Th 138126

Office of the Month

Nov. 1, 2003
For the first time ever, a dentist from a small midwestern town has been named the 2003 Illinois Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

by Joe Blaes

For the first time ever, a dentist from a small midwestern town has been named the 2003 Illinois Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. The winner of this prestigious award is Richard E. Workman, DMD. He is the CEO and President of Heartland Dental Care, which is the most successful privately held dental practice-management company in the country. Grossing over $70 million in 2002, Heartland Dental Care has more than quadrupled its earnings in the last four years. For 2003, the company is far ahead of its projected financial goals.

Click here to enlarge image

Heartland's success is grounded in Dr. Work-man's long-held belief that most dentists would rather focus on practicing dentistry and helping people instead of running a business. Putting his conviction into practice has paid off.

Rising out of a cornfield in south central Illinois, half way between St. Louis and Indianapolis, is a striking contemporary building that is the home office of Heartland Dental Care. This building houses the corporate offices and Heartland's skilled management professionals who handle everything from payroll, human resources, and information technology to accounting, education, and coaching. Free from administrative concerns, Heartland dentists can concentrate on the pursuit of excellence in dental care. In the unique business setting that Heartland offers, dentists can practice their art while collaborating with mentors and colleagues about specific cases and receiving extensive continuing education and training in all the latest techniques.

I feel that this story can best be told in Dr. Rick Workman's own words. So here he is:

"I am a dentist by training. My only formal business education came from my years growing up in Clay County, Illinois, working with my father and grandfather on the family farm. One of the most important family lessons I have learned: With hard work and by the grace of God ... any dream can be accomplished. From those beginnings, we have created what many consider the most successful and one of the largest dental practice-management companies in the nation. I want people to understand that if they stay committed to their goals and vision, and if those goals and visions are based on strong values and are worthy aspirations, anything can be achieved."

Heartland Dental Care

Dr. Workman continues, "Heartland Dental Care is a dental practice-management company founded on the belief that most dentists ultimately desire to focus on doing dentistry and helping people. Heartland Dental Care is the D.B.A. for Dental Health Resources (DHR), LLC formed in August 1997. DHR is the successor to Workman Management Group, which sold to Dental Health Associates on July 1st, 1997, for $15.8 million.

Left to right: Dr. Rick Workman, CEO and founder of Heartland Dental Care; Dr. Keith Rice; and Dr. Adam Link.
Click here to enlarge image

"We were able to take my portion of the proceeds, along with the entire senior management team from the previous company and start again. Having Dental Health Associates allow me to keep my management team has been critical to our success. Our senior management team inherently understands that because of the intimate nature of a dental team, the culture of that team must be cohesive and based on personal and professional respect if it is to perform at a world-class level. These core beliefs are the essence of our success. Other tools we use are important, but without this single concept we would not be the successful organization that we are today. It is what distinguishes us from all of our competitors."

People philosophy

Dr. Workman is especially proud of Heartland's approach to personnel. He explains, "Our team philosophy is: 'Doing the Right Thing, For the Right Reasons, in the Right Work Environment.' Our company logo includes the phrase: "Personal Attention/Professional Excellence." These are Heartland Dental Care's core beliefs.

"We understand that dental care is an intimate, person-to-person, service-oriented business. We also understand that if we want to excel in a field where employees typically are not trained beyond basic professional skills that it is both our opportunity and obligation to train them. We are committed to training our people with concepts from outside of dentistry, including: verbal and nonverbal communication skills, active listening, handling objections, relationship management, and leadership training. Our people quickly realized how valuable this skill set was both personally as well as professionally, and this has afforded us a highly committed and motivated work force. From the first day of new employee orientation, people learn that anybody at anytime can step up, personally and professionally, and that our promise that the future leaders of our company may well be sitting in this room today is real. Our people understand that at Heartland Dental Care, lives are changed daily.

"We believe that personal recognition is one of the greatest human desires. Everyday we recognize doctors and hygienists who have had their best day ever. They receive emails and telephone calls of congratulations and support. Horizon awards also are given out to those offices that have started and become successful in the least amount of time. Graduation ceremonies are held for those doctors who are involved in our hands-on aesthetic dentistry continuum. Our Team Leadership graduates also are individually recognized for their commitment to learning and making a difference in their offices.

"We honestly feel that the more educated and rewarded our team members are, the better business decisions they will make. The sense of ownership and empowerment that are offered are unparalleled in the industry.

"Another unusual concept within Heartland is that all of our team members are stakeholders in the practices, and we teach them the skills and tools they need to participate in "the great game of business."

Innovative approaches

Heartland's unique approach to practice management is a defining factor in its success. Says Dr. Workman, "Our innovative approach is to both inspire and motivate each individual within the dental practice. All successful companies understand this and actually make some degree of effort toward this. However, at Heartland, we have made this concept part of our core values. Because we understand that dentistry is an intimate, person-to-person, service-oriented business, we aren't afforded even one weak link in the system. Pareto, a 19th century Italian economist, made the observation that 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your people. 80 percent of your problems come from 20 percent of your people. Virtually everybody who's worked in a dental practice clearly understands these concepts.

Building exterior
Click here to enlarge image

"At Heartland, the doctor is not the practice owner, and it radically changes team dynamics. The doctor is the obvious source of leadership in the office, but because he or she is not the ultimate controller of employment, great careers can be developed by anyone willing to take on that role within the office. This simple fundamental has radical implications for our dental practices. It may allow young doctors to learn leadership from an experienced team while maintaining their focus on mastering the technical aspects. It allows any person who has always wanted to grow and be recognized and rewarded to achieve that goal. These basic human needs are allowed to flourish at Heartland. Those who come to us with extensive previous dental experience confirm that these opportunities are unlike any other provided to them in previous practices.

Floor plan
Click here to enlarge image

"Another innovation at Heartland is its application of benchmarking for quality assurance purposes. Although used for quality assurance in other industries, organized benchmarking in dentistry - due to dentistry's solo nature — hasn't really existed. Therefore, we have created the most comprehensive and applicable benchmark in the industry. It creates an exceptional learning opportunity that allows our doctors to explore and expand their core beliefs.

"Support — a great concept at Heartland. We understand that many dentists aren't given the training to run a small business. Our company provides support to help eliminate those management headaches through our home office. We have a skilled team of professionals who handle everything from payroll, human resources, and information technology to accounting, education, and coaching. This allows the dentists at Heartland to focus on what they truly love — dentistry."

Future plans

The future looks bright to Dr. Workman. "I envision an era where dentists are free from the shackles of having to run an increasingly complex business operation; a world where they can focus on people and dentistry; and a career that can be rewarding both intrinsically and extrinsically. My hope is that when the history of dentistry is written, Heartland Dental Care will be mentioned as an entity that was a catalyst for a positive change.

"As our company grows, we continue to add new ideas while still maintaining strong roots in the fundamentals that have helped us succeed to this point.

"A celebration kicked off the grand opening for The Institute at Heartland Dental Care on July 31, 2003. The Institute has two functioning dental practices that see patients on a daily basis. The offices, along with state-of-the-art lecture facilities, provide a world-class training environment for those involved internally at Heartland Dental Care, and also for those in the dental community outside of Heartland.

"We do not see a limit to the opportunity for Heartland Dental Care. Recently we hired 20 percent of a single dental school's graduating seniors. When recruiting within the schools, the initial comment that we continue to hear is: "This sounds too good to be true — what's the catch?" There is no catch - we are very clear that Heartland isn't for everyone. But, if a Doctor has a good work ethic, is open to learning new paradigms, is committed to excellence, and is capable of working within a team-centered environment, then the chances to be highly successful are virtually assured with Heartland.

Heartland continues to grow - one office, one doctor, and one team at a time. Three years ago, we set a goal for one hundred offices with $100 million a year in annual revenue with a 16 percent profit margin. Now that those goals have been achieved, we have set a goal to become a $1 billion company by the year 2010.

Based on what I have seen, I think they will do it. Congratulations Dr. Workman!

Sponsored Recommendations

Clinical Study: OraCare Reduced Probing Depths 4450% Better than Brushing Alone

Good oral hygiene is essential to preserving gum health. In this study the improvements seen were statistically superior at reducing pocket depth than brushing alone (control ...

Clincial Study: OraCare Proven to Improve Gingival Health by 604% in just a 6 Week Period

A new clinical study reveals how OraCare showed improvement in the whole mouth as bleeding, plaque reduction, interproximal sites, and probing depths were all evaluated. All areas...

Chlorine Dioxide Efficacy Against Pathogens and How it Compares to Chlorhexidine

Explore our library of studies to learn about the historical application of chlorine dioxide, efficacy against pathogens, how it compares to chlorhexidine and more.

Enhancing Your Practice Growth with Chairside Milling

When practice growth and predictability matter...Get more output with less input discover chairside milling.