Dr. Jim Clark, Benco Dental’s Head of Practice Transitions, has bought and sold multiple practices during his 30-year career. But only once did he buy a practice, and end up selling it back to the owner. 

The year was 1997, but the rustic log cabin housing a dental practice appeared to be out of the mid-19th century. Situated on the bank of a Montevallo, Alabama creek, it was owned by the chief of the fire department, the head of the Montevallo historical society, and the director of the state historical society—all the same person. In over his head, the busy practice was slipping from the dentist’s hands. 

Dr. Clark, by then savvy on streamlining systems and confident in his ability to whip it into shape, bought the practice with hopes of making lasting changes. His intention was to focus on the business side so the former owner, a beloved figure in the community, could keep doing dentistry. 

Kind—but eccentric

“He could have had an instrument in a patient’s mouth, but if that fire alarm went off, he would have jumped on the truck and left the patient in the chair,” Dr. Clark remembered. It’s also an understatement to say the doctor was flexible with patients who had trouble paying. “He graduated from The Pankey Institute, but he would have traded dentistry for just about anything…pigs, chickens, someone to paint his house.” 

Visits to the practice were spent encouraging the dentist to adopt better financial management. When Dr. Clark wasn’t there to oversee things, the office management team kept them in order. “This particular practice needed a lot of outside management,” Dr. Clark said. “He was pressuring the assistants to return to old ways when I wasn’t there. Even though I owned the practice, the dentist just could not give up control.” After four years, Dr. Clark sold the practice back to the former owner.

Saved from the brink

“This particular model I have of buying the practices and leaving them with the same person in charge has a downside,” said Dr. Clark.  “It’s hard to change the way they practice and get doctors out of bad habits. This practice was a unique experience.” 

Over time, Dr. Clark figured this doctor was always going to have trouble conforming to the new style of his management team. “After I saved his practice from the brink of bankruptcy and he bought it back, I heard he returned to a lot of his old ways. He was a great guy, but only wanted to be the employer, never the employee.”

But, on the bright side…

Despite the management battle, Dr. Clark says he never regrets a practice bought and sold.  “When you have doctors who are not willing to follow the basic protocols the management team put in place, you have to decide whether to fire them or give them more options. When owning practices, it’s never as easy as people think. There are pitfalls you’re responsible for and at some point, you have to solve the situation.” 

From his perspective, there is always something to be learned for the next transition—and this was one lesson he’d never forget.

Thinking about a transition of your own?

As Dr. Clark says, it’s never too early—or too late—to talk about it. You can contact him personally at jc8602@benco.com or leave a message at 1-800-GO-BENCO. Visit Benco Dental’s Transitions online to learn more about Dr. Clark and our team’s services.