DS World Interview with Erania Brackett & Andrea Frohning of Dentsply Sirona

At DS World 2023, Melissa Summerfield, Managing Director of Oral Health Group, interviewed Erania Brackett, Senior VP Ortho Aligner Solutions Customer Experience and Head of Sustainability & Andrea Frohning, Chief HR Officer.

Melissa Summerfield: One of the things I wanted to start by exploring is a little bit more about each of your roles and responsibilities within the company. Andrea, I don’t think you’ve been in your position all that long, if my understanding is correct. And Erania, I know I had the opportunity and pleasure of meeting you last year. But I’d like to start with you because I find your titles very intriguing. They’re not necessarily titles or roles that you think would necessarily go together. Do you mind if I start with you on that one?

Erania Brackett: I joined the company as a member of the management team in August 2021 and I joined as a Chief Marketing Officer. My goal and the purpose of the role was to elevate and unify the Dentsply Sirona brand. Post acquisition, we had a lot of work to do and the impact we were having in the market was diluted for a lot of reasons. So that was the charge that I was brought on to lead. Within that, I had clinical education, and I was charged with elevating education as one of Dentsply’s leading four pillars. When Simon Campion joined the company as the new CEO in September 2022, he asked me to focus on the customer experience, which was much broader than just marketing. It was that kind of full customer journey that we talked about today, a little bit earlier. What’s that customer buying process and what do they need along that full process? He asked me to take that on. He also asked me to lead ESG, which is a strong part of the customer experience as we think about the global impact of ESG. Customers want a certain package; they want to buy into products that align with their personal values. There’s a strong tie to ESG, and consumers are just so much smarter in terms of their buying and their choices. So those things, the customer experience and ESG tie well together. And then later in April, we had a Senior Vice President leave the company and he asked me to take on the global aligners business, orthodontic aligners business, and their synergies across them all. Because you’ve got to have a consumer mindset when you approach these businesses. If you think about the customer experience through to the global aligner business and we’ve got two businesses within that…one is a direct to consumer, but the other way is direct to dentists, but you’re still speaking to that end customer throughout it all. And so how these things all tie together was really the magic of why I think the roles work and it’s not like my heads on a swivel, but it’s all continuous.

Erania Brackett, DS World 2023
Erania Brackett, DS World 2023

Melissa: And Andrea, you are the Chief Human Resources Officer, which I imagine in a company the size of Dentsply Sirona is no small challenge. So, I think I started by saying you’re fairly recent to the role, so maybe tell me where you were before, how you came to be at Dentsply Sirona, and what your goals are for what you wanted to fulfill in your role there.

Andrea Frohning: Thank you. I am the newest member of the management team, so I just joined in July. So, this is a great two-month anniversary to be at DS World and experiencing this. But I feel very fortunate because in life it’s wonderful whenever your professional goals and your personal goals can actually come together. And I’ve been a Chief Human Resource Officer at other publicly traded companies in in my past, and I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work at companies like Pepsi and GE and Hubble. But I spent five years at Patterson Companies, which, as you know, is a North America distribution company for our products. I feel like I already knew Dentsply Sirona anyway. Patterson was a great experience, really wonderful people, and I enjoyed that tremendously. But I had been commuting candidly from Charlotte, Minneapolis, for the last five years, minus a year of a pandemic. I had the opportunity to join Dentsply Sirona, which is based in my town of Charlotte and it just made perfect sense because it works well with my goals of wanting to be closer to my family, of course. But probably even more importantly, I had this background of working in manufacturing settings, R&D, sales, and Dentsply Sirona is upstream in the dental industry. And so that’s really exciting for me because it helps me leverage some of the skill sets that I’ve had working in manufacturing facilities and working in the other R&D opportunities. Whereas in the distribution company, we didn’t necessarily manufacture things. So Dentsply Sirona is the perfect blend and so I’m extremely excited to be here. And yes, we have 16,000 employees across our globe. The other aspect that I personally just adore about this company is, because we are so global, our collaborative nature is just extraordinary and that feels great to be back with a company that is very global.

Melissa: I’m always interested in how people get to where they are, so maybe I can ask you to share with us, what do you think were the key factors that led you to where you are today? And whether that was a work experience, a life experience, a mentor, whatever it was.

Andrea: Well, I’ll go first and mine’s probably earlier on, even just getting into human resources. Candidly, I actually was a pre-Med student about 30 years ago. I thought that I was going to go to medical school. I had taken the MCATs, but then I started to have trepidation on whether I wanted to go to medical school. Or perhaps, go into some type of business. I started working in Cancer Research, actually back in Illinois. And it was then that I got turned onto this function at that time called personnel and dealing with turnover in the nursing practice. For me, I found my “aha moment” whenever I figured out that I love to problem solve, but I’m also a connector of people. Like I love to figure out ways to connect what’s happening with the employees – at that time, it was the hospital that I was working at – but with the business need that turnover was costing money, and so that was the pivotal point in my career of deciding to go into human resources. If I now think about those key moments over the past 26 years or so that I’ve been in human resources, I think a couple of things that have gotten me to this point are a willingness to take really tough assignments that maybe nobody wants, a willingness to relocate to take some of those tough assignments. I think I’ve worked extremely hard, but I’ve also been lucky to have been given opportunities with former bosses and mentors to allow me to get tough assignments but also perform. I’m very grateful.

Andrea Frohning, DS World 2023
Andrea Frohning, DS World 2023

Melissa: Thank you. That’s a great story. Great background. And Erania, how about you?

Erania: I would say similar to Andrea, I’ve taken a lot of assignments that people didn’t want. Just outright coached against doing certain things. I’ve known for a long time that you’ve got to be on that burning bridge. And as a leader, if you’re in a business that’s stable, you’re just doing the every day and just keeping it running. That’s not going to advance you, nor will you learn. As I think about the types of roles that I’ve taken, I wanted to grow exponentially. And that’s looking back on it, right. I didn’t think about it like that then, but I knew I wanted to grow and learn and do something different. I’ve been fortunate having a company like GE where they train you to be leaders and they train you on how to really map your career and grow your career. But I’ve always known that I needed a broad, comprehensive skill set if I wanted to be a general manager or be in different functions, different abilities. So, I went for those types of roles. I think in addition to those elements, I understood that career progression was a second job. And just doing great work was not going to get you there. Learning the art of the PIE model: performance, image, exposure. That was a big thing in GE. The ticket to play is to perform. You know, you’ve got to get in the door. And then the other pieces around the image and are you learning how to be in the corporate setting, in the environment? And then are you getting the exposure that you need? I went for all kinds of opportunities to do that. But I spent a lot of time networking and I think, just generally speaking, I’ve got this crazy energy and I always wonder how different we are. Like, to sit at these seats, you’ve got to be a bit different because it’s constant. You tend to thrive on this kind of activity and driving really broad change. So, I’ve recognized that this was what I wanted, and I made choices to ensure that I could continue doing this. I had to be very choiceful in my life and what I was going to be able to do and give outside of career.

Melissa: Obviously, you’re both very strong and successful women. Let me ask you, how do each of you define success?

Erania: So, success for me now is very different than what it was. Back what I thought it was 20 years ago is just so different. I’m at this point in my life where my family, a healthy family, and my ability to connect with them and spend enough time with them is what I’ve defined success as. I want to do well and deliver in the business world, and I thrive on getting great results, impacting patients, impacting people. I love that. But if I can do that and balance my life with the people that I love, that is success for me. And then I would say the third lever is – obviously there’s work success. Without that it’s like, well, what am I doing? That’s what I do every day and then it’s family. And then that third pillar is thinking about legacy. In the end, when we’re no longer here, what mark did we make? So, part of the reason you work hard enough, I want to do big things and kind of leave a big legacy for people coming behind me. And so that’s for me, at this age that I’m in.

Andrea: It’s tough to follow that. I do think the success for the younger version of all of us, we think it’s going to be something different. It’s easy to say that now, and I know this in my heart, success is not a business title. It has nothing to do with what’s on your business card. But for me, personally, I would define success as this feeling that I’ve accomplished something for a team, for a group of individuals, and that I can feel very proud that I was a part of that. I didn’t necessarily have to lead it all or do all of the work, but if I played some role, some part in helping something to grow and be bigger and broader. And you’re absolutely right about the legacy; to me, that’s success. So, in my younger version, I think it was more about the experiences that I was going to have in my career. Now it’s all about developing successors to move into my roles, and, in fact, when I left my last job at Patterson, I had been developing a couple of individuals, and I’m really proud to say that one of them moved into my seat. So that just made me really feel proud. And her gift to me as I joined Dentsply Sirona is she gave me a big pair of Red Wing boots and she said “your shoes” because I do have like a size 10 and a half. And she said your shoes are going to be hard to fill but thank you. But to me that gives a great, great joy. The last thing I would say about the family too. It has to be that balance. Easier said than done, but that success is about: do we feel good as a human being and serving those around us and loving the people around us and having them still respect what we do. And so that’s success.

Melissa: Great answers. So, talking about legacy and having successful careers, at this point, do you still have a goal or an objective? Maybe not necessarily in terms of a career move or a new title, but what do you still want to achieve? Erania, maybe with you it’s more on the sustainability side because I know that’s a huge passion area of yours as well.

Erania: I’d probably say there are three things. One, I want to see Dentsply Sirona become the recognized leader in clinical education. We’ve got a huge global footprint; we’ve not promoted ourselves. I mean, we’ve got great technology, right, but you don’t tend to think of us as an education leader. Because we want to marry education with the products that really help these dentists advance with confidence. And that is our brand promise and I use it intentionally because that’s the idea. It’s not just about the technology, but how do you use it to really transform your life at their lives and their practices. We’ve got to make sure that education becomes a leading thought when it comes to Dentsply Sirona. I want to see that happen. I think two is on the sustainability front. Helping dentistry become more sustainable. We have to go, we have to change because they are at the forefront of sustainability. You’ve probably seen it all over the world, right? But your products can’t ship if they’re not to code, to standard. And so making sure that Dentsply Sirona is ready for the change, and it’s a good change. We can still do well by doing good things. So I want to make sure that gets shepherded through. And I think I want to be a part of this leadership team to see the company transform and grow exponentially. It’s exciting. It’s going to be hard. But every day I wake up, my eyes pop open and go: we got things to do, let’s go get it done. That’s what I say over the next three years or so.

Melissa: So Andrea, same question to you.

Andrea: I joined Dentsply Sirona for the very reason of, I had a little bit of a window of knowing a little bit of the instability that we had had, a lot of the management changes that we had. And I think from a performance standpoint, I could see that there were some opportunities. For me, I felt like if I can have an impact in helping stabilize the company and helping marry up the culture of the company to help drive performance, I feel like that’s a skill set that I can help bring and offer to the company. So I wanted to join the company for that very reason. So for me, if I can do that over the course of the few years and bring back the sense of this pride…Of course, we have pride in our products and, of course, we have pride in being in the dental industry. But I do think that there’s this sense of stabilizing our teams, stabilizing this winning culture that’s going to feel great for all of our employees throughout the company, because I think that they deserve that. We’ve had a lot of really hardworking, dedicated employees who have stayed with us throughout a little bit of the turbulence, so that’s why I’m committed to doing this. I’m committed to driving an HR function that can better support our managers, our leaders, and, particularly, our employees, so their experience is really great. That’s really what I want to focus on.

Melissa: Super. So you both mentioned changes, transformations – that’s a word that I heard from both of you. And, certainly, Dentsply Sirona is known for innovation, for introducing a lot of new products. Perhaps I can ask you what have been the most significant changes you’ve seen? Andrea, maybe it’s unfair to ask you this, given your limited tenure at Dentsply Sirona, but you were at Patterson before. So whether those changes are within the company specifically or within just the field of dentistry generally, what are some of the most significant changes that you think you have seen?

Andrea: From from my perspective, certainly this digital world is so exciting and so cool. As we were listening and watching and hearing the live surgery today at DS World, when I could hear that drill, I was literally having some flashbacks to my own childhood experience where dentistry really was very painful. And the dentist would fill a cavity without numbing or do things that just seem so archaic now. And I’m relatively still young, so I feel that the future of dentistry is just so amazing. And I think about my own kids or their kids, what that dental experience is going to be like for them. So I think this digital piece is really pretty significant. The other thing to drill at home, no pun intended – the other thing though, just specifically to Dentsply Sirona, what I have seen is we’ve had a lot of organizational changes. So, with every leadership team that’s come in, we’ve made a few work structure changes here and there, so that is a lot of of disruption. But, candidly, I feel like we have that stabilized now and so that’s a really good thing. I guess my point there is that and of itself is just changed for the sake of change, without it even impacting the rest of the customers or patients. But that has been a ton of change just within our own organization. I think that’s stabilized now though, just for the record.

Erania: I think to Andrea’s point, we have an extremely resilient organism in spite of all of that. And it is so impressive and so humbling. People are married to this business of dentistry and I’ve never seen anything like that in my career and any of the companies I’ve worked in. The question was about the changes. One, we launched the Beyond Sustainability Strategy in 2021 at the DS world stage. We announced our partnership with Smile Train. And in just two short years, through all of that change, the company’s really over delivered. These teams take partnerships like Smile Train and turn them into what you saw today, right? There’s so much innovation and creativity that’s been bottled up that’s being unleashed right now through those types of programs, that the supply chain and improvements …we’re hitting our scope ahead of time, ahead of 2025. That’s impactful and consequential, because if you knew what was happening on the inside of the company and just how fragmented things still are as we bring everybody in…Dentsply Sirona is a merger of two companies. Those companies were kind of conglomerates of other small companies. So there’s a lot that you’ve got to do to integrate. And the fact that we can pull together and actually drive these kinds of results over the supply chain is pretty remarkable in my opinion. I think the other really big change that I’ve seen is, to Andrea’s point, on the digital dentistry side. When I joined the company, I came here because of the digital transformation. I thought I could help tell that story as the Chief Marketing Officer. And Don Casey, who was the CEO at the time, told me dentistry moves slow, right. And I was like, oh, okay. I like growth businesses. You know, I’m like, we still can get ahead of the curve, but I actually find that that’s actually not playing out. I think it’s not exactly Moores law, but we are seeing the increase in digital demonstrated adoption and in so many new ways, especially by many of our competitors. Ourselves, included. So we’re launching new software capabilities; these things will continue to evolve like the software businesses, like the Silicon Valley. So we’re going to ask for machine learning in our software so that we simplify and make dental offices more efficient and productive. So it is actually really rapidly changing. And it feels a lot more like a direct to consumer business, direct to customer business, being that dentist is that customer. They have unique needs and we’ve got to think about things much much differently than what the traditional dentistry looked like. So I think that’s the biggest shift – you’ve got to keep your head on as well. You have the right processes internally to catch all of this and make sure you’re innovating to where the market is at the time. Because if you wait, in a year, the market will be in a completely different place and it’s thrilling.

DS World 2023

Melissa: The final point I wanted to talk about is I know Dentsply Sirona has a very strong commitment to promoting female roles within dentistry. Is there a key message that you’d like to to share with either your fellow leaders or aspiring female leaders?

Erania: I think two things that I still think about that were shared with me over the course of my career is one: why not just get grounded and why not stop fighting yourself and get out of your head and recognize that you can do those things. And then I think the second one is once you decide it can be you, get a coach. Get some help.

Andrea: I think my perspective is with students coming out of dental school, primarily being women, our organization needs to reflect that. And I feel like as an organization – whether it’s the communities which we’re helping women reach their goals of owning practices or speaking engagements or it’s in house with our own employees, ensuring that they get their career opportunities – I think it’s our responsibility for those of us who have actually gotten to see sweet roles to absolutely ensure that we have the right programs, initiatives, to obviously help men and women, so it’s not one or the other because the definition of inclusiveness means that we’re going to do both. But I also want to make sure that we have really great programs in place that ensure when we do these programs or we have these initiatives, that we’re filling up the seats in a very equal way, we’re compensating in a very similar way, and promoting in a similar way. No company is perfect. We still have some work to do. But, gosh, I’m really proud of the commitment that our CEO has made in filling the roles as he selected a new management team. And there’s another female executive, our Chief Quality Officer Emily Miner, who couldn’t be here today, but we feel really great about his decisions that he’s making. And then we all have to carry that same drive and that same motivation to ensure that the seats we fill within our own teams represent the industry.

Melissa: Super! Well, thank you both so much for taking the time. Thank you for allowing us to be here and be part of an amazing event. DS World is is something that I have seen grow over the years and I know it’s a tremendous effort on the part of many people to make it the event that it is. So, congratulations on another wonderful event and it’s been a pleasure getting to spend a little bit more time with both of you. Thank you so much.

Erania: This is really wonderful. Thank you very much.

Andrea: So our pleasure. Thank you. Thank.