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‘Don’t lose the DNA’

How does a well-established family-run business propel itself into the future – and still hang on to its core values?

It’s often said that running a successful business is like walking a tightrope – you need to take risks to reap the rewards but you also need to hang on to the values that are the very foundation of your company. This fine balance lies at the very core of the future of Dental Directory (DD), the largest full service dental dealer in the UK. Mike Volk (pictured right in the photo) has been at the helm of the family-run business, as its sales and marketing director, for almost 20 years, coming from outside the industry. His colleague, Brent Sercombe (left), is a relative ‘new boy’ but also from outside the dental trade, previously working for Cable & Wireless and running his own business ventures until he was drafted in as interim head of sales at Dental Directory in January this year to strategise the company’s plans for the future. He liked it so much, he ‘bought into’ the company – and took up the role as head of sales six months later when an opportunity appeared. Both men are dedicated to preparing the company for the ‘next big step’. They are determined that Dental Directory will lead the way in a world of dentistry that, they predict, is about to undergo massive change over the next five years.

Changing market

So, what are the challenges facing dentistry? Mike Volk is pragmatic: ‘The reality is that there are more people going NHS practices generally but fewer treatments. The private market, in my view, has been decimated in certain geographical areas but, if you are a great private dentist, you hold up. ‘This recession was different from the previous recessions; it hit the middle classes and this had a knock-on effect on the profession. The market has changed so, at the beginning of the year, I decided to review our sales structure.’ In a world of big corporates, Mike is rightly proud of Dental Directory’s USP – a family-owned business with no outside shareholders, a hugely successful and recognised brand and, possibly most importantly, a hugely loyal team with some staff chalking up 25, 26 and 30 years with the Witham, Essex-based company. It has a reputation of looking after its staff and, even though there has been a small exodus of sales staff that coincided with the appointment of Brent, the pair realise this can only prove positive in their efforts to evolve the company. Brent recognises that managing change within such a successful family firm is challenging, but draws parallels with evolution in sport and how great teams evolve over time, whilst maintaining high performance. Integrating new talent and technology into the successful blueprint that is DD is, he believes, the key to sustained success. According to Brent, keeping focused on the ‘coffee machine chat’ business model of sharing and pooling ideas when a company grows is tricky but it is another of Dental Directory’s strengths and is a culture he embraces. Without the many layers of a corporate set-up, it means the team can get to market quickly and, with its ‘flat structure’, the management team remains energised – as do the whole of the staff – avoiding the pitfalls of becoming a ‘corporate monolith’. For Brent, it’s the reason he stayed – ‘it works for me because it’s a strong brand, great family values and a big-hitting organisation’.

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