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“Have a purpose.” With Fotis Georgiadis & Kyle Francis

Having a purpose beyond just the course of your business is also key. Whether your greater purpose is your family, putting your team and their families in a better place, or donating to amazing groups doing amazing things; all of these purposes take the object off of you and allow you to work toward something […]

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Having a purpose beyond just the course of your business is also key. Whether your greater purpose is your family, putting your team and their families in a better place, or donating to amazing groups doing amazing things; all of these purposes take the object off of you and allow you to work toward something more meaningful. This will encourage creative thinking, problem solving, and will make you come up with flexible solutions that will allow you to bounce back.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kyle Francis, Founder and CEO of Professional Transition Strategies. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in Entrepreneurship and Professional Sales from Baylor University, Kyle completed the MBA program at the University of Colorado with specialties in Finance and Strategy. Kyle has worked in the dental and medical field since 2005 consulting for practices, medical device companies, and groups of practitioners. He has used this knowledge to consult over 50 start-up companies and dental practices, as well as help build well over 100 dental and medical practices across the country. He has owned all or part of more than 20 practices and has been an investor in multiple DSO concepts. Kyle created Professional Transition Strategies (formerly Headwaters Practice Consultants) to facilitate the sale of over 350 dental practices as a buyer’s representative, seller’s representative, or as a transaction broker. His M&A work has resulted in over $200M in total deal flow. His specialty is offering unique options to sellers allowing them to explore individual, group, and private equity investments to achieve the transition goals of his clients. He and his family live in Colorado Springs where he enjoys golfing, skiing, and hunting as often as he can.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

Sure! I grew up in Kansas where I was lucky to go to an all-boys prep school (Rockhurst) that prepared me very well for my journey down to Waco, TX where I went to college at Baylor University. I majored in Sales and Entrepreneurship but very much wanted to work in venture capital or private equity. There are two paths to start doing that kind of work and I chose to become an expert in a certain industry. As I looked around, I decided that dentistry was pretty interesting as it was comprised of a bunch of entrepreneurs, many of whom didn’t know how to run their dental practice. So, I took a position selling capital equipment (chairs, lights, units) to dentists.

However, I have baby face and many of the people I was selling to had a hard time taking me seriously. So, I started “horse trading” with them. I would do complex transactions and paperwork for them like finding them a partner and completing a transaction to sell half of their practice so that they would buy the equipment they needed from me. By 2007, I was getting more calls for that than anything else, so I started up a company to sell practices. That year, we moved to Colorado Springs where we still live today.

Over the course of time, I have had quite a few stops and starts. I merged my business with others that were similar, and then had to buy those three partners out of the business. I tried to subsidize my income with sales and consulting positions during the lean times and quite frankly I had a very nice sustenance business. It was just me though and sometimes that can feel lonely. So, I had a choice to make about trying again to scale my business by filling the gaps in my talent set with amazing people who do their jobs better than I could have done on my own. In 2016, we began scaling the business dramatically and we have seen 20-fold growth in that time period. We now have over 100 practices for sale across the country and our average practice size is well north of $1M in collection.

I am VERY lucky with the team we have in place and they have made the culture that attracts others. We are poised for significant growth even during this pandemic and I attribute most of our success to the fact that we are stronger together and we each pull for each other.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

The most interesting story is a compilation of quite a few stories in my case. I am the son of an entrepreneur and I always wanted to own a business. As I thought about doing it, I kept reading stories about “making the jump” and “not to have a backup plan” to make sure that you put everything you had into the success of the business. I took that to heart!

I made four jumps out of high paying jobs to focus completely on the business. The first three led me to take another high paying job to make sure that I could float my life and enterprise. The last one was the one where I was actually ready to do it, scale up the business, and had the right people in the right place to succeed.

Here is the deal. I wasn’t necessarily wrong to make the jump the first couple of times and I wanted it just as badly then as I did in 2016 when I made my final jump. But I still had things to learn before I was ready. I needed to learn how to fire people (specifically partners), to take responsibility for my actions, to be a better leader and how to grind. Hindsight is always 20/20 and I know I wasn’t ready then, but I am glad that I tried. It allowed me to meet many great people who affected my life and career greatly and for this iteration of my company to be the best yet!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think it is the options we provide our clients. Most dental practice brokers have built their business being in the “good old boys network” and operating pretty similar to a small town real estate agent. A dentist comes to them because they have been selling practices forever or because someone that they know knows them. That broker then uses his network of buyers (normally locally) and lists it in the normal places that buyers look for a practice and waits for the phone to ring.

We are much different than that. First of all, we are the only brokerage who has an outbound business development team. We end up finding the doctors who want to sell before the old boys network does. Secondly, we are exceptionally good at marketing for new clients and marketing their practices. Most importantly, we operate like an advisory in that we find unique buyers and situations that can be very profitable for sellers and that are not open for most practices. Finally, our contract aligns with the doctors we work with. For instance, we have a very short-term listing agreement and we don’t make anyone pay upfront for our service — just when the job is done.

My favorite example of this are Drs. Amy Jessel and Roger Moynihan. They had an awesome practice in southern California and had multiple brokers try to sell it over a couple of year period. They tried at least one local broker and two national firms. Their goal was to sell and be out of the practice in short order so that they could spend more time with their new grandkids and to be able to take more than a week long vacation together as they were both doctors in the same practice for 30+ years and they had never done that before. Because of our marketing approach, we were able to sell the practice in four months to a buyer which would not have been found unless you have a very robust marketing system as he was overseas with the military. Further, we sold the practice for a higher amount than it was marketed by the other brokers for because we did the correct analysis on the cash flow moving forward. Roger and Amy were able to take the next step in their life and the buyer now has a great practice to work in!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

This is super cliché, but it is the only answer that makes sense. The credit here definitely goes to my wife, Kate. She takes care of all of the stuff around the house and truly is the COO of our family. It allows me to spend time working and gives me the leeway to travel, coach our team, and do countless meetings after hours. And I do feel like I have a cheerleader with her on my team. However, the thing that I would give her credit for in this way is her intuition.

Early in my career, I had the ability to bring on a partner who was a dentist. He was very charismatic, and I thought that having a dentist on the team would make some people take me more seriously. We all decided to take a trip together before we “tied the knot” on a partnership we were both wowed by their opulent taste willingness to spend on the finer things. I think I ended up being starry eyed, but Kate was wary about them. We talked a bunch about it and I eventually “sold” her on the concept so shortly thereafter, I had a partner. It was lucrative for a couple of years, but it flamed out and I had to purchase his stake of the company.

This was the first and last time that I did not listen to her gut feel about a big move. That doesn’t mean we don’t disagree sometimes about the small stuff but on the big things I always listen if she has an opinion.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

I think of resilience like a spring. In easy times, the spring is not tensed but in tough times, you are stretched in ways that you might not have seen coming. I believe that resilience is the direction that the spring bounces back to as you come out of the tough time. Some people experience a hard situation and the direction that their spring bounces backward as they withdraw back into themselves. Some end up getting stuck as the tension retracts and they end up in the same place. I think that resilience is making an opportunity out of the challenging environment and using the tension to catapult you in the direction that you want to go.

I equate resilience and grit as you need “stick-to-itiveness” to be able to persevere through the time where the tension in the highest. In a way, this makes sure that the tense spring catapults you forward. But just because you put your head down and charge through, you may not know the direction that you are looking to go. Attaching strategic and opportunistic thinking is also important as you may need to pivot the direction you were going in order to be successful. To me, this is the direction that the spring will move forward.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Probably my dad. I would call him a serial entrepreneur as he has owned many businesses, and some have worked…and some have not. There were times as we grew up that things were tight when he was starting or growing a company, I know there were more challenges which he faced than I will ever know the whole story about.

A story that sticks out was when he was growing his first company, Impact Direct Marketing, he was starting to hire people after doing it on his own for a while. One of his first hires was a CFO type of position as it fills one of the gaps in his skillset. My dad is a very trusting guy, which probably makes him a great boss, but it also lends to people having the ability to take advantage of his kindness. This person decided to do so and ended up stealing from the company. I don’t know how much or for how long (I was in grade school), but I can’t imagine the hurt and loss of trust. I do know that whatever the amount was put the business in a cash crunch. Regardless, he used the situation to get better and he continued to operate, put new procedures in place, and years later sold the business for a very attractive buy out.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

Maybe not impossible but there is one time that sticks with me. I was going through the MBA program at Colorado University and the capstone class was taught by a guy who had owned/operated many companies with very large exits from his investments. I loved hearing the stories he told about his varied experiences and how he decided to use his money for good after he exited each situation.

Our course long assignment was to do a case study about a business and asked for the ability to alter the project a bit in order to do an actual business plan on the business that I was already working in to show how it could scale. He agreed, so I poured my heart and soul into the analysis. I turned it in an got an “A” but that is not what I was really striving for. I wanted to know if the concept would work. So, I scheduled time in his office to learn about his thoughts. He said the numbers I came up with were not realistic and the concept was flawed “in a way that he couldn’t put his finger on” so I left with no direction except something was off and he didn’t think it would work.

I wouldn’t say that I was devastated. But man. I was frustrated. Quite frankly, it made me not want to look at that document. So even though I persevered, I didn’t look at the business plan much. The interesting thing is that when I read it through recently — the numbers did end up lining up with my results last year. It was very satisfying and took almost 10 years for it to happen!

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

By far the hardest thing that I have had to go through was the second partnership in my business. I had bought out my first partner but still had the issue that I was a young guy and thought it would behoove me to have a dentist on my team. I ended up meeting with two guys who had started brokering practices on their own. They needed someone like me as well and I thought it would be a great merger. So, we combined our businesses, invested in rebranding, and started working together. We did quite a few deals and bought practices together over the course of a couple of years, so it was a profitable venture for all of us.

However, we found out that our management styles for the practices we bought were different as was the work ethic for the necessity of after-hours meetings. It was my impression that the younger of the two dentists was on my side and we would buy the older partner out together to continue operating the business together. I was wrong. We ended up going through a long legal process that finalized in separating the practices we owned (theirs) from the brokerage (mine). I am very sure that I didn’t do everything right, but I was hurt and lost trust in people in general.

My spring was tensing, and I did spend a couple of weeks grieving. However, coming out of the bad times I learned quite a few lessons that have informed the growth of my business. Most importantly, I needed to hire for the holes in my talent set and it may not be a necessity to have a dentist as a partner. This change was the biggest catalyst for change in my entire career.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

My biggest example of this is something I may not have understood as I was going through it but in retrospect was definitely so. My parents were very grounded in their beliefs and decided it would be best for me and siblings to be homeschooled through sixth grade. From an education standpoint, I was prepared. But from a social standpoint, I was at a huge disadvantage when I started going to school.

I am a very social person, but I didn’t know exactly how to relate. I was good at basketball and had other friends who I had known for years. I had to learn social norms on a time frame that most people already knew them. I think I was finally caught up by senior year of high school, but I am sure there were many times that I could have withdrawn and gone back to a safe place. Instead, I was able to turn this weakness into what I believe is my biggest strength, being able to relate to and have empathy for many kinds of people.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Don’t shy away from the hard stuff

People like to be comfortable. But we are not built for comfort. Case and point: this interview! I am not good at talking about why what we are doing is really great. This is definitely my weakest point and doing webinars, writing articles, and doing interviews stretches me dramatically. However, if something is hard, it is something to learn and the more you learn, the more resilient you will be.

  • Move from Triage to Strategy

It is normal to be working on the things that are right in front of you, especially when the situation you are in turns into being difficult. Just keeping your nose to the grindstone is not the worst thing to do and triaging your business decisions can be a very effective way of working. If you are not pointed in the right direction, you may be using the tension in the spring to move out of the crisis in the wrong direction. Thinking strategically, even in short spurts, is important to the efficacy of what you are trying to achieve.

  • Control your Controllables

This timeless concept by Zig Ziglar is very true. There are many things that are outside of your control (COVID-19, state of the economy, and our elected officials). These are all important, but they should not consume you. Take care of your attitude, take care of your team, take care of your customers, and inject this attitude into everyone that you come into contact with!

  • Do something bigger than yourself (family, team, purpose)

Having a purpose beyond just the course of your business is also key. Whether your greater purpose is your family, putting your team and their families in a better place, or donating to amazing groups doing amazing things; all of these purposes take the object off of you and allow you to work toward something more meaningful. This will encourage creative thinking, problem solving, and will make you come up with flexible solutions that will allow you to bounce back.

  • Action cures apathy

Yes, it is important to take time, be still, and think about your current situation. However, in my experience, that causes me to get stuck in that mode which causes paralysis by analysis. At some point, there will be a time to move even if the plan is not completely ready. At least you will be trying and the concept of “failing fast” is real. I would rather fail five times when I am actively trying out concepts than trying to perfect my model on paper before I am willing to move. It actually costs less to fail fast and you will get the experience that you need to react better in the next situation.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I love the idea of a social impact company. For years, I donated to organizations on my own and I didn’t talk about it as I am not much of a self-promoter. However, once the team understood that giving was a big part of what I did, we structured our business around the fact that we want to do well by doing good. We put a name to charities we support, talk to the doctors about why we give, and put goals on paper about how much we want to give. Each year, we want to give 5% of our gross revenue to our charitable partners and this year our partner is Give Back a Smile, which is the charitable arm of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. It was our largest recipient last year and the dentists we work with love their mission.

Giving puts us on the same team as our clients and partners. We are all pulling the same direction and it allows for larger conversations rather than just the transaction of a business. It is also a prosperous circle in that the more we give, the more clients want to work with us, and that allows us to do more good.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

I think it would have to be Mark Cuban. I would love to learn how to parlay what I am doing now to being able to spend the time investing into other groups. lso, what kind of time, effort, and energy should be expended when investing rather than operating.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow Professional Transitions Strategies on Facebook and Twitter. You can also find PTS and myself on LinkedIn.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

It was my pleasure! Thank you!!!

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