This is the story of Dr. Luciana Petto Messina, a Brazilian dentist who made her way to America, and into my heart.
This is the story of my wife, Dr. Luciana Petto Messina, (Lu) who I met in 1999 at a business conference, and who later would become my wife, the mother of my son, and the proud owner of Songbird Dental, a dental practice in the town of Shrewsbury, MA.
Scottsdale Princess Resort 1999
Lu and I met while both attending an educational conference for dentists at the Scottsdale Princess Resort in Arizona.
My wife, Lu, a dentist in Brazil at the time, was visiting an American dentist who happened to also be in attendance at the conference. We met briefly at the conference and later connected on what would become the beginning of the rest of our lives together.
Over the few months after our initial meeting, Lu came to visit me in Boston before going back to Brazil.
The Brazil Years
We had a great time together during Lu’s brief time in America. It was obvious to each of us that we both wanted to pursue the relationship, even if it meant my traveling back and forth to Brazil.
So, for about 3 years, I did just that. About every 3 months or so, I went to Brazil to see Lu.
Coming to America
I would say it is safe to say that Lu and I fell in love with each other, and wanted to take our relationship to the next level. That meant that Lu would have to come to the United States. So, we arranged it by having Lu work for an American company who sponsored her on a work visa.
This way we could see each other more often and see if what we had together had the makings of a long-term relationship.
Lu is a dentist and a very good one at that. She was not at all happy with her job at an American company that sold dental implants. She wanted to be a dentist.
She did not want to be a product manager and have to deal with all the crap that typically comes with the job.
So, we investigated the potential of Lu becoming a dentist in America.
Dental School for Foreign Dentists
You likely have no clue, because I had no clue, that in order for a foreign dentist to become an American dentist, they have to apply for, get into and graduate from and American dental program.
What does that entail?
- First she has to pass the dental boards with a high enough score to get accepted into one of several programs offered throughout the U.S.
- Then she has to apply for and get accepted to the school of choice.
- Then she has to study like a maniac as the programs are accelerated and squeezed into a less than 3 year time period.
I was actually amazed at how hard it was to actually get into the school, mainly due to the need for her to pass the boards that American students have to pass AFTER school.
And, Lu had to pass with flying colors.
She did what she had to do. Got into school. Got out of school. And became a dentist in America. Now she needed a job.
Lu graduated at the top of her class with a 4.0 GPA. From school, she applied for and accepted an associateships at two different practices.
One of the practices was not very fun to work for, so, using some of my connections in the dental industry, I got her an interview with Dr. Todd Pizzi at Modern Dentistry of Shrewsbury.
Modern Dentistry of Shrewsbury
Lu maintained one of her original associate positions and began working at Modern Dentistry of Shrewsbury, and as an associate of Dr Todd Pizzi.
It was an awesome opportunity for Lu. Dr Todd Pizzi was an advanced cosmetic dentist who ran a very nice practice with an unbelievably awesome staff in the heart of Shrewsbury, MA.
At the time our mindset was that she would work there, and as that practice grew, she would transition to Modern Dentistry of Shrewsbury full time.
3 Years Later
3 Years went by.
My company was not what I expected it to be and Lu was not feeling good about her role at Modern Dentistry of Shrewsbury. She loved the staff, loved the patients, loved the location, but just wasn’t feeling good about the overall experience.
Dr Todd Pizzi was a young doctor leaving us with no hope that his practice would be available for sale anytime soon. We also, for a variety of reasons, were starting to see that Modern Dentistry of Shrewsbury didn’t really have a place in our long-term future, mainly because we didn’t think Dr Pizzi would be willing to allow us to buy into his practice as part owners.
Even if he was willing, we really became determined to own our own practice outright, so we could run the practice the way we wanted, on our own terms and with our own philosophy.
Practice Available for Sale
About 2 years ago, and while still working hard at Modern Dentistry of Shrewsbury, we started to consider the opportunity to own a practice of our own, and connected with several brokers about available practices in the area. We didn’t really want to start from scratch for obvious reasons.
Again, we could have approached Dr Todd Pizzi about a partnership, but we really just wanted to be the captains of our own ship. You can understand, right? Unfortunately, what we didn’t expect was, there were very few practices available for sale in our area.
Without going into a bunch of detail, practices that are up for sale often sell before they go to market, leaving people like us wondering how we were going to make this dream a reality.
End of 2015/Beginning of 2016
Things outside of our control made it readily apparent that two things needed to happen, and fast.
- I was going to go back to work as a software sales rep
- Lu was going to find a practice to buy, and fast
We just didn’t have a lot of options, and things were not looking up as it pertained to both of our professional experiences.
Dr Todd Pizzi is Moving to San Diego
As things were starting to look up, they immediately started to look down again. We just didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.
And then, almost like a gift from the Universe, Dr Todd Pizzi, for a variety of reasons, informed my wife that he was selling his practice and moving to San Diego.
Could this be true? Could we have found the answer we had been searching for for almost 2 years? Would we finally get to own our own practice, and one that we were both familiar with?
Out of Our Price Range
The answer is, no.
Very soon after we celebrated the chance to own a beautiful practice in Shrewsbury, Modern Dentistry of Shrewsbury, it became obvious to us that it was a bit out of our price range.
We felt just awful.
Here we are, looking for a practice and here this is, a practice we know up for sale. Yet, we could not make the purchase.
Modern Dentistry of Shrewsbury was so successful, and so big, that it was not a practice that we had the funds to procure.
We were devastated.
Plan B Becomes Plan A
You know as they say about the silver lining, or is it lemons to lemonade? Either way, one day, while in the midst of all this last minute dealing, I had a vision.
OK, it wasn’t really a vision. It was an epiphany.
It all centered around the notion that Lu had no contractual restriction to speak of with regards to Modern Dentistry of Shrewsbury. Meaning, she had never had an executed non-compete contract in place.
This is relevant for two reasons:
- If she couldn’t buy a practice in Shrewsbury, MA she could certainly start a practice in Shrewsbuy, MA
- Between her and I, we have such a strong presence in the area, that she would not actually be starting from scratch!
This was a big epiphany to have because it lifted our spirits considerably knowing that we would be able to continue to serve the area we both have come to love quite a bit.
It also made me, a CPA, feel very good, because if we did things properly, and quickly, we could have a thriving practice up and running for a fraction of what it would have cost us to purchase ANY practice, including but not limited to Modern Dentistry of Shrewsbury.
555 Main Street, Shrewsbury, MA
So, it sort of became obvious that we were not going to be able to afford Modern Dentistry of Shrewsbury, and that Plan B become Plan A. However, Plan B, even if it was Plan A, to be successful, needed a location.
Spirits go up, and then they go down almost as quickly.
I drove around town for two weeks trying to find a location, to no avail. I couldn’t even find a scrap of land to build an office on. Seriously, it was not looking good.
Then, much like the gift we thought was from the Universe previously, the Universe really came through and presented us with an office at 555 Main Street in Shrewsbury, MA.
Here are some fun facts to consider.
- For this to work, Lu’s new office needed to be in Shrewsbury. 555 Main St is, well, on Main Street!
- The building owner was actually, to our surprise, looking for a dental practice owner to open up shop in a sweet that was, get this, already built. Yes! Indeed. The space we will call home was already built. All we had to do was retrofit it for a dental practice. Do you have any idea how much that saved us? Lots!
- 555 Main Street is a beautiful building in the center of town with 3 huge parking lots. To say this is the perfect location for a dental practice is an understatement. It is spectacular.
So, in about 6 weeks, I kicked it into high gear and negotiated the lease, the equipment deal, the bank note and anything else I needed to get the project kicked off in early July. (Note that today is the day the contractors broke walls)
In any business transition, workers of the business being sold feel little loyalty to the new owner. It just happens. No one is to blame. It is what it is.
And so, while Lu and I were executing our plan, we got a few calls from some folks over at Modern Dentistry of Shrewsbury who wanted to know what my wife’s plans were.
What a surprise for us to receive such calls because anyone who has started a dental practice knows, hiring is a big fat pain in the but. We were so lucky that the these folks agreed to join our team, and did so before we even opened.
Can’t tell you how happy we were to see the support from these two ladies, and their willingness to help us get Songbird off the ground.
These two are not just seasoned professionals, they are the best around. They know how to treat patients, work as a team and run a finely tuned dental practice. As a new practice owner, my wife, and the patients she will serve, cannot be luckier.
Leaving Modern Dentistry of Shrewsbury
Lu loves her patients. She was very anxious about all of this because she hadn’t yet had a chance to speak with the new owner of Modern Dentistry of Shrewsbury, and was unsure of her immediate plan to leave the practice.
As you know, and as I was advised to see, often, the big decisions are made for us.
One Sunday evening, Lu received a very pleasant email from the new owner of Modern Dentistry of Shrewsbury expressing his desire to meet with Lu and how excited he was to sit down with her and discuss her future.
Unfortunately, in order to meet with the doctor, and continue her work at Modern Dentistry, Lu would need to sign a non-compete.
Well, a non-compete for Lu was not in the cards given all that had transpired, including but not limited to her clear communication to Dr Todd Pizzi, prior to the sale of the practice, that she likely would not be making a long-term commitment to Modern Dentistry of Shrewsbury. Neither Lu or I knew what our future would hold, so we just couln’t make any contractual comittements.
You understand, right?
It broke Lu’s heart to have to leave so suddenly as she wanted the chance to transition her patients to the new doctor and alleviate any concerns they might have had.
The last thing she wanted to do was leave on a moments notice, but, her future, and the future of her family, as well as her future ability to continue to serve her patients in Shrewsbury, MA were all at stake.
So, with some regret, but with an optimistic eye on the future, Lu sent in her resignation and wished the new owner of Modern Dentistry of Shrewsbury well.
The good news is, she now had the time needed to move the Songbird project along to, with any luck, meet the objective of opening the doors in August of 2016.
This story is just the beginning of the entire story, as Songbird Dental will have, hopefully, a long run serving the needs of the folks in Shrewsbury, MA. We are excited to have Marie and Kim join us, and hopefully, with a little luck, a little elbow grease and a lot of word-of-mouth marketing, we are able to grow, expand and continue to bring the finest dental care the people of Shrewsbury have come to expect from Dr Luciana Messina…and team.
This is my wife. She is the love of my life, the mother of my wonderful son and the best dentist in the world.
She is beautiful, talented and has more integrity in her little finger than just about anyone I have ever met.
She is a world class dentist who will continue to develop her skills so that she can better serve you.
We are both excited and scared as starting a new business of any kind comes with some risk, some unknowns and some challenges to overcome.
We are ready to meet whatever we need to meet head on, with our team of superb dental professionals, and start the next chapter of our lives together.
The Songbird Dental Chapter.
Who is with us?