Dr. Howard Farran has been lecturing to international audiences on the business of dentistry. With his blunt, practical, and often times humorous insights into the industry’s most controversial subjects, he has been captivating audiences since 1990. He was then, and is still now, driven by a genuine passion for helping dentists provide faster, easier, lower cost dentistry of a higher quality to their patients.
Dr Farran is the owner and founder of the hit vlog series “Dentistry Uncensored with Howard Farran”, where he discusses these topics with some of the best Doctors, Dentists, and Dental Practitioners of today. Dr. Jonathan Cook was recently a guest on his show, and has allowed us to share with you their conversation.
Howard Farran: And then Lauderdale by the sea?
Jonathan Cook: Lauderdale by the sea is one practice that we purchased in 2016. And then have since folded in another practice, as well. So essentially, the downtown one is one in three practices, if you want to call it that. And the Lauderdale by the sea practice is a one in two practice. So we’ve got one practice that folded into another existing practice.
Howard Farran: So you call Lauderdale by the sea one in two and then downtown Fort Lauderdale one in three?
Jonathan Cook: One in three. Exactly, yeah.
Howard Farran: Yeah, that is … So now, your new partner, the first one you were 49, he was 51. And now, this John DeStephan, you fixed out your 51, he’s 49. Talk about what that means.
Jonathan Cook: Well, so when it comes to any strategic decision, you want to feel like your voice is heard. And I’m not saying that you can’t have a nice working partnership where both voices are heard, regardless of the shares breakdown, but when you have one majority partner, it can become challenging when you start to see different visions for the practice. When I started that practice down in Miami, I had an exponential learning curve just based on how quickly things grew and how young I was. So I was taking a lot on.
Jonathan Cook: But you can imagine, if I’m living in that practice, and working that practice, and my partner who’s the 51% shareholder is essentially a silent partner, it can be challenging. How do you really voice yourself to your partner and have him really understand what’s going on. I mean, I had a mess on my hands at times that made it very difficult for me to manage. You can imagine me at 29 years of age trying to manage a 72, 73 year old guy who’s house I was living in. It wasn’t easy.
Jonathan Cook: And not to mention, the staff that we retained. And a lot of these ideas and decisions were made by default that my partner made. And I was okay doing that because I’m like, “Okay, you’re 65 years old, you’ve got your 10 practices in New York, of course you know what to do.” But the message that was being missed was the fact that we wasn’t living in my practice. As much of a voice as I felt like I had, how many conversations can you possibly have with somebody telling them the same thing over and over. And it’s not real until that person is living it, and so that wasn’t going to happen. He was up in New York and I was down in Florida.
Howard Farran: Well, there’s nothing more beautiful than an org chart. And you look at the major religions, there’s one God. If you have multiple religions, there’s a God of thunder and a God of lightning. What happens? And a 51/49 just reduces so much legal battles because you have an org chart. If you own 51%, you might as well own 100%. So the other guy’s a minority partner, but a lot of guys don’t want to be the alpha male. They want to be an owner, but they don’t want to be the alpha male because they think someone else does it better. So how many dentist associates do you have in those two locations that are employees?
Jonathan Cook: So we’ve got myself, my partner, a periodontist, and as of mid last year, we had three associates, all of which … And this is, again, another lesson for the youngsters out there as to how to manage and scale back your efforts and to get things more simplified. So you may ask yourself, “Well, how do you go from having three associates to only two?” Again, assuming my partner’s an associate and our periodontist is an associate.
Howard Farran: Your periodontist is an associate, not a partner?
Jonathan Cook: Not a partner, no.
Howard Farran: Yeah, okay.
Jonathan Cook: What was happening was my partner and I made a purchase, our most recent merger if you want to call it that. And this is something I wanted to touch on, which is a little bit in depth, but essentially I go through a template or a checklist when I’m looking into purchasing a practice. And that checklist is really exhaustive. As I’ve done this many times, I’ll add a few more things to the checklist of things that I think are important to take head to. And this is one thing in particular that I don’t have to learn the lesson twice. Essentially, this guy was … A patient would come in, they’d run their credit, they’d get approved for $10,000 worth of care credit, lending club, green sky, you name it. And the amount of work that actually needed to be done when it was all treatment plan was, let’s call it, $7,000. So there’s a difference of $3,000. He’d run it all.
Jonathan Cook: So what happened when I went to buy that practice, when I go through all those checklists, and I’ve got that template, everything’s checking off. I’m like, “This is great.” The guy was two blocks away from us, similar practice, similar patient base, similar demographics, ready to retire, okay with staying on for a year to help that transition occur. And [inaudible 00:20:57] was fine staying on. So everything was aligned to make sense, where we could take his practice that was historically doing $700,000. And I’m thinking at minimum we’re going to do eight, nine, 10, a million. What do we make of a $700,000 practice just based on history, what we’ve done in the past.
Jonathan Cook: And so you can imagine those numbers were inflated because of what he was doing. It was really arguably criminal. You’re running a credit for an amount that the treatment plan doesn’t match up to. So where he was doing $700,000, what was he really doing? What were those true numbers? And so after seeing it for long enough, I really felt like 40% to 30% was the difference. So you can imagine you think you’re buying a practice that’s doing $700,000. We weren’t going to continue to do the whole scheme that he had going on, obviously. So that went from a practice that not only do we have to deal with the revenue that we weren’t going to take on, but we also had to deal with the ramifications of all these patients that were calling us. Almost on week one, we had patients calling us saying, “You owe me money,” and this and that.
Jonathan Cook: And you can imagine what an energy drain that was in trying to manage him and the hygienist that we retained on. So we ultimately parted ways amicably, luckily. And he had a one year employment contract, so we got things under wraps as soon as we started to see these things that were happening. The first time he came into my office manager, it was like, “Yeah, just run it.” And we were like, “What? What are you talking about?” You can’t just do that. So it was patient number one that our ears were perked and there was a bit of a red flag. And so I was poised to take on this million dollar pop. I’m thinking, “Okay, we’re at three and a half, $4 million here.
Jonathan Cook: We’re going to be at $5 million by the end of the year. Reasonable to assume based on history. Not even close. So because of that, I hired two more associates. Again, they were staggered, but there was an absolutely upswing in our patient numbers. I knew that based on his numbers that there would be a natural overflow at the downtown office because that’s where we merged that practice into. So any overflow, if we were just too jam packed, Lauderdale by the sea, we take on those patients, and boom. It’s a happy, beautiful thing. It obviously wasn’t the case. So what happened? Well, we in a way got lucky because one of the associates, unfortunately, two of his parents had cancer and he had to go back to New York.
… Continued in Part 4 …