Dan Burke Leverages Passion to Grow the Mission

Dan Burke and Pacific Dental Services enable clinicians to deliver holistic, modern dental care to their patients

The difference between a company and a community,” Dan Burke illustrates, “is passion for the mission.”

Burke, senior vice president of platform strategy and general counsel at Pacific Dental Services (PDS), aligns his personal and professional goals with the goals of the company. It happens naturally, he believes; they’re one in the same.

Burke is a key right hand for Stephen E. Thorne, IV, the CEO and founder of PDS, a leading dental support organization established in 1994 and headquartered in Irvine, California. PDS’ primary purpose is to help dentists make their patients healthier and happier by providing business and administrative support to over 740 dental practices throughout 21 states. The company is experiencing phenomenal growth, adding nearly ninety new practices in 2019 alone with even more slated for 2020.

Dan Burke, Pacific Dental Services

Despite their rapid growth, Thorne, Burke, and the PDS team remain laser-focused. “When we partnered with our first owner dentist to open the first supported dental practice in Costa Mesa, California, little did we know then we’d grow to support more than 740 offices,” Thorne says. “While we are national in scope, our business remains locally focused. We remain committed to each one of our supported clinicians and their individual dental practices so they can continue to create healthier, happier patients—one patient at a time.”

Piloted by a committed leadership team at their headquarters, as well as best-in-class regionally-based operations leaders, the PDS collective shines a light on community power and collaborative strength. For Burke, PDS’ passion for the mission fuels his integrative approach to leadership, encourages rapid company growth, and positively reflects itself in the patient experience. In fact, Burke has only worked for organizations that had a higher ambition than simply making a profit. And PDS certainly embraces this socially dynamic motif.At PDS, leaders wear many hats. As Burke puts it, “We are all expected to bring our whole selves to work. Job titles are not important. We work together across traditional corporate boundaries.” In addition to enterprise strategy and legal functions at PDS, Burke works with the innovation group, IT and digital transformation teams, and revenue operations. Burke, who has been recognized as one of the “Top 10 Innovative In-House Lawyers” in the state of California by The Daily Journal and “General Counsel of the Year” by the Orange County Business Journal, advises that one must live within and embrace the business at hand.

Wearing more hats than simply the legal hat has not only been part of his professional journey but it has granted him the ability to understand how the company functions with a wider depth of field. This approach has engaged Burke, in alignment with Thorne, and his multifaceted legal team of lawyers, legal administrators, paralegals, and staff. Wearing many hats has empowered him to advocate for the business as a whole.

“I think we’re one of those special companies,” Burke says. “I think people will talk about PDS and compare us to other iconic companies that experienced dramatic growth while solving important problems. They’ll say, ‘Wow, you were with Pacific Dental Services during that special time when they became a company that actually contributed to the overall improved oral healthcare of America.’ And I think that’s pretty remarkable.”

The company’s recent and rapid expansions have the advantage of a number of dynamic shifts in oral healthcare, including consolidation, advances in medical science, and the digital revolution. At present, the dental delivery model in the United States is consolidating. The dominant track has traditionally stemmed from the solo practicing dentist, unaffiliated and unconnected from others in the profession and industry. Contrarily, larger groups like PDS have the buying power and the resources to enable dentists to own their individual practices but also avail themselves of the advantages of size and scale.

As for the legal team, Burke dubs growth as “our bread and butter.” Energizing the de novo growth business strategy engenders an unusual legal question: how do you scale trust? “It’s their clinical practice and their name on the door,” Burke states. “The owner dentists need to trust us on a very personal level.” Through operational excellence, leveraging the best technology, and consistently delivering on its promises, PDS has ultimately gained the trust of hundreds of practices nationwide.

Not coincidentally, company growth runs parallel to the growing scientific body of evidence around the critical link between oral health and overall systemic health. The science of systemic health is ultimately a disruptive force on the market. He says, “We believe that the companies that embrace these disruptions as opportunities can have really significant competitive advantages as opposed to those that view those as threats.”

Recent studies have demonstrated that oral health conditions are indicative of systemic health conditions. PDS has actively involved itself with this discovery by coining this anatomical relationship, “The Mouth-Body Connection.” Research shows that harmful bacteria and inflammation in the mouth can indicate and even cause systemic conditions throughout the body. Maladies of the mouth, including periodontal disease, may be linked with other medical conditions including oral cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and more.

As dentists and doctors work together to further explore this connection, Burke’s strategy, IT, and legal teams examine possible structures that will enable patients to enjoy a systemic health system while protecting their information and privacy along the way. Playing this small but mighty role in the country’s overall healthcare system is one of the more rewarding aspects of Burke’s job.

“The current healthcare delivery system is artificially separated into silos, where a patient is forced to almost rip their body parts into pieces,” Burke explains. In other words, each part of the body—from the eyes, to the mouth, to the mind—involves its own doctor, a separate clinic, and a different insurance company. Burke and his team believe that current technology will lead to “a health system of one,” where the quantification of self will allow for patients to be guardians of their own data.

“The difference between a company and a community is passion for the mission.”

By refashioning the oral healthcare system around the patient, PDS is concerned with making health decisions easier for the individual and has the wherewithal and legal framework to technologically elevate the dental practices it serves and digitally empower their patients. PDS has been experimenting with cohabitating medical and dental clinics. So far, this clinical collaboration between doctors and dentists was welcomed by patients, who value having different clinical actors collaborating around their individual health system.

As Burke looks to the future, he gets excited about the continued pace of growth. “Our goals are extraordinary,” he reflects. “We believe in the opportunity ahead of us in such that if we don’t achieve the extraordinary, we will have missed, and quite frankly will have failed.”

Keith Carroll, attorney at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo PC, says, “For as long as I’ve known Dan, he has always been a thoughtful leader. He never tries to be the loudest voice in the room, though he always seems to have the right answer and it usually falls in line with a plan he already mapped out in his head.  I saw this happen in law school, and it continues today with the business deals Mintz has helped PDS complete. He has an innate ability to see a problem from different perspectives, and then apply that vision to craft the best solution for all stakeholders.”

Burke’s passion for the mission will certainly win his team continued triumphs. He says, “This is who we are and what we want to do.”