A tribute by Joe Blaes, DDS, Editor
Recently we lost Dr. Jim Pride, an icon in the dental profession and, for me, a dear friend. We celebrated his life at a memorial service amidst the lush vineyards of Jim and Carolyn Pride's winery. In that beautiful setting, I was moved by the outpouring of admiration and affection from dentistry's leaders as well as from Jim's clients and staff who joined his family and friends at this inspiring tribute. I had the privilege to read many more tributes to Jim that had poured into the Pride Institute. What was it about Jim Pride that so profoundly affected so many people?
Jim Pride was a compelling speaker and coach, famous for capturing vital points that he wanted his students to remember through the use of simple yet unforgettable stories and expressions. These "Pride-isms" knocked Jim's students on their heads in much the same way as the proverbial apple dropped on Newton's. Through the years, Jim compiled a repertory of Pride-isms that became legendary. Some he quoted from the numerous leadership books he devoured; others he created himself, but all had his distinctive "spin." When one of Jim's apples struck them, dentists who had been faltering often discovered what was wrong with their practices, how to improve them, and enrich their lives in the process. Here are a few "pickings" from Jim's tree, most of them in the words of his dentist-students.
"If it's going to be, it's up to me."
This simple statement has spoken volumes to dentists about self-responsibility and personal initiative as the keys to gaining control over their practices and lives.
"Fifteen years ago I first heard Jim Pride speak," recalls Dr. Dave Nibouar. "I was working up to burnout, trying to be all things to all people. I signed up for a seminar out of sheer desperation. I only remember two things about it: Jim was the most inspiring speaker I had ever heard, and my first and still most significant Pride-ism is, 'If it's going to be, it's up to me.' In retrospect it seemed so simple, but it was the right information at the right time. (When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.) The message to me was this: it was time to stop blaming my patients and my staff and to begin to make the choices I was capable of making to control my own life. It changed my practice forever."
The same apple struck Dr. Mark Adams. "Many years ago Jim Pride told me, 'Mark, your practice is the way it is because you allow it to be that way.' On the surface this statement appears simplistic and obvious. For me, however, it was profound. Dr. Pride meant that we dentists must take responsibility. We can't blame the ADA, OSHA, our staffs, our patients, or third-party insurance carriers for the state of our practices. 'If it's going to be, it's up to me!' That statement by Jim those many years ago was revolutionary to me. It was the key that unlocked the door to the practice of my dreams."
"The numbers will set you free (but first they'll tick you off)."
Jim Pride brought an unprecedented degree of quantitative business mastery to dentistry. He was the originator of an array of statistics, called Trend Indicators®, that were like a panoramic X-ray into both the healthy and problematic areas of the dental practice. Jim developed in dentists a high degree of sophistication in analyzing their practices, forecasting, budgeting, creating and accomplishing annual plans and goals, detecting and solving problems, and reaching new levels of productivity — all through understanding the numbers.
"God only knows how I needed to be freed from the torture of signing checks without knowing if I was spending too much," says Dr. Ronny Taschner. And Dr. Kent Guebert recalls, "Jim came into my life at just the right time. It finally 'sunk in' and made sense that part of a successful dental practice is the importance of tracking and knowing the numbers." Dentists who hadn't studied with Jim for years have continued to analyze the numbers. Take Dr. Pearl Burns, who says, "I still do the numbers and haven't missed a month. I could never begin or end a year without looking at them."
"The difference between managers and leaders is that managers get people to do what they want them t
Jim was a tireless proponent of leadership skills. He taught dentists to build the self-esteem and tap the abilities of their staffs just as Jim himself was doing with the dentists. The result was to raise the staff to new levels of productivity and enthusiasm that their bosses had never imagined possible. "His teaching, especially on leadership, changed my whole perspective on life and the way I view my practice," says Dr. John Willhide. "My life and the lives of my staff and the patients we serve have been enriched by my relationship with Jim." A corollary to Jim's credo on leadership was Inspect what you expect, and a prime way in which dentists could inspect or measure staff behaviors was by knowing the numbers of the practice. These lessons proved to be a powerful antidote to burnout. "I was ready to quit practicing when I met Jim," says Dr. Kim Westermann. "His passionate leadership has shown me what a wonderful, fulfilling life you can have practicing dentistry — if you manage the business and lead the staff!"
"The bias in nature is toward the wilderness."
Jim taught dentists that once they succeeded in improving their practices, they must not let down their guard and think they can just coast along. Otherwise, they will "regress to the mean." Jim realized that if leadership and management activities were not constantly repeated, the practices that had achieved excellence would not remain in that state but would decline and tend toward disorder and disarray — the wilderness. A corollary of this credo was Jim's "It's never fixed." In the words of Dr. Alan Dalessandro who studied with Jim for 22 years, "He taught us that your dental practice is a constant work of art, that it is never fixed, and just when you think it is, one of the wheels will come off your cart. We were taught that there is always a tendency of regression to the mean and that the bias of nature is toward a wilderness; so he imparted the knowledge and courage to each and every one of us to handle these challenges and to watch our dental practices grow and flourish." Drs. Chris Mar and Karen Lennon echo the same sentiment — "When complacency causes us to regress to the mean, we have the tools and resources to deal with the problems that may arise and effect change."
"Success is a journey."
Jim was a strong proponent of enjoying life, loving dentistry, and savoring each day, i.e., of loving the process of living and working as opposed to dreading the problems and challenges that each day brings and longing only for some ultimate utopian goal post.
According to Dr. Chris Boerger, "My favorite Pride-ism would have to be: 'It will never be fixed, it will never be done. This is a journey, not a destination.' When I heard Jim say that, I thought he was referring to our dental practices. Later I came to realize that he was actually referring to every aspect of our lives and the relationships around us."
Another of Jim's qualities that profoundly influenced numerous dentists is that he saw the "gemstones" in their souls often before they did. Jim liked to push people beyond what they thought themselves capable of being. He chipped away at them until they shined with brilliance. He did this to his students as well as to the leaders in dentistry. This led to their achieving more than they ever expected.
Dr. John Van der Werff recalls, "Jim taught me how to turn around my practice from high stress/low net to low stress/high net. He taught me how I can live a happier life and do thingsI never thought I would be able to do."
"When I met Jim, my highest aspiration might have been to be the best financial advisor in my office building," says Mr. Brian Hufford, who is now a successful company president and financial advisor to dentists. "Jim helped me to believe in myself in such a way that I have been able to accomplish much more than I ever thought possible. This story of rising above oneself through Jim's leadership could be repeated by thousands of dentists across the country and the world, as well as by staff members and others who have been privileged to work with him. Jim expected excellence, and his belief in you helped you to achieve it." Dr. Judy Culver recalls, "Many of us have had the experience of Jim seeing and believing in us what we could not see and believe in ourselves."
Mr. Renny Challoner, former chairman of the American Dental Trade Association says, "Jim was a close personal friend who pushed me, as he did others, beyond what I would have done on my own." This, perhaps more than anything else, was Jim's purpose and his joy — to reach for the best in people and watch them rise.
Dentistry's leaders weigh in
Jim was not only respected and admired by the dentists he coached, but also by dentistry's leaders. Their comments reveal more about Jim's character and accomplishments.
"There is a word of major import regarding understanding and defining Jim Pride, which I believe illumines his character and spirit in the most comprehensive way possible. The word is 'challenge.'" — Dr. Dale Redig, former Executive Director, California Dental Association
"In every way he was a giant, an icon, a person whom I grew to deeply admire, emulate, commiserate with, plan with, bounce ideas off of, and ultimately to love like a brother." — Dr. Arthur Dugoni, Dean, University of the Pacific School of Dentistry
"What made Jim Pride remain popular and respected for decades and until his last day? Honesty, real-world experience, humility, genuine concern for his students and clients, and very importantly, useful, highly practical information!" — Dr. Gordon Christensen, Founder and Director, Practical Clinical Courses
"Jim was such a forward thinker; he saw where dentistry was heading and where it needed to be directed long before most of the leaders in the profession were aware of what was happening. Furthermore, he never hesitated to use his influence and his eloquent logic to steer all who would listen in the right direction. I have been personally blessed by his friendship and the sizeable influence he had on my life." — Dr. Peter Dawson, Founder and Director, Dawson Center for Advanced Dental Study
"Of all his character traits, the one that stands out most in my memory is his tenacity. He was fiercely tenacious when I told him that something couldn't be done or about anything that threatened private, fee-for-service dentistry." — Dr. Harry Demaree, Founder, T.H.E. Design
"I remember the first time I met Jim Pride. A small sign on his desk caught my eye. It said, 'You might be smarter than me, but you're not smarter than my whole team.' He noticed me reading it, and as he explained what it meant to him, it sparked in him a fury of stories — stories about dentists who were successful beyond their dreams and about dentists who had no dreams. It was immediately clear to me that Jim Pride loved dentistry and took enormous pleasure in seeing its practitioners, patients, and team members thrive." — Dr. Paul Homoly, President, Homoly Communications Institute
"In my 35-year association and friendship with Jim, I learned how absolute he was about private-practice autonomy, expectations of leadership skills requisite of the individual dentist, and an unwavering belief that freedom of choice was found in the ability of dentists to understand and apply sound principles of financial management to their practices." — Christian Sager, CEO, Pankey Institute
"Even after he had created the winery, I asked Jim if he would stay involved with dentistry, and his answer was: 'Having someone tell you that you make a great bottle of wine is wonderful, but it will never compare to the joy of seeing the face of a dentist whose life you helped change.' That passion and true love for what he did will be greatly missed." — Dr. Frank Spear, Founder, Seattle Institute for Advanced Dental Education
Jim Pride was an extraordinary individual. He nourished the minds and captured the hearts of those he contacted. In the words of his students Drs. Reza Moezi and Victoria Farr, "He is a man whose footprints cannot be washed away by the tide."
Jim is gone now, but his legacy lives on in the countless dentists to whom he gave the great gift of hope. Jim's spirit and vision also live on in the institute bearing his name, whose work he viewed as "a noble calling." Amy Morgan, CEO of Pride Institute, and the management team, who are long-time associates of Jim, have been running the company for the last few years during his illness and will continue to do so. "We mourn the loss of our beloved leader," says Ms. Morgan, "and we are more committed than ever to continue bringing his leadership and management principles to the dental community."
I will miss a great friend and colleague. Goodbye, Jim, and thank you for what you've given us.
Editor's Note: For those of you who would like to honor Jim Pride, contributions may be made to the Dr. James R. Pride Endowed Chair in Dental Practice at the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry. Checks should be made payable to: UOP School of Dentistry, 2155 Webster St., San Francisco, CA 94115.