The Best Years are Yet to Come

Twenty years later, the merger of Sullivan Dental with Henry Schein Dental is still going strong.

When Tim Sullivan met with the Henry Schein Dental team 20 years ago – including company heads Stan Bergman, chairman and CEO, and Jim Breslawski, president and CEO of Henry Schein Global Dental Group – he was confident he had found a home for his distributorship, Sullivan Dental. “I knew these were good people that I and the team at Sullivan Dental could work with for a long time,” he recalls. Still, he never envisioned how smoothly the two companies would merge, and how quickly the first 20 years would transpire.

In spite of their differing market strategies, Sullivan Dental and Henry Schein Dental had “organizational cultures that were very much aligned,” Sullivan points out. “Both companies understood that success was based on the balance between employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders and the communities around us,” he says. “That balance has been the Team Schein Mosaic of Success.”

First Impressions Magazine spoke to Sullivan about the factors that inspired the merger and the challenges – and rewards – that followed.

First Impressions Magazine: What influenced Sullivan Dental to join Henry Schein Dental? Are these factors still in play today?

Tim Sullivan, president, North American Dental Group, Henry Schein: I recently wrote an internal blog of sorts to all Team Schein Members that was titled, “Staying True 20 Years Ago and Today.” So much is written these days about all the change that has transpired in the world, and how that pace of change is increasing. That fact is incredibly true, but I wanted to pause a moment and remind our team (and myself) that while much has changed, much has also remained the same. I wrote about three factors:

  • Without a great team, we cannot generate results for our key constituents.
  • It’s not just about finding good mentors, but becoming one.
  • It’s easy to talk about balance, but tough to find it. I encouraged our team to find time for all the things that bring balance to their lives.

While reflecting on these three factors, I realized they were the same messages that influenced my decision to complete the merger with Henry Schein 20 years ago.

FI: What were the greatest challenges involved in merging the two companies? How did you address them?

Sullivan: We had to announce the merger in August, but could not actually merge the organizations until the deal closed in November. This made the initial three months incredibly challenging, because we could only speak to the how and why.   Everyone could see the benefits of merging Sullivan Dental and Henry Schein, but we couldn’t actually do anything other than talk about it for three months. The next big challenge was to go live and ensure the walk matched the talk. This, too, takes time, and time is something rarely on your side. What did we do to address these challenges? We communicated the plan, adjusted it as needed and executed it. By being transparent about our plan, we were able to build relationships based on trust. Once you have established trust, you can accomplish most anything with your team. I look back now on those merger mania years and smile. We often talk about the good ole days, yet today’s challenges are simply tomorrow’s good ole days.

FI: What has been the greatest reward you’ve experienced since the merger 20 years ago?

Sullivan: The greatest reward has been to be a part of Team Schein for 20 years, and knowing this has been the right decision for the Sullivan Dental team. At this year’s Dental National Sales Meeting in Nashville, Tenn., we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the merger, and I asked all those in the room who were with us at the time of the merger to stand. I took GREAT pride in seeing a room filled with dozens of Team Schein Members who know what a critical role they’ve played in helping build the company we are today. Recognizing the others in the room who have joined us since 1997 was another gratifying moment – one that continues to give me a sense of great pride and personal reward. I also have gained a personal sense of accomplishment and fulfillment knowing how proud my father, Bob, would be about what we have been able to achieve as the market leader.

FI: How has the Sullivan-Schein relationship evolved over the past 20 years?

Sullivan: The digitalization of dentistry, combined with customer consolidation, has forced our company – and the industry – to evolve. The good news is that we remain committed to flexibility and adaptability, no matter how big we get as a company. Our customers have evolved in both size and digital capabilities, as well.   We believe we are the market leader today due to our adaptability to address both of these dynamics across all segments of the market (single office-based practitioners to mid-sized and large group practices). We do our best to see where the market is heading and then invest in the resources required to address those dynamics. Or, to put it another way, we go where the growth is.

FI: What have you considered to be the most pressing industry challenge in the last 20 years, and how has the Sullivan-Schein relationship enabled Henry Schein Dental to successfully address this challenge?

Sullivan: We break down our strategic plan into three-year segments. This year not only marks both the end of our last three-year strategic plan, we also find ourselves immersed in working on the next three-year strategic plan. We see the continuation of digitalization and customer consolidation progress at a much faster pace than anything we have seen before. Therefore, we need to continue to invest in the areas that will drive further customer value. If we remain committed to our customers’ success, I am confident we will live up to Stan Bergman’s message: “Our best years are yet to come!”


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