Be Nice and Hustle
Getting to Know David M. Dickson, Jr.
By: Tom Griffen
I scheduled a meeting with TSI Healthcare’s Founder, David M. Dickson Jr., on what turned out to be a thundering Monday afternoon. I’d done my research on his company— what began as a one-man operation in 1997, the company has since grown to more than 155 employees. In fact, TSI Healthcare was recently honored by the Stevie Awards as the #1 Ranked Service Worldwide in healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and related industries. I also did my best to learn about TSI Healthcare’s products, electronic health record (EHR) and medical practice management software. It was all pretty much Greek to me.
The folks at the reception desk offered me a cold bottle of water. Moments later, David and I sat together at a long conference table in a glass room adjoined to the lobby. He insisted I take the head chair where behind me stood a 550-gallon aquarium. David pointed to the eel and told me that when he introduced it to the tank it was the size of his index finger. Now it stretched multiple feet long and, though completely harmless, was thick as a copperhead.
David was born in Durham. As a lifetime Tar Heel fan, he always thought of Chapel Hill as “the cool place to be.” He dreamed of attending UNC-Chapel Hill and got his wish (and eventually a degree in Econ) during the era of Michael Jordan, Mia Hamm, Lawrence Taylor, and other legendary grads.
Besides babysitting and lawn-mowing, David’s had a total of three jobs in his life. After an early stint ushering at South Square Cinema, he worked for his father’s computer company for fourteen years. His third job is his current position as TSI Healthcare’s CEO where he does his best to channel his father’s leadership style. David prides himself on being a thorough, accessible owner. The two hours he spent with me are proof.
TSI Healthcare is a perfect avenue for David to do what’s most important to him—help people reach their potential. Whether it’s a client trying to modernize an archaic database, or a new hire looking to turn a job into a lucrative career, he strives to be a catalyzing resource for advancement.
David expects two things from employees: be nice, and show you’ve got some hustle. Over the past two decades, David has learned that genuine customer service traits aren’t necessarily learned through traditional education. The fact is, a handful of people on the TSI Healthcare team have no college education whatsoever, no special credentials.
“But they are a good fit into our culture,” David said. “We make it clear that hard work can propel you forward, and then show folks this can happen.”
David is also musically inclined. As a kid, he sang for the North Carolina Boys Choir, then later for the Clef Hangers, the states’ oldest a cappella group. I asked if any musical genre revs his engine. “The 80's,” David said. “Best era of music besides the 50's.” Michael Jackson, Prince, and anything by Dionne Warwick take him back to when he and his buddies would go to school events and wait for the DJ to play something that gave them an excuse to ask girls to dance.
David’s a romantic. A realist, sure, but a romantic too. I heard it in his voice when he talked about his wife, who also works at TSI Healthcare as the Vice President of Research and Development.
“She’s an amazing thinker with an incomparable work ethic—the highlight of my day is getting home so we can watch the Olympics together, or head out to the Farmer’s Market to buy too many vegetables.”
His favorite memory is spending summers with his grandparents, cutting their grass and working in the yard. He told me that thinking about those days makes him tear up. His tone didn’t change as he reflected on why he still adores Chapel Hill.
“It’s elegant and clean. Chapel Hill represents a beautiful introduction to the good parts of our Southern past. There’s manners, gentility, and a celebration of the colonial, hardworking nature of America.”
“Chapel Hill is a standout among forward thinkers,” David said.
Twenty years ago, when David started TSI Healthcare, he planned to put a few predatory fish in the conference room aquarium. He wanted to watch them circle beneath the glow of a black light. Now, he’d rather have submerged mosses swaying in slow-motion, tiny currents from passing fins gently pushing them this way and that.
“Can’t have sharks if you want plants to thrive,” David said. So he chose plants.