Ever had the fantasy of trading in your scrubs for a business suit? Does the business world sound more glamorous and challenging than cleaning teeth? What if you could have both - the excitement and prestige of being CEO of a successful company and the close, personal relationships enjoyed by hygienists? Sound too good - or exhausting - to be true? Rhonda Frazier, RDH, is also the CEO of a company in Louisville, KY, and manages to do both.
After graduating from the University of Louisville's dental hygiene program in 1981, Frazier worked in private practice, and truly enjoyed her position. But when her father, the CEO of a water treatment company, became terminally ill, he asked her a difficult question. "My father was diagnosed with cancer in 1989. I told him I would do anything he needed, so I helped him with his doctor visits and hospitalizations. In November he asked me to take over the company. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen! I couldn't tell him no."
Frazier went to work, asking her father questions as his health allowed. She obtained training from classes and seminars. "I felt like I was thrown on a treadmill set on high speed," she relates.
Frazier dealt mostly with men as she took over the business; these customers naturally had questions about Frazier's ability to lead the company. "I can understand their concerns. I was 31, female, no business experience, no water treatment experience, unfamiliar with the product, and very reluctant to take on the job. I was approached to sell the com-
pany at my father's funeral, which was very hard to take. But I promised my dad I would never sell, regardless of how much I was offered. I wanted to honor his wishes."
Frazier became CEO and found the business world brutal. "It was very difficult. Dentistry is what I love, so it's not an easy place to be when your heart isn't in it. These were trying times." She quickly learned the ropes, however, and was soon climbing cooling towers and making on-site plant visits. Frazier came to understand the microbiological aspects of the industry and found that that her hygiene background gave her some insight into the business. "The product we manufacture and market removes scale and prevents corrosion in all types of water systems. I compare scale to calculus and corrosion to decay. It also destroys bacteria in the water." She credits a good CPA, attorneys, and experienced business mentors for helping her function in the business world.
As Frazier's knowledge and concern for the product grew, so did her confidence. Her customers and collegues came to respect this dynamic lady, who habitually passes out dental health information whenever she can. "Many of these men have not been to a dentist in years. They will sometimes ask me to look at a particular tooth that's bothering them. I have been able to convince them to seek treatment or begin a proper homecare regimen." She often includes a container of dental floss in the company's promotional material to those she has engaged in a "hygiene talk".
Frazier anticipates the day she can return to hygiene full time. "The people I deal with find this very strange," says Frazier. "I tell them it's what I love." She takes every opportunity to explain the amount of education and expertise that hygienists must have. "I tell them it's more than scraping and polishing," she adds.
Frazier occasionally changes back into scrubs and slips away from the business world. Her brother has a dental practice less than two minutes from her office. It gives her the opportunity to take an X-ray, or do an occasional prophy. "I love hygiene and miss it very much," she states, adding, "Just to get back in the dental office helps a lot."
Though her heart firmly remains with hygiene, Frazier feels she has gained much from her business experiences. "I've always been interested in how others live and conduct themselves. Travel has become a big part of my routine." Frazier has met a interesting array of people, nationally and internationally, and admits to a fascination with the Japanese. "I love working with the Japanese. I had never been exposed to the people or their culture. They are very polite and understanding," she enthuses, adding, "I have embraced their culture and language. Most Japanese businessmen believe in honor, and even if they have the opportunity to stab you in the back, they choose not to. To them, the relationship comes first, then business. They want to get to know you first. When I went to Japan, my distributors treated me like royalty. They entertained me day and night, never overlooking the smallest detail."
As if this dual role weren't enough, Frazier has added modeling to her busy docket. She modeled prior to hygiene school and recently updated her portfolio. An agency saw the photos and signed her. She views modeling strictly as a hobby, one that allows her to get away from the pressure-cooker environment of the business world and re-focus. "Oddly enough, it's very relaxing to me, because I can let go of everything else."
Frazier reveals that her brother urged her to go to dental school for many years. "I didn't go because I saw all the responsibility he had. At the end of the day he still had paperwork and employee matters to handle. With hygiene, the end of the day is the end of the day. But in the business world, the work is never finished. When I leave here, there are always things undone waiting for me when I return. I carry it home with me. You don't have that burden with hygiene."
Maybe that's another reason why dental hygiene is such a great career: you don't have to give up your CEO dreams, time-consuming hobbies or special times with your children. You can really have them all.
Life is a daily balancing act for Rhonda Frazier, the CEO of Water Energizers, who is also a hygienist, single parent, and model. She describes her schedule as "very demanding," yet remains firmly involved in the field of hygiene. "The dental office where I practiced full-time is only two minutes from our corporate headquarters," she says, adding, "This allows me to schedule some patients and also fill in during emergencies." Frazier also uses every opportunity to educate her company's distributors and customers about oral health. "It's amazing how many opportunities arise! Once these individuals find out I'm a hygienist, they always ask questions!"
Frazier admits that she misses practicing full-time very much. She's learned to appreciate her current postition, however, stating, "My impact on oral health was previously limited to a relatively small number of people; now, I have the ability to reach people throughout the U.S. and in 23 foreign countries. I may no longer be a hygienist in the traditional sense, but I continue to use my knowledge to educate anyone who wants to listen."