Stewards of the practice transition

To Dr. Jorge Oaxaca, Dr. Howard Ong and Dr. Mike Jensen, dentists aren’t just owners of a dental practice. They are stewards of the practice and play an important role in the community. It’s a philosophy that is embedded in the culture and values that the three dentists hold dear.

Oaxaca, Ong & Jensen DDS in Seal Beach, California, didn’t always have those three names attached. In fact, for many years after the practice was founded, none of their names were. But Dr. Oaxaca bought in to the practice in the mid-1990s and later partnered with Dr. Ong, his friend and colleague from the University of Southern California’s School of Dentistry, with the help of Mercer Transitions.

More recently, Dr. Oaxaca and Dr. Ong invited Dr. Jensen into the practice. Here’s how the transition process worked, according to the three dentists.

Dr. Jorge Oaxaca: Even though I’ve been here almost 30 years, the mindset for me is that I’m just passing through as one of the current stewards of the practice. This practice has been here since 1962 and I’m not the first one here. I’m the third. In my view, I have a responsibility to the staff, to the patients, and the community. Having done the initial transition to bring in Dr. Ong with the Mercer Transitions team, I was familiar with the process. What I found is that getting somebody who can write the check isn’t the driver of a transition. You can find somebody who has the money. The challenge is finding someone who has similar values and goals. Dental background is secondary to the decision process in my mind.  

Dr. Howard Ong: Our culture is the key to our practice success. So, it was vital that we found the same in a future partner/associate. Bringing in a new team member like an assistant or front office employee, let alone a new dentist, is disruptive. It was important that that new face blended into our culture instead of the other way around. For us, Dr. Oaxaca and myself, it was a match because we had common interests, a likeminded business model, and clinical training. Our actions and behaviors as partners created the culture we have today. Finding an associate or partner candidate who had the right experience, training or skills came secondary to how he or she would fit our culture, which we feel is the most important ingredient of a transition.

Dr. Oaxaca: We were freed up to do that, in part, because Mercer was comprehensive and thorough in providing the numbers and potential financial scenarios for our practice. This allowed us to focus on finding the right associate. A lot of dentists choose an associate first and then throw them into the practice to see if it works from a personality and business standpoint versus vetting them first. We knew we’d be able to find someone who was capable, but we really wanted to make sure the interpersonal relationship worked with Dr. Ong and myself. If we didn’t get that part right, we knew no amount of coaching would help. A partnership is not something that has a checklist. It’s a deeper relationship and there are many intangibles. If you don’t get that right, it’s just not going to work.

Dr. Ong: An inspiration we took from Mercer Transitions was building our practice, both physically and staffing to accommodate another doctor when the time was right. We hired more staff and made tenant improvements for our future associate/partner. We had a workflow, a patient flow and protocols in place prior so that a new dentist could hit the ground running. In the case of Dr. Jensen, we ended up meeting Dr. Jensen by happenstance at a local dental convention. What started out as a cup of coffee lasted three hours and turned into a partnership.

Dr. Mike Jensen: My wife, Clarice, said, “Have a conversation, just give these guys five minutes.” It took some convincing. At the time, I was in an associateship with a potential to buy-in in Long Beach. I was loyal to that. But I agreed to meet and we just hit it off. Five minutes turned into three hours, turned into touching base occasionally, turned into keeping in touch regularly. The timing started to look perfect in the end. The trajectory with where the other opportunity was heading meant that I had more of an opportunity with Dr. Ong and Dr. Oaxaca.

Dr. Oaxaca: Once it came together with Dr. Jensen, we had a plan for a one-year associateship. Culture was so important to us, we didn’t want to rush it and we were willing to extend the associateship as we saw fit. It takes time and we needed to be fair to everyone involved. Dr. Jensen was such a great fit and strategically it made enough sense that we ended up fast-tracking it a bit. With his background in oral surgery Dr. Jensen had sedation training which added another element to our practice. The trend in dentistry now is to participate in a group or multi-specialty practice in order to survive, so that positioned us even better for our future success.

Dr. Jensen: From a potential buyer’s perspective, everything that the Mercer Transitions team had done was great. There was transparency and trust with Dr. Oaxaca and Dr. Ong, and I had the ability to ask any question I saw fit. I really knew nothing was being hidden from me. The accurate projections from Mercer gave me confidence in making this lifelong decision, because that’s really what it is. Once you’re in, you’re in.

Dr. Ong: When you work with Mercer Transitions, you’re really getting a business coach who works for existing owners and the transition candidate. They represent the deal to be non-biased and fair. Mercer is an organization that provides comprehensive business key performance indicators, including financial and practice scenarios, appraisal, and counseling. You’re able to develop a relationship with the people that are helping you because you’re working with one or two people, rather than different teams shifting your focus. Their scope of knowledge has been invaluable to us. 

Dr. Oaxaca: The transition is such an important part of practice ownership. I know for myself, you do get to a point where you start thinking about retiring from something you’ve put your heart and soul into for decades and have gained the trust of hundreds – maybe thousands – of patients. To me, brokering out your practice at that point doesn’t make sense. Transitions, by definition, are gradual, and that’s a key element to any practice transition. Doing the process gradually allows you to maximize the potential of your practice financially and to gracefully bow out as a steward. It especially allows you to do right by your patients, which is why we’re all here in the first place.