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A time of growth: the story on the PortmanDentex merger 


A time of growth: the story on the PortmanDentex merger 

Julie Ross, CEO UK and Ireland of PortmanDentex, discusses the the company’s merger with FMC editorial director Guy Hiscott.

Guy Hiscott (GH): In 2023 you described a year of transformation ahead – what’s defined that time? 

Julie Ross (JR): About a year ago, Portman Dental Care completed a merger with Dentex Health. The work since then has been about creating a new combined business – and it very much is a new business. 

We’ve almost doubled in size. That’s given us the opportunity to redefine who we are and what we want to achieve. We’ve launched our new name and brand now, telling people we are one business, which was a really important milestone. 

Bringing those two communities of colleagues and clinicians together has been the defining work of the last 12 months. 

Some of that has been quite tactical, bringing systems and processes together for example, but there’s a big cultural element to it as well. Both businesses were very culture-led, so finding a common set of values and a purpose that everyone could get behind has been critical. So yes, it’s been a been a pivotal but exciting year! 

GH: What’s it been like merging two businesses so defined by values – have there been any surprises? 

JR: We knew that both businesses were very similar on the surface. The headlines tell us that: both businesses are a similar size, they believe in clinical freedom and practice autonomy, they’re driven by mostly private dentistry. But underneath, there were some different ways of doing things, which we have had to figure out. 

We’ve been very focused on finding the best way to do things in the new business – not always taking the ‘Portman’ way or the ‘Dentex’ way but determining what is the best way to achieve what we want to achieve. 

The one thing we worked hard on from very early on was the cultural integration. When the merger was initially announced there was a lot of wariness about what would happen, on both sides. In reality the two businesses were already very aligned on all the big issues. Clinical freedom is one example everyone worries about. 

Before the merger, both Portman and Dentex were already quite differentiated in the market for their focus on clinical freedom, patient experience and clinician development. But that doesn’t stop people worrying about change – so we’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to allay fears about these very important topics, which really matter to our colleagues and clinicians. 

Another example is rebranding practices. As we’ve been able to explain that there’s no plan to change practice names we’ve seen a big reduction in concern about the merger. 

There will always be questions: that’s just the nature of a business like this. But overall, practices have realised that the ethos of the new business 

 is the same as the old ones – we want to enable and support our amazing practices to deliver the best care possible. We take that responsibility very seriously and it informs all our decision making. 

GH: What was the sole biggest challenge of this process? 

JR: The biggest challenge has been getting the central teams into a place where they all felt like one team. At the executive level, we all knew what was going on from an early stage and had time to process the change. And for practices, while there is some change, they continue to operate fairly autonomously in their local markets. 

But for our support office teams everything has changed: who they work with, how they work, all of it. The team has been absolutely amazing, and I am very proud of where we have got to – but it’s not been an easy 12 months for them. 

It’s been noticeable that we don’t hear ‘Portman’ and ‘Dentex’ anymore, because we have announced our new name as PortmanDentex, and it really feels like one team now. 

GH: We all know there are plenty of challenges to tackle outside the business too. How prepared do you feel PortmanDentex is to face those? 

JR: I think we all have to have our eyes wide open about these challenges. 

The consumer cost of living crisis is having a huge impact: on our colleagues as well as patients. 

Private dentistry seems to be incredibly resilient. Partly, I think, because unfortunately the NHS isn’t always providing the care that people need. Post COVID, people are realising the benefit of prioritising health. But we are not immune to the macroeconomic environment, and we are aware of the negative headwinds that could impact us. 

Interest rates going up has been a big issue. It’s one that’s impacted the mergers and acquisitions market because it affects practice valuations. 

And of course, there is a shortage of dentists and nurses. We’re fortunate that it’s less of a challenge if you’re focused on the private space, but it’s absolutely still an issue, and one that we’re working hard to mitigate by making sure that our practices are the ones where people want to work. However it’s a real long-term concern for the whole industry. 

We’re very lucky – we’ve got excellent data and reporting so we can really understand what’s happening in our practices. That gives us the confidence to be able to look ahead and understand what’s coming, and what’s driving the changes we’re seeing. We’ve invested a lot in that over the years and it’s really helping us through challenging economic times like these. 

GH: What do the next 12 months look like for you? 

JR: We’re focusing on finalising the integration between Portman and Dentex which mostly involves technology integration. 

The next phase, which is already starting, is then about leveraging our scale to create opportunities for our colleagues and clinicians. There’s a number of parts to this: education, developing talent pipelines, creating internal referral networks, there are lots of things we can do to really create benefit from the scale we now have. 

We’re particularly excited about integrating advanced clinical technology – such as our ongoing AI pilot – into our practices and bringing up-to-date consumer thinking into dentistry. Our scale allows us to do that, because we’re able to find and collaborate with clinicians interested in testing new technology. That doesn’t just advance our clinical capabilities, it engages our clinicians across different areas, including technology, education, and practice development. 

GH: What are you personally most excited about for the future? 

JR: I’m particularly excited about what we can do for customers. I use the word customer deliberately. I think patients generally have an amazing experience once they’re in the chair, but there’s so much we can learn from retail and the service industry about how to look after people throughout their journey with us. 

I’m excited by the potential of technology to revolutionise not only in-practice procedures but also that overall customer journey. 

I’m looking forward to supporting clinicians and practice colleagues with career development and providing growth pathways. The chance to facilitate such diverse career development is really motivating. Especially seeing individuals who grow from practice roles as nurses or receptionists in our practices into varied roles across our business. 

GH: How would you sum up the new business? 

JR: Our purpose goes beyond fixing teeth: it’s about enabling health and happiness over lifetimes. 

Our mission is around really using our scale – embracing that, being proud of it and using it to make our commitments reality. 

We want to continue changing the way dentistry works in a way that’s positive for colleagues, clinicians and patients. And we want to preserve a sense of individuality as one of our core values. We don’t ever want to become a faceless corporate. Maintaining that sense of personability and close contact as we get bigger is really important. 

We’ve managed it so far – and I think it will keep setting us apart even as we grow in future. 


To find out more about PortmanDentex, visit the new website at portmandentex.com

This article is sponsored by PortmanDentex.



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