By Danny Chan
Whoever coined the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” understands the immense potential of teamwork. It speaks to the vast energy you can unleash by tapping a diverse array of resources, talents and skills.
Dr Jonathan Cichero believes that to be the biggest strength of a dental practice. Its collective development, he says, far outstrips what individual partners are able to achieve on their own.
“You need great teamwork and structures to ensure a dental practice functions properly. To make it a success, all hands must be on deck.”
This is coming from someone who recently sold a flourishing 20-chair group practice where he had been a partner for 25 years.
Dr Cichero likens the interweaving of different personalities and traits within a dental practice to the complex workings of a Swiss watch.
“Many components go into making an intricate timepiece,” he imbues.
“Not every component is the same. Both small and big cogs are required to turn the wheels so that everything moves like clockwork. Happily enough, that’s what we’ve managed to do.”
It’s not a sale
Founded in 1970, CP Dental is a multi-location practice with an enduring community presence in Coopers Plains, Mater Hill, Emerald and their surrounding regions.
Along with Dr Esther Cheng, Dr Daniel Robbins and Dr Paul Ansell, Dr Cichero sold their beloved practice to Ekera Dental in July.
Yet the South Brisbane dentist declines to call it a ‘practice sale’.
“When you say that you are selling to a corporate, there is a general perception that you’re just handing things over, taking the money and walking away. It’s not like that at all,” he says.
“We see this as a new partnership with Ekera Dental. Whether we’re talking about the original partners or the entire team, we continue to feel a strong sense of ownership and responsibilities to make sure that the practice continues to develop and do well.
“You don’t need an equity stake in the business to have a sense of ownership.”
After graduating from the University of Queensland, Dr Cichero joined the Royal Australian Air Force, followed by postings to Melbourne and Townsville. When he returned to Brisbane in 1996, he joined Dr George Cocolas and Dr Mark Logan at Coopers Plains (now CP dental) and became a partner in 1997.
Although the former military man has a profound appreciation for structure and organisation, it’s the people that he focuses on. Dr Cichero’s predilection for mentoring new colleagues and staff members underpins this belief.
“When you first start out, you need to have good resources around you. For a fresh dental graduate, it takes about two to three years before you really start to feel comfortable in the job,” he says.
“It also depends on the maturity of the individual. Mature age persons with some work-life experience tend to adapt faster.”
When it comes to the mentoring and induction processes, Dr Cichero advocates a more nuanced approach.
“Everyone has different learning styles and personalities,” he says.
“The needs also differ. Some may require mentoring in clinical skills and others in interpersonal skills.”
No one is left out of the mentoring loop at CP dental. It develops in an organic fashion, at a pace determined by each individual’s comfort level.
“Much like in school, where if you connect well with a particular teacher, the results will show.”
No other way to grow
Whether taking a more laissez-faire or supervised journey, Dr Cichero says that mentoring is ‘100% essential’ to practice growth.
“There is no other way to grow your practice. You need to grow it in such a way that the practice principals become redundant,” he insists.
“Only then can you ensure that the business continues and succeeds in your absence.”
Going back to the Swiss watch analogy, Dr Cichero underscores the importance of viewing – and treating – every team member as an invaluable cog in the wheel.
“There are simply too many facets of dentistry for any one person to be an expert in everything,” he reminds.
“Unless you’re prepared to work hard on mentoring, your practice will finish when you finish.”
Relationships are paramount
Having been through multiple iterations, Dr Cichero has seen the partnership at CP Dental evolve over the years. Yet management shuffles have never been allowed to interfere with the practice’s continued growth and expansion.
“In much the same way, nothing has changed now that CP Dental has come under Ekera Dental’s umbrella group,” he adds.
Dr Cichero’s confidence partly stems from the due diligence he and his partners have undertaken prior to the sale. On-off negotiations with Ekera Dental alone spanned 5 years.
“We went to great lengths to ensure continuity with minimal disruptions,” he says. “That means the four partners will continue to be decision makers, and the structures that we’ve put in place will continue to be utilised.”
For more than a decade, CP Dental’s burgeoning size made it an attractive target for corporates. Despite numerous discussions with potential buyers, the partners found themselves going back to Dr Tony Coulepis, the Executive Chairman of Ekera Dental.
“We certainly felt that only Ekera Dental offered us the best opportunity to maintain status quo; functioning the way we always have,” he affirms.
Asked what gave him that impression, Dr Cichero replies emphatically:
“The people. I can’t stress that enough. While it’s still a business transaction, the relationships are paramount in any decision making process.
“Whether it is Tony, Elliot (Opolion) or Rob (Harwood), everyone from the Ekera Dental team with whom we’ve interacted gave us the confidence that we were able to work together as a team.
Labour of love
Dr Cichero says all the former business partners of CP Dental chose to stay on as principals after the sale – and remain passionate as ever about growing the business.
“This is a labour of love and a lifetime of work,” he enthuses.
“Although the new partnership is only six months old, we are confident that Ekera Dental has the resources and the right people to meet the challenges ahead.
“Because the new team complements the existing one so well, this new partnership looks set to take the practice to even greater heights.”