MIT Sloan Executive Education Blog

Getting to the root of business success: A dentist earns his Executive Certificate from MIT

Mark Lassiter 350

Not every business owner or entrepreneur has had the benefit of business training. Take the principals and owners of architectural firms, legal service firms, and even medical practices, for example. These professionals are first and foremost practitioners in their field. As they grow and develop in their careers, many are promoted to positions of leadership, or open their own firms and practices—with or without an MBA under their belt.

Mark Lassiter, DDS, is a successful general dentist practicing out of Norwood, North Carolina, with 20+ years of experience in preventive, restorative, and cosmetic dentistry. In 2013, Lassiter bought out his business partners and became the sole owner of his practice. With a passion to further grow his business, he began to consider a multi-practice model—an approach that is growing in popularity in his field and that Lassiter saw as an interesting way to diversify.

“I’ve always had a great relationship with my patients,” said Lassiter, “and I thought it would be exciting to try and repeat this process and what has been so successful for my practice.” But there was a catch. Lassiter had been immersed in clinical dentistry for his entire career. “Basically, I had no idea about business.”

Lassiter is now CEO of the Lassiter Allen Dental Group, which has grown to three locations and has a target of 10 locations by 2024 in the Charlotte-metro area. His confidence in his growth strategy is due in part to the training he received at MIT Sloan Executive Education, where he earned an Executive Certificate in Management and Leadership in 2016.

Improving the process, every day

“My first course at MIT was Implementing Improvement Strategies: Dynamic Work Design. The faculty, Don Kieffer and Nelson Repenning, are extremely passionate about process improvement and how Dynamic Work Design can be used in any organization—they are passionate to the very depths of their soul. I realized right away that I could use this approach to improve everything we do, every day.”

Lassiter shared an example. “We started an A3 process improvement method on several gaps, including reducing missed appointments and no-shows. By utilizing the A3 we identified the root cause and created some solutions … for example, we changed our appointment card to look like an event ticket. It implied that an appointment had worth, cost money, and that it occupied a seat—by missing an appointment, they’d be taking one away from someone who needed it.”

This problem solving required Lassiter and his team of 13 colleagues to step out of their rooms, take off their masks, and innovate improvements to patient experience and outcomes. “Plus, I promised I’d take everyone to the Cheesecake factory if it worked,” Lassiter said with a laugh. “And it did! As a result, we were able to reduce our no show/cancellation rate from 17% to 9% year-to-date. This represents a cost savings of $192,000 per year in our practice.” Inspired by the course, Lassiter also trained to become a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt in order to have a better handle on how to reduce waste and minimize clinical and administrative error rates.

Everything is negotiable

A few months after completing his first program, Lassiter took Negotiation for Executives, taught by MIT Sloan Professor Jared Curhan. “That class blew my mind. I hadn’t realized all that could be negotiated. All my practices are rural, and honestly people don’t really negotiate here. But I began to apply what I learned immediately, negotiating purchase prices and my ongoing contracts with vendors. I was able to negotiate a 20% reduction in our oral cancer screening process recently, which is great because we don’t charge for this critically important service. Now I’m always looking for economies that may or may not already be in place.”

“As a clinician, I have an immediate-use mindset. I want the research behind something, the instructions for use, and then to go do it on Monday morning. This is what these courses offered, and it’s one of the main reasons I chose MIT over other options.”

Incentivizing teams, solving problems

In June of 2016, Lassiter took Understanding and Solving Complex Business Problems, a two-day program that introduces an integrative system dynamics approach to assessing persistent problems. “Talk about game changing. Professor John Sterman should be running government! These are the people we should be listening to. In this program, I learned how to build models for understanding how feedback loops can affect presumed outcomes. As a result, in our team meetings, we are broader minded in our analysis of how certain strategies can have other outcomes besides those that are desired or intended.”

And in October of last year, completing his certificate, Lassiter took Transforming Your Leadership Strategy, taught by MIT Sloan Professor Deborah Ancona, who is widely recognized for her pioneering research into how successful teams operate. “I learned a framework for leveraging the leadership capabilities in my practice. Back at the office, we are forming teams to improve performance and hitting specific KPI’s. We use a metric dashboard daily, weekly, quarterly, and yearly. Our teams are incentivized based, in part, on their behavioral impact on important numbers such as percentage of patients reappointed from their cleaning visits.”

“These programs had so many tangible and ancillary benefits. I got away from the work, got to listen to smart people, to take knowledge back and use it. The experience of going, learning, trying—dentistry is like that, too. I implemented most everything that I learned, and I still am. These programs opened up whole new avenues of research and exploration for me and presented me with a system for the vision I have.”

Lassiter’s decision to take these courses and commit to an Executive Certificate was not a small one. “I have seven kids at home. I had to travel to Boston. I had to be razor sharp and efficient—I was paying out of pocket, so it needed to work. There is no cost structure in dentistry for training on that kind of level. But it’s one of the best things I have ever done.”

“The timing of this experience was also so critical,” Lassiter adds. “The dentistry environment is rapidly changing. Only 50% of Americans utilize dentistry in this country. Dentistry is seen as discretionary, but it’s needed. A child passed away recently from something that could have been prevented with the right dental care. So for me, earning this certificate was about many things … it was about sustaining the business, but also providing better care for patients. My goal is a world class, state-of-the art experience for patients. That’s actually the exact experience I had at MIT—world class and state of the art. I acquired the best tools and frameworks available, and I brought them back home.”


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