January 31, 2024

Starting small delivers big pay-off

Jade Ek used the experience managing her husband’s dental practices to step out on her own. Launched in 2006, her Supreme Dental Group has been on a growth trajectory ever since.

In just 17 years, Jade Ek has gone from managing husband Lee’s dental practices to owning 24 of her own.

“Lee had a chance to buy another practice back in 2006,” she says. “When he decided against expanding his business, I bought it myself. I was 53 with three adult children, and the idea of starting a new chapter as a businesswoman was very exciting to me.”

That was the first of her Supreme Dental practices, which now extend across Melbourne’s outer suburbs and regional Victoria.

“I hadn’t planned to expand,” she says. “I started with the one practice, then bought another, and that led to another.

“I’ve acquired functioning practices, started new practices in existing buildings and literally built some practices from the ground up. In general, I look for strengths such as a good location, a good building or a good practice manager, dentists and administrative staff. But I must also be able to see room for improvement.”

Her growth trajectory has had a few bumps along the way, but each has been a learning experience.

“A few practices took longer to build and others presented more challenges,” she says. “A couple have failed – but that’s the nature of business. You take risks, learn from your mistakes and look out for the next gem.”

The importance of being hands-on

From the outset, Jade was confident she had the experience and know-how to build and run a successful dental practice.

“I’d been helping my husband manage his practices for many years – first in Kuala Lumpur then, after we’d migrated to Australia in 1980, in Dandenong, Springvale and then Glen Waverley,” she says.

Today, she describes herself as a very hands-on business owner – and jokes that some of her staff would say a little too hands-on.

“But I do think that’s been important,” she adds. “I’ve worked as receptionist, practice manager, dental assistant – and, of course, I’ve been a patient – so I’m very familiar with every aspect of the practice. When you’re running a small business, you need to be adaptable, and that means wearing many hats.”

Like any business owner, Jade has faced a number of challenges – not least the disruption caused by COVID.

“Lockdowns had a significant impact on our ability to operate, and we’ve really only just started to bounce back,” she says. “And, when COVID restrictions began, I was planning to build a brand-new surgery on a property I’d just bought – my biggest project yet. After hold-ups due to lockdowns and supplier delays it’s finally about to open, so that’s very exciting for me.”

Finding the right team of dentists, dental assistants, practice managers and receptionists remains an ongoing challenge, particularly in regional areas.

“Starting and growing a business as a solo operator can be risky, and I’ve faced too many challenges to list,” she says. “But it’s also highly rewarding – for every hurdle, there have been highlights.”

A partner in NAB

Jade has banked with NAB since she bought her first practice.

“With NAB I’ve always felt I have a trusted adviser I can turn to – someone who is in my corner,” she says. “It makes all the difference being able to call a banker who understands the unique needs of my business and can give me strategic advice and guidance to help me succeed.”

The NAB team regularly visits Jade to discuss everything from funding new projects to interest rate risk solutions.

“Jade acquires and runs her businesses in different ways, so we tailor a financial solution for each one,” says Nimish Morzariya, Jade’s NAB Health Banker. “It really helps that we have a team of specialists on hand when we need to call on more detailed advice.”

“At NAB Health, we understand the vital role dentists play in the community and the importance of getting the right support,” says NAB Health Bank Executive Louise Totaro. “Our dedicated health bankers can help with purchasing or setting up a new practice including equipment financing and cash flow management. We can also provide a range of solutions to help operate their business day-to-day, like digital banking, merchant facilities or HICAPS.”

Daring to dream

Jade says she’s “blown away” when she looks back on how the decision she made in 2006 led to where she is today.

“I’ve taken daring but calculated risks and I’ve had a great team supporting me, including NAB,” she says. “My advice to anyone wanting to grow a business is to surround yourself with people who encourage you to try new things, rein you in when they need to, and are there with a safety net in case you trip or fall.

“As for the future, I always say I won’t add any more practices – I’m too busy! But you never know. If the right opportunity presents itself, I find it hard to say no.”