A Voice in the Arena: The Person on the Other Side by Dr. Chad Foster

A Voice in the Arena: The Person on the Other Side   

by Chad Foster, DDS, MS, editorial director

It is now going on five generations of my extended family that have been supported by a family business. My grandfather, Peter Grant, started Pete’s Fish & Chips in 1947 and it survives in Arizona as one of the state’s oldest original fast-food restaurants. Today, my mother, Pat, and her sister Kathy operate the eight locations, which are nearly as simple as they were in my grandpa’s days.

Growing up in a small-business family teaches you many “dinner table lessons,” not the least of which is the importance of people. As cliché as it sounds, you learn that the long game of success is played by being honest and treating people the right way. You also learn that not everyone plays the game this way and to distance yourself as best you can from that kind of person.

Ask for experienced advice …
A topic that often appears on Orthotown message boards and other online orthodontic communities is one in which a poster is looking for opinions about a unique partnership scenario. This presents in a variety of arrangements, but often it’s an orthodontist looking to partner, buy in, share space or associate with a general dentist, a pediatric dentist or a group practice. No two situations are the same, but I always appreciate the feedback given on these posts because it’s often evident that those with greater experience are genuinely interested in helping less experienced docs ask the right questions and understand the situation more clearly.

In my first few years out of residency and before I bought my practice in 2016, I played the role of the inexperienced orthodontist in these types of scenarios many times. Often it was in some form of an initial discussion that didn’t go anywhere; however, a half-dozen or so discussions did materialize into formal negotiations or actual working relationships I partook in.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on how to navigate negotiating these situations or how to structure the best deal—I’m not! While a few of the opportunities worked out well in the short run, over a few years, none of them really worked out long-term to the extent of my initial fantasy. Having the benefit of hindsight, there were honestly a few I’m very grateful didn’t even progress past negotiations! On this very diverse and nuanced topic, I can confidently offer only one simple piece of advice that I hope will stick with you: No matter how sweet the deal, how perfect the arrangement is on paper, how small the risk and huge the upside, how hedged you think your position is contractually … the deal is only as good as the person on the other side of it. Period.

… But also be sure to trust your gut
When you feel yourself falling head over heels in lust/love with the terms, structure and financial forecast, keep your feet under you and your intuition handy. Even for those that appear to be can’t-miss opportunities, without exception there are countless unanticipated real-world ways that the partnership or arrangement could go south at some point after the ink is dry or hands have been shaken.

This is the important part to keep in mind: Those unseen potential pitfalls will most often have nothing to do with the actual and specific terms that were written or agreed upon! At best, soft misunderstandings or misinterpretations of what was written or agreed upon will set things on a sideways path. At worst, you’ve found yourself tangled up with someone who’s revealed they’re the wrong kind of person to do any type of business with.

If you’re one of my orthodontic brothers or sisters facing one of these opportunities, I hope it ends up working out beyond your wildest visions of success! There is no doubt that it is possible, and other orthodontists out there have found just that.

I also hope, however, that in your early discussions, if the person on the other side piques you to evaluate their character a bit closer, you do. I hope you’ll do so with the same intention and diligence you give to every written word within the contract. Whatever you do, don’t let the sexy bright lights before you blind you to the soft glow of your intuition.

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