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A New Leader Takes the Wheel
An exclusive interview with Richard Laube, the new CEO of Nobel Biocare, on his plans for how to drive the customer-driven company back on track.
Inside Dental Technology (IDT): You’ve worked at Roche, Proctor & Gamble, and Nestlé. You have a very strong executive background in consumer product companies. Because Nobel Biocare’s consumer is ultimately the patient, how do you think your background will impact the way you form your own vision for Nobel going forward?
Richard Laube (RL): The 30 years I’ve spent in companies like P&G, Roche, and Nestle definitely gave me a unique perspective on how to think about customers whether they’re consumers, as you would call them, or patients, the way they’re thought of in the dental industry. Coming to Nobel Biocare, that mindset of just looking outward and trying to understand what the customer is looking for is what drives me and is starting to drive the organization. We’re constantly asking ourselves: What is our customers’ experience, what we can do to improve that experience, what advantages do we offer, and how do we, every day, think of that relationship and that customer experience to make it better? That’s just in my DNA.
IDT: When many in North America think of Nobel, they think of its very rich, storied history in paving the way in research, development, and quality. The challenge, perhaps, is to figure out where it’s a little bit off the tracks. Your market share is still pretty outstanding in the implant world. You are facing some challenges with the economy. How do you forge a new path for Nobel and still pay homage to that rich history?
RL: By studying our rich history you will find that what made Nobel Biocare the leader was innovation, dedication to our customers and their patients, as well as providing superior quality in everything we do. I’ve been in business long enough to know that a company is not going to grow if the customer is not being served properly through innovation, quality, and a solid relationship with customers such as is unique to Nobel Biocare. Today, we can’t do it the way it was done in the 1980s and the 1990s, but we can capture the same spirit and move forward. And that is what we are working on.
IDT: What are your top initiatives for 2012 and 2013?
RL: As I mentioned before, customer focus and product innovation are our two key priorities. Superior customer satisfaction is key to us and, therefore, we are in the process of designing an organization to better respond to customer needs. As a first important step we have established a global sales and customer development department under the leadership of Melker Nilsson. We will be adding more value for our customers and their practices, whether it’s a laboratory or a surgical specialist or a restorative dentist. And speaking of innovations, we have plenty of ideas, we have more ideas than we can act on, but we have to act on them in a systematic way. Innovations from Nobel Biocare shall be meaningful and help our customers treat their patients more safely and more effectively while offering them more treatment choices at different price points. I think we have some good examples that are emerging right now with the NobelReplace Conical Connection, the NobelReplace Platform Shift, and NobelActive 3.0, as well as the new NobelClinician on the Mac. Those are innovations that serve a clear market demand.
IDT: You just mentioned that Nobel Biocare has introduced three new implants. Why does the market need three new implants? What is the real new benefit to clinicians and patients?
RL: The major clinical themes we are addressing with new products are long-term treatment success, osseointegration, soft-tissue management, and minimally invasive treatment concepts. We are probably the most experienced company in these fields but I’ve learned over 30 years at other companies that customer expectations are continually changing. What was considered acceptable in the 1980s in terms of osseointegration is no longer the acceptable expectation in 2012. Customers are now expecting higher survival rates. Now it’s other dimensions that define success within the industry. You’ll see that with every industry—whether it’s software, cars, diapers, detergent—you have to continually innovate because the standards that the customers are expecting are continually changing. There will be a never-ending stream of innovation in implants, abutments, prosthetics, software, scanners—the tools that are going to perform the restoration. I think one of the great innovations most recently is NobelActive, and we continue to innovate even this unique and very successful implant family. The latest introduction is NobelActive 3.0. It is the two-piece implant that goes where others cannot. This small-diameter implant you need for narrow spaces. It is specially designed for the placement of single-unit maxillary lateral incisors as well as mandibular and central incisors and made of the strongest type of titanium. There are very few competitors out there that can deal in these small, narrow, highly esthetic zones. It allows us to properly present the entire NobelActive line-up, particularly for customers who may not have used the product, but understand the merits of the 3.0. Another example is our new NobelReplace Conical Connection. It offers the proven implant body of NobelReplace that delivers excellent initial stability with an advanced third-generation internal conical connection. The new connection is designed to preserve marginal bone by minimizing micro-movements and potential micro-leakage. It also withstands higher torque and lateral loading stress and thereby minimizes forces on the retaining screw and prosthetic component. The implant has been designed with an integrated platform shift to increase soft-tissue volume for higher esthetics.
IDT: Nobel has a significant investment in CAD/CAM, and you were one of the early leaders with Procera. Talk a little bit about what role CAD/CAM and NobelProcera plays in the future of the company. How much of an emphasis is it going to have regarding the restorative side of the business?
RL: CAD/CAM-based prosthetic solutions are a big part of our strategy. Many customers who are working with NobelProcera are also some of our heaviest implant placers, so our expertise in implants and CAD/CAM prosthetics go inextricably together. Currently we are doing very well with our high-precision solutions such as implant bridges, overdenture bars, and individualized abutments. These products are amongst the best you can get on the market in terms of quality, strength, precision, and fit. I don’t think anyone can construct a 14-unit implant bridge the way we can, and I look at some of the overdenture bars that are coming out almost as science fiction. However, the business has become significantly more competitive. Much of the business has become chairside, or in-house milling at the labs. Quite possibly we are not caught up to all of the developments that have occurred over the last 5 to 10 years. We’re in a catch-up phase that started in 2009, and now we’re at the stage of the program where we’re generally very comfortable with what we put out onto the market. There are a few areas, a few modules and products that we’ve got to bring back up to the next level, so we’re going to use the next 12 months to really make sure that what the customer gets is the best product available today.
IDT: One of the key things that everybody thinks about and talks about is enhancing collaboration between specialists, GPs on the restorative end, lab technicians, lab technology, and getting all of them to work together for a better result for the patient. How will Nobel Biocare support that big need in the marketplace?
RL: Thank you for that question, because that is one of the reasons we brought Melker from North America to our global operation, because in the United States, that is a big effort of the added value that Nobel Biocare is already starting to bring to these teams together with the surgeon, the restorative dentist, and the laboratories that have to work together in unique ways in order to provide quality patient care. Now, some of those teams have become real, physical teams, but much of the market is still working in virtual mode, where we’re bringing them together for study clubs and other educational initiatives. We’re extremely well placed to do that. That needs to be expanded in many, many more markets where we operate, and that’s the kind of value-added service that we can bring back into the market. It’s very difficult for individual customers—the restorative dentist, the surgical specialist, the laboratory technician—to find the energy and step out of their usual patterns to bring themselves together in unique ways. We can help do that, and I think that we are, on an increasingly bigger scale.
IDT: Will acquisitions be an important part of your growth strategy? How is the global economy impacting Nobel’s operations? Other global companies that were not previously involved in implants are now moving into implants in a significant way. How do these factors affect your planning and long-term outlook?
RL: Since the global economic slowdown began in 2008, Nobel Biocare has been hurt, and in some ways disproportionately. We had a business that was increasingly driving toward high esthetics, really cutting-edge treatment. We’ve had to adjust, and I personally believe that while esthetics are critical, function is as well. If you look at our market share, we own the anterior, and we’ve been hurt in the posterior. We’re adjusting our innovation, our thought process around that. We have to get the organization configured to the realities of the marketplace. We’re no longer dealing in a market that’s growing 15%, 20%, 25%; we’re dealing in a market that’s growing in mid-single digits. That requires a different discipline in expenses, in reviewing investments, and making choices, while it is very clear that we will not be able to do everything the way we envisioned 3 or 4 years ago. Acquisitions for Nobel Biocare have been along the lines of accessing important technology for our future. Procera is a good example. It was acquired back in the early 1990s, and it’s at the stage of many years of growth. We acquired Biocad in 2008, and that’s an important component for NobelProcera with overdenture bars in our software development. It is coming into place and I believe it is a very important acquisition for us. We’ve acquired Alpha Biotech, primarily to access NobelActive. That has proven to be a very, very important acquisition for us. We will continue to look at the ideas involved in the acquisition, and if we see an idea that is an important piece of our strategic innovation puzzle, we’ll look at it. We will not go after acquisitions just for sales or because companies are available unless we find something special about a company that says, “we need to partner now.”