Partnerships: A blessing or a curse?

Jan. 1, 1998
In my work with doctors on transitions and legal services, there are certain questions that I am asked repeatedly. One of these questions relates directly to dental partnerships that already exist.

Roger Levin, DDS, MBA

In my work with doctors on transitions and legal services, there are certain questions that I am asked repeatedly. One of these questions relates directly to dental partnerships that already exist.

The truth about partnerships

Before I tell you the question that I am asked frequently, let me inform you that there is no truth about partnerships. Dental partnerships are not good. Dental partnerships are

not bad. Dental partnerships do not come in any specific shape or form. They are not generic and they have a million reasons why they do and do not work out. In other words, no real rules exist.

Think about how most partnerships evolve. Two dentists of approximately the same age could get together to share the practice and expenses or a senior dentist could bring in a younger dentist as part of a long-term retirement plan. Then, there are the scenarios where senior dentists think that they are busy enough and need a younger dentist`s help - maybe they do, maybe they do not.

The question

Quite often, one partner in a partnership will ask me what to do when partners disagree. For example, one partner will feel very strongly that he/she should enter a management-consulting program, while the other is more concerned with saving money so that he or she can retire in three years.

What we have here is a classic case of differing goals. Although the goals may have been similar at the outset of the partnership, they are no longer the same. Many factors contribute to partnership goals going in opposite directions. For example, the age of the partners can be a big factor. A partner getting close to retirement is not interested in spending a lot of money on consulting, high-technology equipment, continuing education or anything else. That partner wants to save as much money as possible in order to retire.

Another situation exists where one partner is very aggressive about building a practice and the other does not want to do anything. You could call it old school/new school. You can call it anything. The fact is that one partner is dragging the other along and each resents the other. Naturally, it did not start out that way, but simply emerged over time. Once again, we have a case of differing goals.

Yet another scenario concerns two partners who came together and were very happy for many years. Fortunately, one of the partners saved a great deal of money. Unfortunately, the other did not.

Now, we have one partner who is financially set, wants to cut back hours, is relatively happy and is willing to invest in the practice. The second partner has a far greater need to make and save more money (maybe the kids are ready for college) and wants to drive the practice forward, but cannot invest in the practice because he or she needs the money to send the kids to college.

Once again, this is a case of differing goals.

Get divorced at the beginning

Each year, The Levin Group attorney handles upward of 200 partnership and associateship legal transactions. One of the key factors is the initial negotiation. Many dentists do not like confrontation. However, if there is ever a time for confrontation, it is at the beginning of a partnership.

You may think that this sounds funny or even ridiculous. Who would want to have confrontation while you are becoming partners? Is that not the time when you are supposed to be happy and get along perfectly, which seemingly are the key elements of a partnership.

The best time to discuss everything, negotiate everything and confront each other concerning potential issues that could possibly occur down the road is at the initiation of the partnership. After all, this is the time when you are enjoying the idea of being partners. You will never get along better. That is why you must plan now for the future.

What happens if one partner does not want to invest in the practice? What if only one partner is ready and wants to come into The Levin Group Dental Business Consulting Program™?

What if one partner is in debt and will not invest in the practice? What if one partner wants to slow down?

You should answer these key questions upfront in the negotiation of a partnership.

Successful partnerships are built around complete honesty. Honesty also includes those issues that have not yet come up, but may some time down the road. I have seen many practices that have outstanding partnerships - you just have to think them out.

Dr. Roger Levin is founder and president of The Levin Group, a national, dental-management and marketing-consulting firm. He can be reached at (410) 654-1234.

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