Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of interviews with dental industry executives on “what makes their company tick.” Recently, Tom Ries, the director of sales and marketing (U.S. region) for 3M ESPE (pictured below), sat down to talk to Proofs about the changes that have occurred in his company since 3M Dental and ESPE Dental AG merged five years ago.
Proofs: What is the most important thing you want readers to gain from reading this article?
Ries: 3M ESPE brings more than just high-quality, innovative products to the dental industry. We’re constantly trying to find new ways to maximize the value we bring to dental professionals around the world. We are incredibly serious about “doing our homework” before we bring a product or program to market to make sure it is as good and effective as it needs to be. We do all we can for our customer. In the field, we have a smart and talented sales force supported by great people on the inside. At the leadership level, we have a complete team of industry-dedicated individuals who are looking for ways to drive growth in this industry. When you work with 3M ESPE, you get the complete package.
Proofs: What were some of the obstacles originally faced in the 3M Dental and ESPE Dental AG combination? How were they overcome?
Ries: I don’t know that I would have considered them obstacles, so much as realizing our full potential. We were bringing together two very successful organizations, each with its own methodology, processes, and industry experience and expertise; yet they were two companies that we knew had the ability to not only combine, but thrive in this industry. It was more of finding the best of both organizations and bringing those elements to bear in the new organization and building around that foundation.
Proofs: What are some of the ways that the merged company became stronger than the two individual companies?
Ries: Both companies had long histories in research and development (R&D), so it’s only natural that combining these two organizations would produce an R&D capability that is second-to-none in this industry. It didn’t take long for the innovation engine of the new company to kick in when we introduced two industry firsts in Filtek™ Supreme Universal Restorative and RelyX™ Unicem Cement, followed closely by the Lava™ Crowns and Bridges System. In addition, we have been able to take the best of both companies to target new market segments and add complementary products to many product lines. Our new product hopper is very robust and the market will see 3M ESPE continue to introduce many innovative new products.
Beyond this obvious combining of high-value products and robust R&D pipelines, the mutually combined networks of thought leaders, marketing specialists, technical experts, and scientists provided the combined organization with a much broader global presence.
Around the world, we were able to establish a much broader and deeper market coverage ability. At the end of the day, it’s about the ability to reach customers, and the combined company is better able to do that worldwide with a bigger and better offering.
Proofs: What were some of the key elements in merging not only two companies, but also philosophies from two different countries (United States and Germany)?
Ries: Both companies came into the situation with an open mind. Each side showed a real willingness to combine the best of both organizations. There is definitely an openness to challenge ideas, but neither company dominated the thinking. Everyone subscribed to the same philosophy of offering our customers uncompromising quality and service in everything we do. It truly was a combination in every sense of the word. With operations in two countries it becomes a necessity - and thankfully it becomes natural to do so over time - to think bigger than you otherwise might. That’s really been a good result of the combination.
Proofs: How did you communicate with your employees and customers as the company continued to evolve? How important was that communication?
Ries: You really can never overcommunicate, and we took that to heart. We’ve developed key communication platforms to reach all of our audiences, from the Espertise brand Web site for dental professionals, to the Connections newsletter for channel partner representatives, to our own global intranet for employees and a highly valued technical hotline for customers, among others. Many of the tools we use today were developed during the time of the combination.
Proofs: What are some of the achievements of which the company is most proud over the last five years?
Ries: First and foremost, we’re proud of living up to our commitment to the relationships we’ve built over the years with our customers and with our distribution partners. These relationships are important to us and we take them very seriously.
Second, as mentioned earlier, it is ultimately about serving the customer and we’re delivering consistently high levels of customer service. Product advancements such as Lava crowns and bridges, Filtek Supreme Plus universal restorative, and RelyX Unicem cement are just a few examples of what has come out of our R&D pipeline recently, and that pipeline remains as strong as ever. Also, the people who make 3M ESPE a leading company are a true point-of-pride. Our people in total are always striving to do the right thing without taking any shortcuts. Our combined sales force is often described by customers as the smartest, best trained sales force in the market. We’ve also developed a dynamic leadership team that has the right balance of dental industry experience and other health care experience, leaving us open to new ideas and growth opportunities.
Proofs: What are some of the most important lessons learned over the last five years?
Ries: No matter how prepared you are for a major acquisition, it still can be tough. There are things that you didn’t think of that seem to spring up and you have to deal with them. Having a leadership team with a strong resolve and resiliency helps you bring the focus back where it belongs - constant attention to the needs of the customer is what will see you through tough integration efforts.