A medical emergency required Michael Bank to remain home for almost a full year as his wife battled cancer. Bank had to turn the operation of his very thriving school over to his highly trained staff. He says it was then totally reliant upon the business systems he had learned and implemented from the Martial Arts Industry Association. It was these systems that allowed the school to prosper in his long absence.
By Terry L. Wilson
At the Top of His Game Michael Bank, owner of Capital Karate in Columbia, SC, was on top of the world. He was just 32 years old. His martial arts school was extremely successful. His two homes and his car were paid off in full. He was already financially secure and debt-free! On top of all that, Bank had found the love of his life and was about to kiss his bachelorhood goodbye.
His girlfriend, Laurin Long, was excited because she was going to be starting a new job in two weeks. To celebrate, Bank suggested a road trip to Niagara Falls. Long was thrilled; she’d never been to Canada. Bank had played his cards smoothly. Long never suspected the real reason behind her boyfriend’s last-minute urge to take a trip.
Bank however, had an ulterior motive for this romantic getaway. He was setting the mood for a romantic evening and then, when the time was perfect, he planned to pop the marriage question.
“I was in heaven. Everything was so romantic,” Laurin says. “The Falls were beautiful. We had an amazing five-course dinner; the chef even came out to greet us. Mike and I were holding hands walking back to the hotel, when he stopped in front of the Bridal Veil Falls, got down on one knee and said, ‘Let’s keep this party going.’
“He pulled out a huge, beautiful ring. I was in shock! I had no idea he was planning to propose.”
Mike and Laurin were ecstatic on the drive home. The happy couple shared thoughts on what an exciting and long future they would share as husband and wife. Sadly, that moment of bliss would be short-lived, as a life-threatening dilemma loomed overhead.
It Started with A Back Pain
“During the entire trip, Laurin was having some back pain,” Mike recalls. “But I thought it was because we’d just driven 2,000 miles in 10 days. When we got back, she started her new job, but Laurin’s back was still bothering her. We went to a chiropractor and did acupuncture. It got so bad we went to the emergency room, too, but they couldn’t help.
“It wasn’t until we went to her oncologist that we learned her cancer was back. Laurin had been battling with breast cancer when we met back in 2014, but she’d been free and clear of that the whole time we were together.”
Anyone who has ever heard the doctor say, “You have cancer,” knows the heart-stopping, numbing feeling that invades the body. The experience is surreal. It’s akin to suffering from shellshock or emerging from a serious accident in a daze trying to understand what had just happened. As the numbing sensation subsides, it’s up to the brain on how to deal with the terrible hand the body has just been dealt.
For Mike and Laurin, the seriousness of the prognosis was intensified in December. It was then that they learned how far and to what degree the deadly disease had invaded Laurin’s body.
“We thought that Laurin’s cancer was behind us,” says Mike. “But it had come back in her bones, her lungs and her liver. Her lung chest-wall was about 90% filled with fluid, so she only had 10% lung capacity. After pulling out nearly two liters of fluid, the next week she went in for surgery for a bilateral pleural effusion.”
Still reeling from a roller coaster of emotions, ranging from the euphoria of a storybook-style marriage proposal to a sudden and devastating outbreak of cancer, there was yet more bad news coming their way.
“The surgeon that worked on Laurin said he’d be surprised if she would still be with us in six months,” says Mike. “He encouraged us to move the wedding date up.”
Mike and Laurin took a proactive mindset to fight the cancer. Endless research combined with visits to a number of specialists around the country, all with less-than-favorable results.
“We were looking into alternative solutions in the states and other parts of the world,” Mike explains. “And pretty much every doctor said that we should move up our wedding date. They were saying that Laurin might be on oxygen by then and she wouldn’t be able to walk down the aisle.
“Our wedding date was set for March 24, 2018, three years from the day we met. So, that was a very special date for us and we decided to keep it as scheduled.”
That deadline turned out to be a monumental challenge.
What Will Happen to His Business?
Bank’s extraordinary display of love for and commitment to his fiancee is an act of noble selflessness we here at MASuccess had never heard of before. But we were very familiar with Michael Bank the school owner, to the extent he was featured as our February 2016 cover story.
Bank’s Capital Karate in Columbia, SC was already somewhat successful when, in December 2010, he decided to join the Martial Arts Industry Association (MAIA), our field’s foremost business consulting agency to maximize its potential. Here was an entrepreneur who had a deep thirst for knowledge and absolutely no fear about implementing what he learned.
By age 32 in 2015, his school’s gross had soared to over $500,000. He was debt-free, owned two homes (one of them a “dream home”) and ran his thriving karate school housed in a building he had bought.
At that time, he had three full-time employees and three part-timers working for him. He was already so successful in his early 30s that he admitted, “I go to work these days because I want to, not because I have to.”
But now, he would be almost totally absent sent from school for 11 long months, from August 2017 to July 16, 2018! What would happen to his extraordinarily successful school?
Trusting His Staff
“Laurin was immediately admitted to the ER in August 2017,” Bank explains. “Of course, that’s when kids are starting to go back to [academic] school, and that’s the busiest time of year for any martial arts school. [Yet,] from that day until now, July 16, 2018 [the date of this article’s interview], I was rarely at the school.
“The weekend Laurin was diagnosed there was also an advanced-degree black belt test scheduled. While Laurin was in the hospital, I went back to the school and ran the test, because almost everyone on my staff was up for promotion. So, my entire staff was on hand for the test, but I didn’t tell them about Laurin until afterward.”
Mike took everyone through what he termed as a grueling, four-hour-plus test. Afterwards, he called his staff together and told them the bad news about Laurin.
“We went to the back room and I explained the situation to them,” says Mike. “I told everyone that I had no idea if I’d be able to spend much, if any, time at the school or how much I’d be available. They understood that Laurin had to be my top priority, no matter how long it took. They were all very supportive, gave me a group hug and told me not to worry about the school.
“At that same time, my MAIA consultant, Adam Parman, just happened to be at my school, because one of his instructors was testing for an advanced rank. Adam was also there for me. He told me that he would make himself available 24/7 for any help or assistance me or my staff might need.
“Fortunately, my staff has all been with me for a long time. And because the MAIA programs were already in place, it was business as usual, even if I wasn’t there. My school ran smoothly without me.
“Thanks to the systems I have learned and implemented as a member of MAIA, I was able to step completely out of my school while my wife was battling cancer. Now, as she is recovering and I’m stepping back into my school, I’m amazed at how well the systems have kept the school prospering in my 11-month absence.
“I cannot thank MAIA enough for all its support. It is incredibly comforting to know that the school will still prosper even when my focus is elsewhere!”
No Help Needed Thanks to MAIA!
“Money problems seem to be the leading cause of stress between most couples,” Bank points out, correctly. “In general, finances are the number-one cause of fights between married couples. That’s something Laurin and I didn’t have to worry about, and never will need to worry about.
“Because all of my MAIA business systems were in place and running smoothly, I didn’t have to worry about money issues. I have been able to save and invest for many, many years. So, even if I didn’t draw an income, I’d be fine for a while.
Fortunately, the school is doing great and I’m still able to draw an income without even being there. My only concern was helping Laurin to get well, and because I didn’t have to deal with any financial stress, that became my full-time job.
“A testament to the MAIA systems I had in place is that they worked so well that no help was needed during my absence. My guys knew how to recruit; they knew how to enroll; they knew how to upgrade students and they knew how to run our birthday parties and after-school programs.
“One of the things we do differently than other schools is we go to 13 different schools and churches during the daytime and run programs on site,” Bank adds. “One of the things that makes my school unique is the number of different profit centers that we have and, again, I have MAIA to thank for that.
“We do about 80 birthday parties a year. They run 90 minutes and we charge $250 dollars, and the amazing thing is they market themselves completely. I’ve never done any marketing and yet probably half of our birthday parties are for non-students. It’s great revenue for the school and a great way to get new people in the door.”
Besides Bank’s praise for the MAIA programs and systems, he was also quick to praise how his staff had no problem at all following the MAIA formula in his absence.
Able to Walk Down the Aisle!
“By the time our wedding came around on March 24, 2018, Laurin was not only able to walk down the aisle, she was able to dance the night away as well,” Bank says, proudly. “Of course, she had to take breaks to rest, but she was able to completely enjoy the wedding.
“Right now, we are six months into the trials and her tumors have decreased 71 percent. Her tumor markers are half of what they were and her pain level is manageable. She’s able to drive and do a little bit around the house and be fairly independent, within reason. Unfortunately, she did have to quit her new job; she was a staff accountant at a law firm.
“Laurin is prepping to undergo three additional months of intensive chemotherapy treatments,” he adds. “To deal with the side effects of her chemo, we sometimes have to spend three or four days during the week at the clinic in Charlotte.
“We are hoping that in two or three months, the chemo portion will be done and then it will just be amino therapy, which will be a lot more manageable.”
After Laurin’s chemo treatments were finished, Bank’s fulltime job was to take care of Laurin. Once every three weeks, they travel from Columbia, South Carolina, to Charlotte for her infusion. Then, every fourth week they return for bloodwork and, again, every other month for check-ups.
“Pretty soon, we’ll only be in Charlotte two or three times a month, versus the 10 to 15 times a month like it is right now,” Bank predicts.
“Let me give you an example of how well all of this worked for me,” says Mike. “When I joined MAIA, I was still very much a personality-driven martial arts school. The school was all about me as a head instructor. If I wasn’t teaching, classes just weren’t the same. I was a one-man band.
“What I learned from MAIA was that you have to create the systems, so that classes and the business end of the school are run as replicable as possible. That way, it doesn’t matter if there’s a master-level instructor or a brand-new black belt teaching the class. It will be run exactly the same.
"The same is true for our business applications. Because all those systems were already in place when Laurin got sick, I could devote my time to helping her, knowing that my school was in good hands."
Terry Wilson is a multi-Emmy Award-winning TV host/producer and freelance writer based in San Diego. He may be contacted at [email protected].
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