October 2004

Joe Michael -
Dental Health for All is His Goal

by Joseph RADDER

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Joseph P. Michael is the founder and president of The Dental Shop, an umbrella company for Dental Pay, Dental Pay Direct, and Dental Pay Plus. These companies provide self-funding of dental insurance for larger companies, insurance products for smaller companies with 150 or fewer employees. There's the membership program, Dental Pay Direct, which is national and has 22,000 dentists enrolled. Dental Pay and Dental Pay Plus are insurance programs while Dental Pay Direct is really a discount program. Michael compared Dental Pay Direct to BJ wholesale, where the member pays an annual fee in return for a discount on each dental visit or procedure. This is primarily for people who can't get dental insurance, for example retirees. "This is actually a very fast-growing part of our business," Michael said. "We actually get more people calling us from Florida about this than we do from our own backyard here in western New York."

The company has really had fabulous growth in the seven years since its inception in 1997. Sitting behind his desk in luxurious offices at One Corporate Parkway, Michael looks like the classic successful young executive that he is.

We were curious about this great success in such a short time. Joe Michael told us "I got into the insurance business in 1977 with Mike Flynn and Bill Cochrane. I learned from Mike and Bill about the business, specifically the benefits part. They really trained me well, teaching me good work habits along the way. About 1983, I felt comfortable enough to start my own company in benefits administration. Over the course of six years, we got into pension administration and health administration."During this development of his business, Joe became a district manager for Mass Mutual Insurance Company. "Then, in 1994, I bought a company called Dental Pay." He sold off all his other companies and "bet the farm on this one." Clearly, Michael is a true risk-taker. He says, "My wife looks at me and just shakes her head."

In time it was clear that to be successful in dental insurance, "you really have to specialize in it, keeping costs lower than your competitors, and offer superior service.

The Dental Shop does a lot of work outside the local area, in Long Island and Baltimore, for example, and, of course, Florida."

Joe Michael wasn't always in insurance. He taught business subjects for six years at Riverside High School and was Chairman of the Business Department until he left to join Cochrane-Flynn in 1976.

His education qualifies him well, not only as a teacher, but as the president of a growing business. Joe graduated from Canisius High School in 1964 and then attended the University of Dayton for two years, transferring to the University of Buffalo where he earned a BS degree in Business Administration and Education. He went on to earn an MBA in 1976 from Canisius College.

Over the years he has been very active in community service, but business pressures have dictated a reduction in this work. He is still active as a member of the Board of Transitional Services, an organization that provides residences for developmentally disabled people. He is also chairman of the advisory committee to author Father John Sturm, "the Downtown Priest".

In the past he earned a Distinguished Service Award from the Riverside Jaycees, was President of the Riverside Athletic Club, was honored as the Man of the Year in 1974 by the Riverside Kiwanis Club, was named outstanding Key Club Advisor by the Buffalo District Kiwanis Club, and received the William O. Hamilton Award as the Outstanding Key Club Advisor in New York State.

Joseph P. Michael was born on June 29, 1946 in Buffalo. His parents, Gabriel Michael, and his mother, Matilda Salim Michael are both deceased. He has a younger brother, Larry, who is Assistant Dean of the School of Business at the State University at Buffalo.

Joe Michael and Anne Schneider were married on July 8, 1972. They have two children, Katie, a graduate of John Carroll University, and presently a college counselor at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland. She is married and has one son. Gabe is graduating from Xavier University and spent the last year as a student assistant on the Xavier basketball staff. Joe and Anne have one grandson who Joe calls "Nate the Great." Very much the family man, Joe says, "I always put family first, business second, and community third."

When you talk to Joe Michael, the conversation always comes back to family. "My dad had a deli," he said, "and he would always give me work. But he didn't pay by the hour, he paid by the task. What I really learned from that was don't waste time, no matter what you're doing."

"People kid me about my work ethic," he says. "I have a faucet in my head. When I turn it on, I'm at work. When the work is done, I turn it off, and then I can enjoy a game of golf, watching the Bills, or whatever."

In addition to work at the deli, a summer at Bethlehem Steel helped form Joe Michael's work ethic. Actually, he was reprimanded by his boss for working too hard! That says something about the attitudes of some workers in those days, and perhaps helps explain the reason why American steel companies couldn't match foreign competition.

As we listened to Joe Michael's story, we couldn't help but think that here is another successful Buffalo/Niagara entrepreneur that you never hear much about. The same is true of his companies. People lament the loss of manufacturing companies in this area, but too many don't know about the successful service companies that bring important dollars into western New York….companies like Joe Michael's Dental Shop.

Joseph H. Radder, a frequent contributor to Living Prime Time, is author of a new book, Young Jesus, the Missing Years. For more information, phone 1-888-280-7715 or visit www.istbooks.com


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