An Interview with Sasha Der Avanessian
Harvest Dental Products President and CEO Sasha Der Avanessian, who consults and lectures on business strategy, shares some of the insights that have made his own company successful.
Inside Dental Technology: You were named one of IDT’s Most Influential People in Dental Technology in the 2016 Business Review. Which people influenced you?
Sasha Der Avanessian: Firstly, what an honor. Over the last 3 years, we have really gained clarity with regard to the vision and direction of the Harvest brand: who we are and whom we want to be. Two thought leaders who have inspired us in this regard are Jean-Marie Dru, Chairman of the marketing agency TBWA Worldwide, and David Aaker, a Professor Emeritus at the University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business. Dru popularized a methodology that we have adopted called Disruption, the goal of which is to identify market conventions and disrupt them with value discontinuities. Aaker has influenced our belief that brand relevance always beats brand preference. To win is to be relevant, rather than preferred.
IDT: Having built a successful business from the ground up, what would you say were the most important strategies and decisions you made to reach this point?
SDA: My most important daily decision is to constantly define and redefine Harvest Dental’s current social and commercial mandate: Why do we exist in the market? In other words, if Harvest disappeared from the market today, what would the market miss about us tomorrow? These answers dictate every strategy and decision we make.
From a management perspective, our decision to grow conservatively was very important—not over-investing to frantically chase and find growth, but allowing growth to come to us and being able to respond and execute with clarity and simplicity. Strategically, keeping a narrow and aligned product focus to who we are has been important: staying in our competencies and not trying to be all things to all people.
IDT: You work with some of the most talented technicians in the world. What common characteristics and traits do they often share?
SDA: Humility, generosity, and they are extremely picky. These individuals seek knowledge and then share it as much as they use it. They love what they do, are passionate about why they do it, and just live to share their insights. They are extremely disciplined and loyal with regard to their product selections. When it comes to quality, they do not cut corners. They will reject a cheaper product if it is inferior to a more expensive one. They know what they want out of a product because they have a vision for the outcome of their work and won’t settle for anything less.
IDT: What have the most significant developments been in recent years in terms of helping dental technicians improve their artistry?
SDA: The industry is experiencing a growing level of cooperation based on the shared mindset that “just good isn’t good enough.” We are currently in the mist of an inspirational movement for better esthetics, which has given rise to the formation of like-minded groups and “intra” communities inspiring each other to be better and pushing the envelope together. This in turn has influenced the development of better materials and higher education as manufacturers continue to respond to the market’s heightened esthetic demands.
IDT: What would you say to small- to medium-sized laboratory owners to help them differentiate themselves as the market continues to commoditize?
SDA: Whenever there is commodity, there is conformity. Commodity should be viewed not as an enemy but as a tool. Use its rules to uncover what everyone else is doing; you can develop a clear target for differentiation based on that. Know your “why.” Have vision. Look for small ways to provide a refreshing experience for dentists. Be who you are, and your products and service will authenticate you. It’s all about building trust and loyalty, finding creative ways to interrupt your dentist’s day in a positive way.
IDT: What would you consider to be the biggest threat to the success of three- to five-person laboratories over the next 10 years?
SDA: Where most would simply say, “Not going digital,” I strongly believe that a lack of business acumen is the biggest threat to this segment. Our industry is overeducated on esthetics, and significantly undereducated on business. The segment is being corporatized, as private equity ownership is here to stay and growing. This will be your primary competitor in the next 10 years. Beating them artistically will not be good enough. We must beat them at business, because after all, we are businesses. Learn to put together a 5-year business plan and execute that plan, pricing your product based on your true loaded cost of a crown to maintain marginal integrity, not just on what your competitor is charging. Knowing how to read and understand financial statements and knowing your break-even point are important. Identify your key performance indicators, and allow them to guide you and dictate when to go digital, outsource, and insource. We need higher-quality education on the business side of esthetics.