Center Stage – DSO Influencer, Dr. Saam Zarrabi

For the past nine years, Group Dentistry Now has been committed to the success of emerging dental groups & DSOs and the people who work for them. 

In January 2019, we began recognizing DSO influencers with our annual ‘DSO Influencers to Watch’ list. Since then, we have pivoted from an annual list to a regular featured article, Center Stage, which highlights an individual DSO influencer. 

Who is a DSO influencer? Someone who impacts and influences not just their dental group, but the DSO industry at large. With well-honed leadership skills, they inspire positivity, exhibit vision, and display entrepreneurial energy. Outside-the-box thinkers, they have extraordinary business acumen and philanthropic interest.  

Dr. Saam Zarrabi (Dr. Z) co-founded Rodeo Dental (a multidisciplinary large group practice) and has been a leader of team culture since its inception. As CEO, Dr. Z has guided the pediatric-friendly brand through significant expansion. With Rodeo, he has engineered the successful launch of more than 40 large group dental practice locations.

He is involved with multiple professional organizations, including the CAMBRA Coalition, Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and the Crown Council which recently named Dr. Zarrabi to their Inaugural class in the Dental Hall of Fame. As the youngest nominee, the Hall of Fame recognizes members for their advancements in the various areas of education, clinical care, patient service, practice management, materials development, as well as other areas that improve the delivery of care and the ultimate health and wellness of patients.

Dr. Z was named an Entrepreneur of Excellence WINNER in 2019 by Fort Worth INC magazine & for the past 5 consecutive years, Rodeo Dental has been named “Top Dentists” by Fort Worth Magazine, as well as “Best Dentists” by D Magazine. Rodeo was also a “Best Companies to Work For” finalist in 2016 and 2017 (Fort Worth INC.). In addition to all the awards, Rodeo Dental has more than 50,000 five-star reviews on Google and Facebook! In 2021, Rodeo Dental has been named “Best for the World” as a Certified B-Corp for its mission-driven purpose and positive company culture. Certified B Corporations meet the highest standards of verified social and environment performance, transparency, and accountability.

With a personal commitment to improving oral health and the lives of young leaders, Dr. Zarrabi’s charitable concerns are evidenced through his work with The LEAP Foundation and Dentists Who Care. His philanthropic involvement has led to multiple recognitions from the Texas State House of Representatives as well as the Texas State Senate and in 2018 he was Knighted by the Royal Order of Constantine! This commitment to giving back is encouraged throughout his professional and personal relationships.

GDN: What is your background? How did you get into the dental space and what did you do before you entered it?

Dr. Z: From a young age, I had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time in my stepdad’s dental office. I would help around the dental practice, clean his office, help with bookkeeping, manage supplies, and even had a chance to do some dental assisting as I got older. Throughout my life, I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, with a penchant for getting things off the ground. While attending UCLA and around the dot com bubble, I started an internet company that would use the concert music business as a way to promote the website.  I seriously considered a long-term career in large festival concert production.

With the guidance of some great mentors, I guess you could say better sense took over, and I followed a dental career path upon graduating. I often dip into my background and appreciation for entertainment to foster an upbeat and high-energy dental practice today.

GDN: What prompted you to enter the dental support market?

Dr. Z: My first job out of dental school was a horrible experience. Everyone was unhappy from the staff to the patients and the doctors. I left that bad experience resigned to wanting to find a way to provide a better experience to patients, irrespective of their socioeconomic status. We envisioned building a beautiful practice with high-end equipment, which offered patients the convenience of having all specialties under one roof, regardless of their income. Many of us founders shared a long family tradition in dentistry, so we wanted to carry that tradition forward while understanding the changing environment of the DSO space and paving the way for a differentiated model in dentistry.

Inspired by the old stockyards in Fort Worth, where the famous rodeo is, the first practice opened. The patients loved it, and word spread. The Rodeo practice became so successful that we proudly improved the standard care and experience that was expected in the community.  Next, we started organically growing in Fort Worth, then down into south Texas, and eventually throughout all of Texas. After reaching 21 locations across the state, In May 2019, we partnered with the Bain Capital Double Impact team. We aligned with the Double Impact team because we felt like we had found the right partner that could help us scale while allowing us to remain committed to our mission & core values.

GDN: What is your biggest challenge and how do you tackle that challenge?

Dr. Z: The biggest challenge in today’s environment is the tension in increased costs in all areas of the business including labor, supplies, and capEx, coupled with set fees that are limited by the insurance payors. This tension leads to decreased access to care as we experience staffing shortages, doctor shortages, and limited ability to serve patients under normal circumstances. In an environment like this, finding the best talent who fits well with the culture is a constant challenge.

GDN: Who are some leaders that you look up to (past or present) and why? What book has provided you the most inspiration?

Dr. Z: Leaders who have affected my personal and professional growth would be Dr. Art Dugoni, Dr. Bill Dorfman, Dr. Craig Abramowitz and Dr. Sulman Ahmed. Each of these have poured wisdom and knowledge into me and for that I am forever grateful. The sensibilities to the plight of the underserved and underprivileged was imparted to me from these doctors, as well as the attention to detail and aesthetics in the craft of dentistry. Mostly, however, it’s their characters to which I aspire – to have integrity and concern for others.

Books I love- The Lean Dentist, by Sami Bahri and The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company have both inspired me in different ways. Dr. Bahri illustrates in a straightforward manner how personal and organizational transformation that is based in lean problem solving is so effective. The New Gold Standard is a discussion around five principles that the Ritz Carlton employees follow to create a “wow” experience for their customers. As medical professionals it is important to remember that we are in the business of building outstanding patient relationships and experiences.

GDN: What advice would you give a new dentist? An emerging DSO?

Dr. Z: Find and create an ongoing relationship with a great mentor, or mentors. Be coachable – listen to the wisdom others have to offer. Be open to new ideas and changing your thoughts and beliefs – especially those that don’t work for you. Approach life with the attitude that you are always learning, and in truth, there is always something new to learn. As an emerging DSO I would recommend finding a great master-mind group and mentor.

GDN: What do you think the next five years looks like for the DSO industry?

Dr. Z: This is a great time for dentistry! We are at the beginning of new frontiers with AI and technological innovation. New elevated standards of care will incorporate oral systemic connections with innovations in digital workflow and multidisciplinary care. There will be boundless opportunities for the DSO industry, with economies of scale mandating better efficiency and group dynamics for optimal service. All of this will ultimately improve quality outcomes for the patients which are really exciting!

GDN: Any personal info you’d like to share

Dr. Z: I’ve always had a positive outlook on life and dentistry as a whole. The experiences I’ve been afforded have been personally and professionally fulfilling beyond my dreams. As healthcare professionals, we must maintain a consciousness of why we serve our communities first and work together no matter what side of the fence we are on.

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