Question: Why did you become a dentist?
Answer: I'm mechanically inclined and I like working with people. It also took fewer years to train than it would have to become a doctor. I like to golf so I also figured I could run my schedule a lot better as a dentist (laughs). But after I got my degree from the University of Manitoba, I took two years of advanced training in dentistry in prosthetics, which is the specialty of replacing teeth, and dental materials. I opened a practice in the San Fernando Valley in late 1968. I was the only prosthodontist in the valley at the time, so I got a lot of referrals on dentures, because a lot of dentists don't like to do dentures.
Q: Why is that?
A: There's very limited things you can do to help a patient with dentures even if you do a great impression (of the mouth), the thing still floats around. In the early 1970s I got involved with dental implants at a time when there were only around 500 guys in the country doing implants. The results at that time were not that predictable. By the late '70s, I thought I could design a better implant. What I came up with in 1981 was the Core-Vent, which was better able to fuse to the bone if you put it in a certain way. A lot of the other implants then were held in place by fibrous tissue, and you often had tie them to teeth to make it hold.
Q: In addition to the design, what made your product more successful?
A: I was at the right place at the right time. In 1982, I launched my implant and started training people in how to use it. A year later a Swedish company, Nobel BioCare, came out with an implant that also fused to bone, and they had 15 years of research to show that if it fused properly it would last the lifetime of the patient. That brought credibility to the field. With the simplicity and practicality of my implant design, plus the training I was offering, my company grew into a global business. I had three or four years with very little competition before other companies came in.
Q: How did you market the product in those days?
A: I sold education, not the product. The sale of the implants was the by-product of the training.
Q: What did you do after you sold Paragon?
A: I planned to stay on and do some consulting, but I had other interests and I figured I had taken the business as far as I wanted to take it so I sold it for $102 million. I did hang on to the building, and that's what eventually got me back in the business.
Q: Did you use the money for your jet and the home in Hawaii?
A: I had already built my home in Hawaii and had another jet, but I bought the Gulfstream since the sale. I also own a twin-engine Raytheon Baron and a Harley Davidson Fatboy. My 4-year-old grandson likes to ride on the back of the Harley with me.
Q: What do you enjoy about flying planes?
A: It's like playing the ultimate video game. You're going at 500 miles per hour, monitoring all sorts of electronics on the control panel. You have to be aware of everything that's going on around you. I think it sharpened me up in multitasking for running several businesses at the same time.
Q: You're now in the middle of a 35-city barnstorming lecture tour around the country to introduce dentists to your new company. How does having your own jet help?
A: It makes all the difference. I wouldn't be able to do this relying on commercial airlines. Being able to co-pilot my own jet also is an advantage when my wife and I go to our home in Hawaii.
Q: What about investments?
A: It's great to have all that money, but investing it is a burden. I found it just as much work investing the money in a shopping center, a hotel or an apartment building or in stocks and bonds, as it was in running a business. And in those cases you have a lot less control in growing the value of your investment. I'm much happier now having half my net worth tied up right now in two businesses. The aviation business I turned around hit $3.4 million in sales last month. And Implant Direct has tremendous potential.
Q: What led you back into the implant business?
A: Sulzer Medica, which bought my company, was purchased by Zimmer Holdings Inc. In 2004, they decided to relocate the headquarters down to Carlsbad. It was like the perfect storm. I got my building back, and my old employees were going to lose their jobs. That got me to thinking.
Q: You saw an underserved niche out there?
A: The market for implants had expanded dramatically. There are more dentists trained to do the procedure and there are new techniques, such as bone grafts, that enable dentists to place implants where you never could before. It's really become the standard of care. I was doing $30 million a year when I sold my first company, and the company I sold it to was doing $30 million. Now six years later they're doing around $180 million. This is the fastest growing medical device market around, but a lot of it is due to companies raising their prices without adding much innovation that I could see.
Q: So what innovation could you provide?
A: I started thinking, I could come in, produce a better product with a better design, and use technology to my advantage. I installed the latest computerized equipment, which can run 24/7, which keeps down our manufacturing costs. But I realized that I couldn't make the product design too different, so that a guy who had invested in certain company's drills would still be able to use them with my implants. I just took what was good from everyone and expanded on it.
Q: What's so exciting to you about the Internet?
A: We're at a major turning point now in the medical industry. The Internet has flattened the world. I can get into the dental office of a guy in Bombay at a drop of a hat. Before, I would have needed an office, salespeople, distributors, whatever. I can post a video of me talking about why they should be buying my product, give them a way with a couple of clicks to order it with a credit card, and it shows up at their door the next day. We even have five Web cams in our factory, just for the guys in Istanbul who want to know if we're for real.
Q: You are also involved in companies besides Direct Implant.
A: I am the CEO and largest shareholder in a company in Israel called Tactile Technologies. It's developing image-guided placement of implants using scan technology, where you can guide the drill to place the implant exactly where you want it. I've been funding their R & D; for three years. It's already being used in Israel, and we may get it on the American market this year. Other companies have image-guided systems. But ours is simpler and a lot less expensive.
Q: You also own an aerospace component manufacturer. How did that come about?
A: Well I had all this money from selling my business. I invested in some real estate and also wanted to get back into a business, and aviation interests me.
Q: How did you find the company?
A: Acromil Aerospace Manufacturing was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late 2002 and had had 5 acres and a 60,000-square-foot building in City of Industry. I bought its $10 million in bank debt for $3.2 million and became the only secured creditor. Then I funded the company out of bankruptcy and built the business back up. I probably invested $25 million in that business too. We're now making precision structural parts like wing spars that main strut that goes down the wing - for companies like Boeing, Lockheed and Northrop. We're probably close to $100 million in contracts over the next four years.
Q: Do you have any of your implants in your own mouth?
A: No, but my wife and mother-in-law do. I have pretty good teeth, just a couple of crowns. There's an old dentist saying, "Be true to your teeth, or they'll be false to you."
Company: Implant Direct LLC
Born: 1943, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada; now a U.S. citizen
Education: DMD, University of Manitoba Dental School in 1966; certification in prosthodontics, University of Southern California in 1967; master's degree in prosthodontics, Indiana University in 1968
Career Turning Point: Taking advanced training following dental school that made him aware of the potential in the implant industry
during its early years
Most Influential People: His wife, Reesa, a very practical person who doesn't let him fool himself
Personal: Married 43 years, two daughters, six grandchildren
Hobbies: Flying his Gulfstream commercial jet, riding motorcycles, golfing
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