Michael Fowler has never been afraid of hard work. Around age 10, Fowler was toting groceries and stocking shelves at his dad’s grocery store.
At 17, he joined the U.S. Navy, and it changed his life forever. There, he became a medical corpsman and eventually found his path to Allergy & Asthma Clinics of Georgia and his day job as physician’s assistant.
Fowler also has a second identity separate from the world of sinuses and hay fever. He’s Michael Aye, writer of historical naval fiction. Alter-ego Aye has published five tall ship novels, including “Peregrine,” his latest, available at Amazon.com.
He hates texting and bureaucracy and loves country music and hunting with his son and grandchildren. Recently, Fowler spoke with Herald reporter Jim West.
Q. What was your first job?
A. My daddy owned several grocery stores when I was growing up. My job was toting groceries to cars, delivering groceries, stocking shelves. I probably started around 10 or 12, up until I was about 16.
Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first-ever paycheck?
A. The first paycheck I actually got, I spent on a date. Now, my dad would give me a little money here and there, you know, a quarter or 50 cents. Sometimes a dollar.
Q. What’s the single most effective technique you’ve found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?
A. Keeping them happy, keeping the morale high. Making them understand we care about them, care about their families. Letting them know that the reason we’re here is to treat the allergy and asthma patients of south Georgia, and letting them know that what we’re doing is something to help our fellow man.
Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to be in this type of business?
A. I started out as a corpsman in Vietnam. I went in the Navy when I was 17. I like medicine, and I was the base medical officer at the Marine Base for several years. I met a guy who used to be an allergist here, Larry Smith, and over the years he would do reserve work. He asked me one day if I was interested in getting into allergy. I started doing allergy and asthma with Larry, and then Dennis Robinson came in and was a partner for a while. Later, Larry left the area and Dr. Robinson and I had become good friends. Dr. Tracy Bridges also came in with us, so three good old country boys all together. It was easy to get into a practice with people that felt the same.
Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?
A. I think the biggest role model I have was from a military doctor I worked with, Cmdr. Martin. He always said, “while we all want to have our goals and dreams, pick something you’ll be happy doing, then do it to the best of your ability.” Cmdr. Martin is why I’m doing what I’m doing today.
Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?
A. While the income is not what it used to be — a lot of insurance companies don’t pay as well — you’ve still got to balance the budget. You’ve still got to pay your employees so they can buy groceries and pay the light bill. You have to pay the light bill here, too. So you have to do a lot of cutting back in certain areas, trimming the budget, cutting back on the gravy and still do enough we can all make a living and get by on.
Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology – examples email, automated phone systems, cellphones, PDAs, etc. – what would you most like to see go away?
A. Texting. I hate texting. I finally broke down and bought a phone that I could text on, but when I’m in seeing patients and I come out, my little phone will be lit up with all these people who have texted me with this question or that question. Professional friends, occasionally a patient, but I hate texting. If you can’t talk to me, I don’t like to do it over the phone. And nobody spells out a word anymore. I think it’s going to really hurt grammar in the long run.
Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?
A. I like EMR, the Computer Medical Records. In the past we had to dictate our notes, and then they had to go to a transcription service. There was sometimes a delay of several days. A patient could be given a prescription, they lose it after they leave the office and call you back that day. Trying to remember what you wrote for that patient was not always easy. With electronic medical records, it’s there. When a patient leaves, the chart is through. While it’s impersonal in a lot of ways, the information we need is there.
Q. What is your favorite tradition?
A. Thanksgiving. In my family, we get together for a big Thanksgiving dinner. My grandsons, my son and I usually get up that morning and go deer hunting. We come back, we stuff ourselves and then we sit down and watch a football game or something. It’s kind of neat that everybody’s all excited. It’s good family time.
NAME: Mike Fowler
POSITION: Physician’s Assistant, Allergy & Asthma Clinics of Georgia
FAMILY: Married to Pat, with son, John, 39, and daughter, Becky, 37
EDUCATION: George Washington University, University of Nebraska
Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?
A. I read, probably a couple of books a week. The last book I read was “Betrayal” by Julian Stockwin.
Q. You’re an author yourself, aren’t you?
A. That’s right. I got picked up by a publishing company, and I have five books out right now under the pen name Michael Aye. I’ve just signed a contract to do a trilogy on the War of 1812, and they have the first manuscript of that. One of my co-workers, Nancy McKimie, and I just published a book called “What’s the Reason for All That Sneezing and Wheezing?” That’s written under Michael Fowler.
Q. I’m up and going by? And what is your morning routine?
A. When my wife calls me the last time. Usually I’m up by 7:15 a.m. I try to be at work by about 8 a.m. A few times a year I have to be here by 7. I get my computers on and look at my schedule. We usually do sick-call on the staff before we get busy, then see patients until lunch. In the afternoon, we get busy again.
Q. What famous person would you like to meet and why?
A. I’ve met a lot of famous people, and I’ve enjoyed the relationships I’ve had with a lot of celebrities. I very briefly met Ronald Reagan one time, and that was a man I would like to have gotten to know better. I think he was not only a good president, he was a great communicator. I just think that he probably had more to offer than we realized — other than his presidency.
Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?
A. Writing, of course. I watch very little TV, other than sports. Hunting is probably my biggest activity outside the office. I usually write an hour or two at night. In deer season, my grandsons and I hunt with Ray Knight, and about once a year I go to the north Georgia mountains and bear hunt.
Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?
A. I’ve thought about that a few times, and I have to tell you, I wouldn’t take any of it back. I think about it all, and it’s like a domino effect — if you take this back, then that wouldn’t have happened — and so I look back on those things. Yeah, there were some things I’d like to have done different, but if I’d done them different then I may have not had the other things that happened, and so there is very little I would change.
Q. Best thing about your job?
A. The people I work with. I’ll tell you what, Dennis Robertson and Tracy Bridges are probably the two best people that any P.A. could ever luck upon. Dennis and Tracy are not only good supervising physicians, they’re good friends. When they count my richness, count my friends in there.
Q. Worst thing about your job?
A. Not being able to meet expectations of several patients. You get somebody coming in here, and they want you to do more for them than is feasibly possible. A lot of times there are things I would like to do but we have to deal with formularies. We have to deal with restrictions, we have to do pre-certifications. It’s not like practicing medicine when I was a young man first out of school, when you did what you needed to do for a patient. Nowadays you deal with insurance companies, formularies and things like that. That’s getting old very quickly.
Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?
A. Probably English. You wouldn’t know that to listen to me, but I actually had a person tell me one time, “It’s a good thing you don’t write like you talk.” That’s one of the reasons I write the books that I do.
Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?
A. It would have to be a full-time author. I made some promises to my publisher that once I retired I’d be willing to go out on the road, promote the books, do book signings and things like that. I’ve done that to some degree. But you can’t do it to their satisfaction and do the day job. Once I’ve retired from this, I expect that I’ll go out and do more of that.
Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?
A. Understanding. He needs to know what’s going on in several fields at one time. He has to know what the economy is doing. He needs to know what it takes to take care of the employees.
Q. Crystal ball time: What’s your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?
A. I’d like to say tomorrow, but I think it’s going to take four years. I’ve talked to a lot of the accountants and insurance people, the people who handle my 401(K). They think it’s going to be four years.
Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?
A. I don’t have an iPod. I don’t like to put anything in my ears. In my CD player you’d find Luke Bryan and Phillip Phillips and Toby Keith. I’m kind of a country person. Luke Bryan and I have known each other for years. He and I used to write songs together, and his mother and I are good friends. I’d be a poor South Georgia person if I didn’t have a lot of Luke Bryan CDs.
Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?
A. Without some economic recovery, I think we’re going to see a lot of downswing to Albany. I worry about that. I’m worried about the growth, I’m worried about the Marine Base possibly closing. P&G has downsized. We’ve lost Delco Remy, we’ve lost Bobs Candies, we’ve lost Lilliston, we’ve lost Merck Chemical. That’s a lot to lose. If the business leaders in the area don’t do something to bring back some industry, I think we’re all going to suffer.
Q. What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken? Why?
A. Every year my wife and I take a trip to the Caribbean to do research for my next book. The first island we went to was Calibre, which is about 15 miles off Puerto Rico. It was a romantic time, it was a time for looking at nature, it was a time for looking at the history of Calibre. There was research that went on, but it was just my wife and I in a cottage overlooking the bay. I can tell you it was the most peaceful time and a time that was made for romance, and we took advantage of that.
Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?
A. The technology that we have. It’s really coming around, and it’s inspiring that we continue to find things out to help our fellow man. The other change is being bridled by insurance companies. We don’t treat patients anymore. We treat insurance companies. If it’s not approved or pre-certified, then it doesn’t happen.