Brent Williams, CEO, Dental Select
by Shannon Judge
With a short-lived cattle ranching career and some accounting experience under his belt, Brent Williams moved to Utah from Alberta, Canada, at age 25 with a van full of belongings, $2,000 in his pocket and a desire to start his own company. Though he didn’t have much more of a plan than that at the time, he quickly developed a vision that he has adhered to for 21 years, culminating in the development and growth of Dental Select, now the largest dental benefits company in Utah.
Williams decided to enter the insurance industry because he says it is largely free of three issues that can disrupt cash flow and success: accounts receivable problems, inventory challenges and residual revenue issues. “Accounting taught me the language of business, and gave me the tools that I brought to Dental Select,” says Williams, who also credits his entrepreneurial experience as a cattle rancher with teaching him to work hard.
“I had no business starting a cattle business,” he says. With a stepfather to teach him the ropes, Williams learned the trade and borrowed $20,000 from a cattle cooperative for his own herd when he was merely 17 years old. He fed them all winter and worked harder than he ever had. At the end of the season when he broke even after the cows were sold, Williams realized it was time for a readjustment. “I was young and didn’t really know much about money, and I learned quickly that making money is much better,” he says. “It’s a simple statement, but it’s true; that’s when I turned to accounting.”
Dental Select was founded in 1989 in a small apartment in Salt Lake City. “One of the keys to my success was that I didn’t know anything about insurance when I started the company,” observes Williams. “This made us completely market-driven, and we went out and asked dentists, employers and insurance agents what they wanted.” As a result, the Dental Select team created some innovative plans, some of which Williams says have been adopted by copycats across the country. In addition, he carefully hand-selected a team that is largely devoid of insurance backgrounds. “I didn’t want any preconceived notions,” he points out. “It had to be about providing solutions more than insurance.”
Currently providing benefits to over 6,000 companies, Dental Select has seen slow yet sustained growth, and has yet to experience a down quarter. By focusing on regional opportunities, the company has successfully expanded into eight states and hopes to build a presence in four more in the future.
With this growth, an increasing interest in giving back to the community has taken root, and Dental Select now spearheads Sealants for Smiles, a program that offers no-cost dental care, education and application of two sealants by the sixth grade to underprivileged children in four of Utah’s largest school districts. The program has a 97.7 percent success rate of keeping sealed teeth cavity-free, compared to an 80 percent rate among insured children in higher income households.
Williams finds Utah’s business climate conducive to growth and empowering entrepreneurs. “We’re centralized here, all of our administration is done here and our growth will be here,” he says. “They’re not all bad stories out there right now, and I think Utah is great for the entrepreneur.”