The Duke Abided: Unraveling HearUSA, part 11

Last post, Duke Rodriguez table danced his way out of New Mexico politics, which were awash in Medicaid fraud allegations, ending up jobless but probably not penniless.  He turned his formidable attention to internet names and domains, bearing down on hearing industry opportunities, noting that the population was aging and hearing aids were not a covered service. Not to hold readers in suspense, my notes from insider interviews sum up Duke’s antics:

“The Hear-USA name was bought as part of a deal from a guy named Duke Rodriguez in Peoria Arizona{{1}}[[1]]He may have had a hearing aid dispensing office there, but HearUSA  legal documents show him operating out of Scottsdale as Duval Holdings, Inc.[[1]].”  Duke, by reports, was an early internet-savvy guy who talked the talk, did a stock purchase, eventually opposed the HearUSA merger, and was bought out (fired?) for $250,000.  By report he’d done similar ‘deals’ before.

That says all you need to know for the HearUSA story, but it doesn’t do Duke justice.   He was so far ahead of the competition that, like the great explorers,  he may have “possessed a visionary cast of mind bordering on derangement,”  {{2}}[[2]]Description of Portuguese King Manuel I, who aimed to become King of Jerusalem back in the day, in a book about Vasco da Gama[[2]] I say that based on what he did– or said he did–to and with the hearing industry back at the millennium.  Apologies for all the quotes, but no one could do it or say it like Duke:

11/09/98:   Duke founded Duval Holdings, Inc., a health care business {{3}}[[3]]Arizona Corporate Commission File # F-0855740-1[[3]], and had “Hear USA” approved and published as a dba{{4}}[[4]]Publication date was 12/22/98 in Maricopa county, Arizona.[[4]].  Corporate papers were updated once (1998) and that’s all he wrote. Corporate reports went unfiled and eventually Duval lost its corporate status in 2003 .  In the meantime, Duval/Hear USA was busy creating an empire, or at least putting grandiose PR announcements out on the wire:

 April 7, 2000: Audiologist Online Launched; Online Support Now Available to Millions With Hearing Loss. … online help is only a “click” away. HearUSA, Inc., a Scottsdale, Arizona based healthcare company focused on hearing care, has launched Audiologist Online at www.AudiologistOnline.com. The site provides free, live-interactive consultation with Master’s or Doctorate-level Audiologists.

August 14, 2000:  HearingAids.com Acquired by HEAR USA, Inc.  “America’s #1 Hearing Source,” announced today the acquisition of the Internet domain name www.hearingaids…. it permanently provides us the ideal landmark for redesigning the $4.5 billion North American hearing care market,.. HEAR USA also owns and operates such key Web sites as: www.audiologistonline.com , ww.hearingaidbatteries.com , www.hearingshop.com , www.hearingbatteries.com…. we are near finalizing the foundation of our E-commerce strategy, and soon we will accelerate our goal of successfully executing our vision.

September 26, 2000:   New Direct-to-Consumer eHealth Marketing Model.  HEAR USA has quickly become the dominant vendor of hearing aids on the Internet … selling hearing aids directly to consumers at prices below what many traditional audiology suppliers pay for their own supply. HEAR USA is now preparing to repeat this feat with Tinnitus.

October 25, 2000:   Hear USA reportedly has 3 hearing offices in the Phoenix area and is selling to Helix. “Rodriguez will serve as vice president for business development, focusing on how the Internet can reach baby boomers who will soon begin flooding the market for hearing help. Rodriguez said the company hopes for 300 clinics by next year. ‘For me, it’s like doing Lovelace all over.'”

October 30, 2000:  Helix Hearing Care Completes Acquisition of HEAR USA; E-Commerce Strategy to be Expanded.  … Helix Hearing Care of America Corp… is pleased to announce that it has completed the acquisition of HEAR USA, Inc. (www.hearusa.com) of Phoenix, Arizona. HEAR USA is presently the leading E- Commerce hearing care destination in North America and operates a series of advanced integrated Web sites, focused exclusively on the hearing healthcare industry.

Talk about accelerating a vision — all of that took place in under 7 months.  Duke apparently hung around through 2002 and parted company with Helix when it merged with HEARx.  There is no evidence that he was ever in the same room as Dr. Brown, but it seems clear that the e-commerce vision was not consonant with the medical model envisioned by Dr. Brown. Whether they met or not, past history makes it likely that Duke jumped up and walked on the conference table while objecting loudly to the merger.   Too bad we don’t have video.

For Dr. Brown and company, $250,000 probably seemed like a small price to pay to get Duke down off the table and out the hearing industry door.  I,  for one,  am thankful that HearUSA ponied up and took the hit for all of us in the industry.

photo courtesy of flickr.com

 


About Holly Hosford-Dunn

Holly Hosford-Dunn, PhD, graduated with a BA and MA in Communication Disorders from New Mexico State, completed a PhD in Hearing Sciences at Stanford, and did post-docs at Max Planck Institute (Germany) and Eaton-Peabody Auditory Physiology Lab (Boston). Post-education, she directed the Stanford University Audiology Clinic; developed multi-office private practices in Arizona; authored/edited numerous text books, chapters, journals, and articles; and taught Marketing, Practice Management, Hearing Science, Auditory Electrophysiology, and Amplification in a variety of academic settings.