Hands-On Leadership: Meet DenMat COO Robert Cartagena
Robert Cartagena, Chief Operating Officer (COO), brings to DenMat more than 25 years of experience in the dental industry. In his role of COO, he works to improve organizational efficiency and functionality; oversees business acquisitions; and provides invaluable insight into general operations to the senior management team at DenMat. That said, if you ask him how he views his role at DenMat, he’ll simply respond with “My job is to make sure we make the best products possible and deliver them to our customers with the best possible service.”
Known to colleagues as “Bobby”, his first industry job was for a Los Angeles-based startup as a dental sales representative in 1993. That startup, Discus Dental, became hugely successful and Bobby’s career advanced just as fast as the company’s growth. He was promoted from a sales representative to a marketing manager, then director, vice president and eventually COO in 2008. In 2010, Discus Dental was sold to Philips Electronics—a deal he helped facilitate.
Ready for a new challenge—and with nearly 20 years of experience under his belt—Bobby and two industry veterans, teamed up in 2011 to create and launch Mill Street Partners, Inc., an investment strategy development firm focused on medical devices. This newly formed company aimed to identify acquisition opportunities in the dental space, including DenMat. Together with a well-known, middle market private equity firm, Mill Street Partners formally acquired DenMat in November of that year, and Bobby assumed the responsibilities of COO.
“DenMat was an attractive company because it provided a solid base with great growth potential. And because it had been a direct competitor of Discus, I knew DenMat and its products well,” Bobby shares. But he soon learned the company had even more hidden gems of possibility.
“DenMat is unique because A) it has a dental laboratory, that is capable of fabricating crowns, bridges, Lumineers®, Snap-On Smile®, etc., and B) it offers both small equipment and restorative products,” Bobby says. “Great lab + great products = great potential.”
Reflecting on DenMat’s history, Bobby shares that DenMat’s first 25 years were all about high-quality dental materials. The focus then shifted to over-the-counter oral hygiene products, such as its proprietary Rembrandt toothpaste (this whitening paste was so popular, it grew to a $50 million retail brand and was ultimately sold to Gillette in 2002). From 2002 to 2008, DenMat shifted its focus to Lumineers, but interest in cosmetic dentistry waned during the recession that hit the U.S. economy in 2008. In 2012, under the guidance of Bobby, the company went back to marketing its time-tested and true products and combined those marketing efforts with a focus on several newly acquired products, specifically in the impressions, lasers, and oral hygiene categories. But he always anticipated that the dental laboratory would play a greater role in the company’s future.
“I see the focus turning to the dental laboratory, and it playing a much greater role within the organization,” Bobby says. “And the timing is right; we’ve worked tirelessly to improve our laboratory offerings, so today, it’s a well-oiled machine.”
Bobby’s current tasks include introducing new operational concepts and technologies within DenMat, in order to improve efficiencies and customer service. Product development projects are also a priority, including testing of new technologies—specifically bioactive materials. “Bioactive materials have been in the works at DenMat for a couple years,” Bobby shares. “We are exploring such materials that integrate better with tooth structure in an effort to provide dentists with the best materials possible.”
While Bobby has brought his business smarts to DenMat, what is more important is his passion for doing so. “I personally enjoy playing a role in providing dentists with the opportunity to transform lives,” he states. “I know it sounds cliché, but it’s the truth. I take great pride in positioning DenMat to ensure it does its part to make dentists look like heroes in the eyes of their patients.”
The importance of this is further underscored with new trends, both emerging and on the horizon. “The dental office is quickly becoming a wellness center that extends beyond the health of the tooth/soft tissue. With things like salivary diagnostics, it’s becoming a place where patients can get information that pertains to their overall health and well-being,” Bobby cites. This is due to the frequency at which patients see their dentists compared to medical health professionals. For this reason, DenMat acknowledges the invaluable role of dental hygienists in the dental practice and the importance of procuring hygiene-focused products for this customer base.
Trusted to make many important decisions for DenMat, Bobby says staffing is his most important challenge. “The best ideas come through collaboration amongst our team,” Bobby admits. “I can’t tell you how many great ideas have come about through team discussions or during creative meetings.” For this reason, employing the right people for the job is paramount to the company’s ongoing success.
Whatever the situation may be, Bobby has demonstrated that being part of the leadership team at a successful company can be done with heart and compassion. He is committed to ensuring DenMat anticipates and meets industry standards and market demands while also leading the charge on product innovation.