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A Family Feeling

July 1, 2007
In this family business, loyalty and commitment flow from top to bottom.
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by Patti DiGangi, RDH, BS

In this family business, loyalty and commitment flow from top to bottom.

Have you ever walked into a practice or business and felt the atmosphere? You immediately feel something without the conscious use of reasoning. My intuitive radar was recently in high gear during a factory tour of Hu-Friedy. Something very positive emanated from the place that I couldn’t immediately identify, but I wanted to know more. Even though I’m a lifelong Chicagoan, I did not visit the well-known Chicago company until recently.

All hygienists think they know about Hu-Friedy. For many of us, their instruments were the first ones we used in hygiene school, and still use today. Corporate dentistry contributes a lot to help move our profession forward, and this very special company that has been serving the dental profession since 1908 is no exception. Although it has grown into a worldwide business, in its heart and soul it remains a family business. In fact, it is currently operating under only its second owner in nearly 100 years of service.

This family feeling is the special feeling my radar detected when I toured, and I asked if I could do an article about the company. Interviews with some of the employees were arranged, and each one shared a similar story that confirmed my feelings:

  • Basha came to the United States from Poland and cried every day at first. During her 34 years at Hu-Friedy, she has seen how the company helps people become the best they can be, with employees feeling a sense of ownership.
  • When she arrived in the United States from Vietnam, Flower spoke no English. She constantly learned and worked hard to reach her position as a final inspector. She said with her family so far away, Hu-Friedy makes her feel “at home.”
  • Since it was Halloween on the day of our interview, Charmaine, who loves to laugh, came dressed as the devil. Charmaine’s goal is customer satisfaction, and she takes many classes offered at Hu-Friedy. She said employee encouragement is offered through the High Five sticky note program, which can lead to a lunch or other recognition.
  • Nicky, her three sisters, husband, and brother-in-law all work at Hu-Friedy because they are made to feel special and appreciated for what they do. As part of the ultrasonic inserts department, Nicky has a wonderful sense of pride when she sees the instrument spray and knows her team made it happen.
  • Louis, a 28-year veteran, calls Hu-Friedy his home away from home because he grew up in the company. Five of his family members are also part of the Hu-Friedy team. He said the company creates an environment that makes people strong by the way it opens doors, encourages growth, and sees the value of people as people, not just employees.

Family feeling and commitment may seem to be out of style in the 21st century, yet at Hu-Friedy these remain strong values because they are company-wide philosophies that have become a way of life. Andy Xilas, general manager of manufacturing, said that although Hu-Friedy is proud of its big reputation, it is really a small, family-owned business that believes the best compliment an employee can give is referring a family member for a job. The average length of employment is 16 years, and turnover is a low 5 percent, with most of that due to retirement. While their craftsmen and instrument finishers must be knowledgeable and skilled, Hu-Friedy also wants its people engaged and committed. The family feeling is from top to bottom with lots of loyalty going both ways.

Hu-Friedy’s target market is the hygienist, and I truly believe that. Along with the many dedicated workers in the factory, 21 hygienists work in technical service, sales, new product development, training, customer/technical service, customer relations, and on the executive team. Long-time employee Karen Neiner, RDH, MBA, is general manager of the executive team. Karen is leading the launch of Hu-Friedy’s Customer Relationship Management team, designed to more fully embrace customers, particularly dental hygienists, as part of the Hu-Friedy family. Their philosophy of customer intimacy is based on open communication. One way open communication will work is through a new Web-based membership program, which will create both an online and offline community for hygienists. Some member benefits will include opportunities for product feedback, participation as product evaluators, continuing-education courses, interactive forums, and more. The company wants to learn more about customers’ unmet needs, wants, and goals, while still providing important tools to enhance the careers of dental professionals.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? While many companies have nice mission statements and goals that sound laudable, their actions often don’t match their words. The Hu-Friedy mission is “To Create Trusted Products and Lasting Relationships.” I’ve seen many slogans and catch phrases with an impact no deeper than the paper they’re written on.

I wanted to write this article because of what I felt on my tour of Hu-Friedy. No one asked me to write anything. Ron Saslow, president, and his father Richard, owner, have created a pattern of success that’s deliberate, not accidental. Hu-Friedy continues to be a privately owned family business that is a leader with an eye to the future. Management hands out praise and augments it with real rewards: promotions, raises, acceptance, opportunities to learn, and other tangible tokens of appreciation. This motivates people not only to apply themselves with enthusiasm, but to stick around. The family feeling comes from the top. The Saslows and Hu-Friedy are someone you should get to know.

Patti DiGangi, RDH, BS, is a speaker, author, practicing dental hygiene clinician, and American Red Cross authorized provider of CPR and first aid training. She can be contacted through her Web site at