When I left my home country of Cyprus for a business trip in March 2013, after a grueling two months due to the total renovation of my dental centre, I could not anticipate that upon my return, I would have to change my professional life after 23 years in dentistry due to a financial crisis in my country. (Editor’s note: Dr. Yiannikos is referring to the Republic of Cyprus financial crisis of 2012-2013.)
It was clear that this was not just any economic crisis – we were in the eye of a black hole. I had to act immediately, set aside emotions, and act outside the scope of my comfort zone.
Step 1: I fired my dental assistant, who had been with me for 10 years.
All management books advise us not to take this action, as the people in our practices are considered assets for our business. Yes, but this assistant was too comfortable in the office, and for her to progress I would have to accept unnecessary behavior. My first assessment of Step 1 – compulsory but welcome.
Meanwhile, the receptionist offered to increase her duties and assist me during dental care procedures. Despite the crisis, not only did I not reduce her salary, but after two months I gave her an increase to thank her for her willingness and prompt action. My second evaluation of Step 1 – people who do not go with the flow should be dismissed, and only true talent remains with the practice.
Step 2: I changed suppliers.
Management books suggested negotiating with our suppliers in order to obtain materials at better prices, or to ask them to increase the credit period. In our case, not only was it impossible (the number of suppliers shrank immediately and the small suplliers disappeared completely), but prices skyrocketed. To get products I had to pay cash on delivery. If for some reason I was not able to pay immediately, for instance, I was out of the office or with a patient, they took their products back with them.
It took a two-day trip to one of the most popular dental exhibitions and filling some suitcases with the same consumables I usually purchased from my representatives. Don’t even get me started on the prices. We also placed a large order from one of the manufacturing companies of the products we used often.
My evaluation of Step 2 –These choices gave us the opportunity to minimize our costs and release some tension and unneeded pressure.
Step 3: I negotiated installments of loans.
One of my personal principles is to always pay my loan installments on time. This had to change immediately. After a tough negotiation with my banker, we agreed to freeze the loan installments for the first six months, and for the following six months I was to pay on the previously agreed amount.
My evaluation of Step 3 – Taking these measures was necessary. I had to win time, and 12 months were very significant.
Step 4: The strategist Michael Porter’s beliefs has to be reversed.
After I received my MBA, I followed the strategic plan of Michael Porter concerning the management of my dental centre. (The famous strategist Michael Porter had clear positions on businesses, saying that we should be a dental practice known for its diversity, or we should offer the cheapest dental services in the market. He said never both strategies, and never stick in the middle.)
The strategy I followed since I opened my dental practice was the strategy of differentiation and diversity. I cannot hide the fact that I was tempted to reduce the prices of treatments, like many of my colleagues did. But I knew it would lead to further deterioration. Imagine the impact the price reduction would have when coupled with the reduced number of patients!
What we did was to go against the teachings of Michale Porter. We continued to offer high quality treatments without lowering our prices. For treatments that due the to circumstances had no demand (bleaching, in particular), we offered the lowest price in the market.
My evaluation of Step 4 – We had high demand of this particular service from our patients, and we managed to increase the number of new patients by 200% compared to our numbers before the crisis years. Moreover, with the opportunity to meet us through this low cost treatment, people then gave us the opportunity to introduce them to additional treatments that interested them.
Step 5: I changed my philosophy.
For years my philosophy has been to take care of patients by providing high quality services. I had to change. By matching my philosophy with the trends of today’s people, we decided to inform our patients about the relationship betweem oral and general health.
My evaluation of Step 5 – We created conscious patients who recognized and respected the dentist as a doctor who truly cares for their health across its wide spectrum.
Step 6: I had to say goodbye to my comfort zone.
For five years I had been thinking how much I would love to create a world-class educational and research centre for dentists and dental professionals to train them in the entire spectrum of managing a dental clinic – a mini MBA program. For years I had debated, and I had gotten to that stage where I said, “It’s either now or never.” After three trips to Aachen, we launched my dream course in May!
Now, a year after the initial economic crisis, the situation of my country is not as tragic as the first six months. We certainly have a long way to go, but at least I feel like I have my professional life – due to disobeying strategists and disagreeing with theories – back into my own hands.
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