scolded for asking questions about the doctor’s suggested treatment.
“He said, ‘I’m the doctor. I’m the one who’s educated. You shouldn’t be asking me questions.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Well, absolutely, I should ask you questions. I’m the patient. This is my medical condition I came to see you about.”
The doctor called later to apologize, but the incident prompted Chemweno to find treatment elsewhere and renewed his mission to educate patients.
Growing up in Las Cruces, what were you like as a kid?
I think I still try to be a kid. Well, I was playful. I was always in the outdoor arena. I grew up playing a lot of sports – soccer, tennis, basketball. I did track and field. But I always loved the debate environment.
What was your first job?
Working at the animal humane society in Las Cruces at the age of 14, where I was walking dogs. It was a summer paid internship. Way before that, I think I went door to door, picking up people’s trash in their yards.
Do you think you had an entrepreneurial spirit early on?
Absolutely. I had a lot of energy … so I would always come up with ways of doing things that made sense. When I was 16, myself and another friend said, “Hey, we can do a summer (sports) camp with kids without getting the adults involved.” We charged like $5 a kid. it was just a way to say sometimes these kids, they were 6 or 7 years old, they might not want to be taught by an older coach. Maybe they just want to get experience and have fun with younger coaches, so we did that in high school.
Did you have any mentors?
I would say early on in my career … there were other business leaders in the community that I would just go have coffee with or lunch … just to ask questions. I did a lot of trade shows and I did a lot of conferences where I had a chance to hear how other companies are doing things or hear motivational speeches from leaders across the industry. I get advice from the smallest things. Some people in my office give me advice.
I feel like I’m always learning.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
The best advice I’ve ever been given is that we need more leaders in our community. I interviewed with a company shortly after I got out of college, and the vice president asked me a question. He said, “Johonniuss, are you a leader?” Of course I’m going to say, “Yes, I’m a leader.” And he said, “Well, good, because we need more leaders in our community.” And since then, it shaped my mindset. When he asked me that question, it made me understand more my role … that we do need more leaders that put the community first versus their corporation first or their self-interest first or things of that nature.
What’s on your bucket list?
There are some things that I just haven’t had the opportunity to do here in New Mexico. I would like to go hunting in northern New Mexico. I would like to also go to rural parts of Africa. We’ve had some requests to our company to offer extra nonprofit services to rural areas in Africa and South Africa. There are always areas of need we always hear about in health care… so that’s on my bucket list – just to see if we can expand services to those rural areas.
What do you most want to teach your boys?
To be humble and diligent. To really understand it’s not about them, which is hard to do when you have a 6-year-old.
I’m impatient. We all are customers when it comes to working with the gas utility company, working with your cellphone provider. My pet peeve is going through 100 different prompts, and then they still don’t know who I am. Because I don’t have time to be on hold for 45 minutes or an hour to get through to someone. I find that’s the same as a lot of people.
What is one food you can’t live without?
I find that I like sandwiches. Hot sandwiches. A hot turkey sandwich with melted cheese.
What’s your favorite splurge?
I find that I like to watch soccer games – European soccer games and the World Cup. That’s a fun splurge to me to finally sit and watch or go to a game and be uninterrupted.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I am talented in soccer, track. I find other people that have just amazing hidden talents. They can move their stomach kind of … you know, or they can bend their arm in weird positions. I don’t have any of those awkward talents.
Is there a memorable compliment you have received?
A lot of people say, “he’s intellectual” or “he’s articulate.” Being a good father – my mom says that a lot. A good husband, I hear that a lot as well.
Do you have any heroes? I notice there’s an image of Abraham Lincoln on your mug.
I have an appreciation, from a hero standpoint, that Abraham Lincoln was able to accomplish a lot, which was very, very difficult in that time frame. I think Martin Luther King Jr. was obviously, undebatably, one of the biggest heroes of our time – what he was able to accomplish. These are people that really had to … not make it about them and make it about the bigger picture. He gave his life for it. They both did. Talk about sacrifice. That’s why they’re my heroes.