Some Thoughts on Leadership

Robert Ganley


I have had the opportunity to work in the dental industry for most of my life. On July 1, I will retire from my position as CEO of Ivoclar Vivadent. Dentistry Today has kindly invited me to share some “final thoughts” after leading Ivoclar Vivadent for so many years. 

I accepted with the qualification that the thoughts that I share would be comprehensive and clear, but certainly not final. With that said, it is my pleasure to write this short letter to the profession and share some thoughts on leadership.

Dentistry is dedicated to improving oral health. In my early days in this industry, we were focused on supporting and improving oral health by manufacturing and selling a large range of products to repair and replace teeth.

When asked, “Who is Ivoclar Vivadent?” we would answer by describing our company and by listing all of our products. What we lacked in message artistry we made up in message accuracy. In 1990, we decided to change our message and our mission. We moved from product to promise and from following to leading. We guided our company change with two simple rules: 

Rule 1: You have two sentences and 10 seconds to define yourself. 

Rule 2: Your actions must create a memory.

We wanted to be leaders of change, dedicated to quality aesthetics and focused on dental professionals and their patients. Following Rule 1, our message became “We are the Leaders of the Esthetic Revolution” and “Welcome to the Esthetic Revolution!” 

Dentistry embraced the message. Publications and podiums communicated the message and the value of esthetics. The energy was felt from the dental lab to the practice and to the patient. As patient expectations grew, so did dentistry at all levels. Esthetic dentistry became better dentistry because it was what the patient wanted.

Ivoclar grew as a successful Esthetics company and as an industry leader. Today, Esthetics remains a primary goal of dentistry. Oral health, like general health, became defined as feeling better and looking better. We led by positive example and created a new leadership message as we created memories.

Leadership was and is the most important ingredient for success. It’s true in the practice, the lab, the dealer, and the manufacturer. Leaders build teams who build companies. A message and a vision have value when the team believes, first, in the leader, and then in the vision. Said another way, leadership is more about making people want to follow than pointing the direction. 

Dental leaders like Dr. Pete Dawson created valuable memories as they crafted and provided clinical messages and clinical education. Laboratory leaders such as Jim Glidewell changed the profile of the dental lab. Today, new leaders are introducing technologies that are changing processes and procedures, making success more efficient, measurable, and predictable. 

From the beginnings of the Esthetic Revolution to today’s Digital Revolution, many products and procedures have changed. New materials and processes have made improved oral health more achievable and more aesthetic. Patients have become dental decision makers. 

We know that the difference between a patient asking about dental procedures and not asking is one thing—knowledge. The internet gives them knowledge, and knowledge gives them power. The potential of the internet of things is high, but less than the potential of the internet of patients. The first builds data. The second builds demand.

Now, in my 39th year, I am moving from leading the Esthetic Revolution to managing our “Leadership Evolution.” A dental company’s or a dental practice’s continued success is based on sustainability. This means committed and long-term succession planning. 

The transition of our global leadership and our North America leadership is one of the most fulfilling and satisfying jobs of my long career. Diego Gabathuler will take over the global CEO role, and Christian Brutzer will become president of Ivoclar Vivadent North America. They will continue our commitment to oral health and quality aesthetic dentistry.

The dental journey has, for me, been exciting. I have sought to balance leadership with learning. It has been a valuable combination. And so, at the end of a career, I can still learn by looking back.

I know that leadership is the most important element of success, and I know that the measure of a leader is the ability to make people believe in you, believe in your vision, and want to follow. This is for me a valuable memory created by our dental industry, confirmed by experience, and now shared with you.

Mr. Ganley joined Ivoclar Vivadent in 1980 as vice president. In 1989, he was named president of Ivoclar Vivadent North America. In 2003, he was appointed CEO of Ivoclar Vivadent AG. He also serves as chair of corporate management. As the pioneer of the company’s “Esthetic Revolution,” he is now leading the company toward the “Digital Esthetic Revolution.” He has been a leader in the company’s commitment to providing underserved populations access to oral healthcare via product donations and special initiatives as well.

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