By Danny Chan
What was intended to be a hindsight piece celebrating an individual’s sporting achievements dovetailed by an illustrious dental career – Brendan was one of two partners who both recently sold Toowong Dental Group (TDG) to Ekera Dental – became somewhat of a raison d'etre for enduring success.
The track that I was originally advancing effectively derailed when I assumed Dr Nasser’s Brisbane surgery walls must be plastered with Rugby Union memorabilia featuring shots of him and old teammates in action. Considering one of the initial founding TDG members also played rugby for Queensland, it was an easy assumption – I mean if any surgery in Australia deserves Rugby-infused decor, surely this was it.
“My rugby days are well in the past. Lest I be accused of boastfulness, I’m reluctant to put up any photos (on the walls of the surgery),” he deadpans. “In fact, that’s the last thing I’d want to do.”
Not to be misconstrued as a snub, Dr Nasser quickly adds that he would not be the least perturbed by anyone broaching the subject – he frequently trades rugby and other sports-related banter with patients – it’s only the aggrandizement path that he steers clear of. In any case, he reckons more than half of his patients already know about his sporting background.
Dr Nasser was a dental undergraduate at University of Queensland (1986) when he started playing for Queensland Reds. He went on to play 21 games for the Australian Wallabies including 10 test matches as a backrow forward from 1988 to 1992, while plying a dental career in the public sector. This was followed by a 6-year playing and coaching career at the University of Oxford in the UK while he completed a Masters of Studies in Politics and international Relations (1992-1998).
Rather than indulge my fascination about him going from pro sportsman to dental surgeon, Brendan says it wasn’t uncommon in those days to find white-collar professionals playing for the Rugby Union. Besides dentists, fellow moonlighters at the Rugby Union included medical doctors, accountants and lawyers.
Harder to downplay, though, is the fact that Brendan belonged to the legendary squad that helped Australia lift the coveted Rugby World Cup in 1991. The only other time the silverware made it home was at the 1999 Rugby World Cup.
Not one to relive glory days, Brendan deftly diverts my attention to the importance of preparing a safety net for what follows after. Being a dentist, he says, has provided him a challenging, fulfilling and financially rewarding career – though admittedly, inextricably intertwined with his sporting persona.
It was Dr Gil Shearer, he interjects, who recommended him to become a Practice Partner at Toowong Dental Group when an opportunity arose in 1998. Dr Shearer, a Specialist Endodontist at the time, is TDG’s Co-Founder – and former Queensland rugby player back in the 1960s.
“Although he was a player before my time, we had a rugby connection. You can’t deny that my rugby profile would have helped in my relationship with Gil.”
Brendan mentions another connection that helped paved his professional career, regarding his co-authorship of a series of clinical papers on the role of dental mouthguards in the prevention of sports injury – a subject matter that effectively melded his twin passions. The writing gig was made possible through the papers’ other co-author, Dr Pat Chapman, who is also Brendan’s lecturer at the University of Queensland Dental School and someone whom he considers a life mentor.
Dr Nasser’s healthy relationship quotient became more conspicuous as the conversation turns to the recent sale of his practice. Asked why he and his practice partner (Dr Brendan Guthrie) decided on Ekera Dental, the dentist lets on that compared with the other six corporates on his broker’s list, Ekera Dental’s Executive Chairman and Managing Director, Dr Tony Coulepis, was easily “the most relatable and responsive” to their queries.
“For the owner of a mid-sized aggregator with around 25 practices, Ekera Dental’s boss was down-to-earth enough to personally discuss terms with a prospective seller.”
“From the start, Tony would say that Ekera is a ‘non-corporate corporate’. I have since found that to be a fitting description.”
Unlike other firms that tend to corporatize the clinic’s branding and micromanage day-to-day affairs, Dr Nasser says Ekera Dental pretty much leaves them status quo. As one of the two partners who have remained as Practice Principals, Brendan appreciates the autonomy to continue running TDG and treating patients the way he has been for the last 21 years.
The practice aggregator is also famous for providing a seamless transition – no name/ signage change or big announcement – such that the existing dentist-patient relationship continues uninterrupted. In fact, that’s the whole idea, and Brendan couldn’t agree more.
“That’s arguably the most important thing!” he asserts. “Any disruption to the long-standing relationship can only be detrimental to the longevity of the dental practice.”
“For all intents and purposes, patients should continue to see TDG as the same trusted 50-year-old practice in the Western suburbs of Brisbane.”
For his part, Dr Nasser remains committed to the high clinical and service standards that TDG is known for. No plans for a semi-retired lifestyle, the 55-year-old stresses:
“I’ve always preferred to work than take days off. Right now, I’m very focused on meeting the practice and patient needs, and also the financial goals, even as I serve out the rest of my contracted tenure with Ekera Dental in the years to come.”
It may be a stretch but I see a common thread emerging from our conversation. From his enviable camaraderie forged in the crucible of competitive sports to his selection criteria for a practice buyer to his unwavering loyalty to patients and strong work ethic, Brendan is someone who is committed to healthy and successful relationships.
Like the watermark of his success, it’s faintly perceptible but if you look closely enough, you’ll see life’s stamp of approval on it. In subtle ways, it speaks to the grit and stamina of a professional athlete and veteran dentist – not to mention husband and father of four kids, aged 12 to 22.
If there were anything aspirational to draw from Brendan’s success, it would not be his rugby, clinical or even people skills – though they are impressive. Neither is it about his ability to cultivate lifelong relationships that will somehow pay back in the distant future.
His success story reminds us of a tried and true saying with regards to the way we treat the people around us: It defines who we are, and what we’re ultimately made of.