By Danny Chan
When a car or piece of real estate is bought and sold, the buyer and seller would typically part ways after the transaction concludes. This holds true for most business sales. However, the dynamics shift when it comes to dental practices, where the prosperity and sustainability of the enterprise often depend heavily on the owner.
Under such circumstances, it makes sense for the buyer to retain the services of the proprietor, often times the Principal Dentist, even after the sale, until a suitable replacement can be secured. Acquisition companies commonly incorporate this practice by offering the selling dentist a contractual term to continue serving after the sale.
Dr Geoff Wallman found himself in such a situation when he agreed to remain as the principal dentist for five years after selling his clinic to the Ekera Dental group. If that sounds like an unusually lengthy post-sale relationship, you’d be surprised to learn that Dr Wallman went on to extend his duration of service.
“I wasn't quite ready to retire, so I ended up staying for about a year and a half,” he says.
“I didn't want to leave the practice in the lurch. We were just completing the five-year period, and I wanted to establish a succession plan. Hiring staff, particularly dentists, has been challenging lately. However, we were fortunate to finally find an excellent practice manager who enabled me to take a step back.”
Road to Blackwood
Graduating from Adelaide University in 1981, Dr Geoff Wallman spent the first 10 years of his career honing his skills as a general practitioner in Hong Kong. He then returned to South Australia with his family and established successful practices in the picturesque locations of Barossa Valley, Strathalbyn, and Blackwood.
Known for his expertise in implant technology, crown and bridge procedures, as well as laser dentistry, Dr Wallman has dedicated himself to both professional growth and exemplary patient care. He has undertaken extensive postgraduate studies in prosthetic and surgical implant therapy, as well as minor oral surgery. In addition, he is a long-standing member of the International Team of Implantology, as well as past member of the European Society of Oral Laser Applications.
Now at 67, after dedicating more than three decades of his life to the profession, Dr Geoff Wallman has officially retired.
Wise to the Occasion
Reflecting on his exit strategy that really took shape in 2016 when he discovered Ekera Dental through a trusted agent, he says the final decision was years in the making.
It is instructive to note that Dental Corporation (which later became Bupa Dental) had approached Dr Wallman before his fateful meeting with Dr Tony Coulepis, Ekera Dental’s Executive Chairman. Dental Corporation was of course one of the biggest and most influential brands on the market. Around the same time, a friend of Dr Wallman’s had sold a thriving practice to National Dental Care, another major player on the acquisition block.
Yet in retrospect, Dr Wallman believes he couldn’t have made a wiser decision, attesting – first and foremost – to Ekera Dental’s by-now famous “non-corporate corporate” management style.
“The Ekera Model allowed me to keep running the dental practice the way I had always been running it, as an individual practice,” he qualifies.
The Art of Preserving Identity: Ekera's Non-Corporate Model
Another significant factor was Ekera Dental's steadfast adherence to retaining the original branding and nomenclature of acquired dental clinics, a practice that distinguishes it from the prevailing norm observed within larger corporate entities.
The uniqueness of Ekera Dental, Dr Wallman believes, lies in its approach of not assimilating practices into a vast conglomerate but allowing them to maintain their local and family-oriented identity. This approach enables the acquired practices to continue operating as they did before the acquisition, preserving their essence and integrity.
“I didn't really want a corporate that was going to come in and change the name of the practice and to all intents and purposes, make it into a "preferred provider" type of practice,” Dr Wallman says.
“I felt that we had spent some time and effort on building up "the brand" and it would be to our detriment changing it.”
Ekera Dental's Comprehensive Support
On the other hand, there were times when the “corporate” elements of Ekera Dental became an asset.
“Selling to a corporate also took out the parts of the practice that were quite frankly getting too complicated and time consuming – such as HR and Accreditation – for a single practitioner,” Dr Wallman admits.
“It offers a viable and secure succession plan, ensuring profitability. I had always contemplated retiring around the age of 65 or 66, and this approach provided me with a sense of assurance and certainty about my future.”
The former Practice Principal of Blackwood Dental was notably attracted to Ekera Dental's exceptional capacity to furnish comprehensive support for the myriad of demanding responsibilities they encountered.
“They took on the burdensome tasks like HR, bookkeeping, social media (whatever that means!) and bill payments, leaving the enjoyable aspects to us. It was quite a relief,” Dr Wallman enthuses.
“Most importantly, they allowed me to focus on dentistry.”
Viable Succession Plan
In response to the inquiry regarding the factors influencing his decision to prolong his tenure beyond the initially contracted five-year term, he expresses:
"At that point, I was approaching retirement age, and that had always been my overarching plan. The aspiration of establishing, purchasing, and selling dental practices had been fulfilled.
“I knew that ultimately, I would sell to a corporate entity and remain in that capacity for as long as required until the time came for a gradual transition or my eventual retirement."
Another factor that made Dr Wallman continue his association with Blackwood Dental was the remarkable Ekera team, led by Tony Coulepis.
“I had no issues with Ekera Dental – they were truly exceptional people. Tony is a wonderful leader who is always approachable,” Dr Wallman attests.
“He is very knowledgeable and willingly shares it. The team, as a whole, performs admirably under his leadership. Particularly during challenging phases, such as the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, their collective efforts and dedication proved invaluable.”
Cherishing Memories and New Pursuits
As Dr Wallman embarks on his retirement journey, it is undoubtedly the remarkable teamwork and camaraderie within the team that will leave indelible memories. Moreover, the enduring relationships he has forged with his patients over the years will be cherished reflections as he enters this new phase of life.
“Having been prepared for retirement, I haven't encountered significant difficulties during this transition,” Dr Wallman says.
“Nevertheless, the practice still reaches out to me whenever they require assistance, particularly with procedures like IV sedations and Implants, and I am delighted to be of service, ensuring that I remain connected with the team.
“Of course, it is hard to leave behind the patients that you have been treating for years and the staff you have been seeing every day for years. I was very touched by the gifts and comments I received from some of the patients and staff.”
Deborah, Geoff's spouse, was actively involved in the administration of the practice, leading to the establishment of a harmonious and well-coordinated work environment. The couple’s focus has now shifted beyond dentistry, onto their family life with two beloved children. These days, they can be found in serene locales, indulging their passion for golf and fishing.
“I am a golf tragic so am devoting my time to improving the handicap,” he remarks, hinting at a leisurely retirement.
Following a lengthy but contrived transitional phase, Geoff is enjoying his extended time out but remains in contact with the practice that he nurtured. Furthermore, he helps with both clinical and non-clinical assistance from time to time, which Ekera welcomes and is happy to encourage.
“We will also be doing a bit of travelling and playing a little more bridge.”