Photocopy Phil

You might assume that having a ridiculously high IQ in dental school would come with a lot of privileges. For example, you wouldn’t have to study as hard for tests. You’d read about complicated concepts and instantly understand them. You’d be able to take on challenging but exciting tasks in dental school like microbiology, pathogens, or immunology.  

All that may be true, but there are also significant disadvantages to being the most intelligent person in dental school or life in general; when superhuman intelligence might prevent someone to take action decisively. I recall just such a cerebral student from dental school and his story is one to remember.  

About 20 years ago, I met the smartest kid in dental school at the time. He was Einstein reborn. He was the top of his class, understood difficult concepts, and synthesized them easily. He was so smart that even his notes from each lecture were the envy of his classmates. This mini Einstein soon began selling his notes from class for $50.00 each session on paper that when copied would print only a blank page. No legible writing would remain. In other words, you could not make a readable copy for a friend. Everybody had to pay up to get their hands on a copy of those sacred notes. This super smart dental student quickly earned the nick name, “Photocopy Phil,” in school.

Photocopy Phil ultimately graduated at the top of his class and soon after began his dental career associating in Southeast Ohio. Phil and I had met during his 4th year in dental school for an introduction and discussion on his career aspirations. Naturally, as a dental consultant, I was excited to call him when the stars aligned in the southwest dental community, and his dream dental practice presented itself for sale.

I introduced Phil to a 72-year-old selling his dental practice, collecting 1.2 million and netting $600K annually doing just bread and butter dentistry. No fancy procedures, no large quadrant dentistry, no comprehensive cases; just good old fashioned crown and bridge. The purchase price of the practice was $800k.   

Phil was excited after the introduction and tour of the dental office for the opportunity to purchase a dental practice in his very back yard where he grew up. He knew the neighborhood and a lot of family and friends who would probably travel to the office to make him their dentist. After Phil collected the proper information for his due diligence with his advisors, I received a call a few days later from Phil that he was going to pass on the practice. His financial advisor believed that the practice was overvalued by $75,000 and encouraged his client to look elsewhere for a better deal. I did not argue with Phil. It was his decision, but I did leave him with one comment: “Phil, are you willing to give up $600K in net income a year over $75,000, or an extra half-a-crown a month ($600) in bank payments?”   

The following week, I introduced another purchase candidate, someone with more experience and a little wiser in the dental market. He knew exactly what he wanted and what he did not want from 5 years of associating and visiting practice after practice looking for the right one. This purchaser candidate, after 45 minutes of touring the office and visiting with the dentist, asked for the Letter of Intent and signed it literally on the spot. As a matter of fact, he signed it on the office manager’s desk. He then told me in no uncertain terms were we not to show this practice to anyone else. This is HIS office and he would take all the necessary steps to close on the practice in 60 days.

While preparing the documents for the sale and working to get the financing for our new buyer, guess who called me back? Yes, you guessed it….Photocopy Phil. He asked if he could visit the office one more time and wanted to speak with the owner about buying his office without any further delay. I still remember my response: “Phil, I’m sorry the practice is under contract and will likely sell in the next few weeks.” It was very quiet over the phone for a few seconds and then Phil said, “Keep me posted if the status changes.” Long story short, Phil fired his financial advisor and eventually purchased a practice within the next year. Phil paid a very strong value for the practice. A purchase price which would have been at least $75,000 overvalued in his advisor’s opinion.

Wicked smart people like Photocopy Phil can see and explain in layman’s terms all of the tiniest details and angles from a textbook yet miss many of the great life opportunities standing directly in from of them. The ability to see all of the angles is ideal when developing complex strategies, but a negative when making an important life decision.   

When it comes to dentistry or other health care industries, don’t let the other 100 professional voices in your life tell you what kind of dentist to become or how to be a successful business owner. And regardless of how smart you are, never skip the basics. Cash flow is king every time, and all the data analysis in the world and all the advice from the experts cannot compensate for that one important metric.   

It’s been several years since I visited Phil’s office, but when I saw him last he was operating a successful business and living the dream. On that last visit, I do remember catching sight of a beautiful Xerox copier right around the back corner of his office desk. Some things in life never change. On the way out the door I thought to myself, “Oh Photocopy Phil. May your carbon copies live in infamy.”  


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