An interview with Richard Malouf, well-known dentist and entrepreneur
What is your background?
I was born in the Panhandle of Texas in a small town called Hereford and grew up in another small town, Friona in West Texas—a great place to live where the people were cordial and accepting. I really felt at home there.
I was the 12th of 13 children. When my family emigrated from Lebanon to America in 1959, my father was a pauper. Yet he eventually put all of us through college and professional school and even helped us start our businesses.
What made you decide to become a dentist?
Dentistry was a profession that involved creativity and innovation. I liked that idea that it involved working with your hands, working with the public and giving back to society.
In the 6th grade I did a science report on dentistry and in conjunction with that project, I did a field trip to a local dental office, which was the only one in our little town of Friona.
I visited that office a few times and became more accustomed with what was involved in the dental profession. As I went through my schooling, my interest in dentistry continued to grow. I took the opportunity to visit dental schools and to talk to people I knew who had been accepted into dental school.
I liked the respect that came along with being in dentistry. And I also saw that it was a profession that involved creativity and innovation. I liked the idea that it involved working with your hands, working with the public and giving back to society.
Where did you get your education and training?
I did my undergraduate schooling at Southwest Texas State (called Texas State now) and after two years I was accepted at all three dental schools in Texas. I decided to go to the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, which is ranked as one of the top dental schools in the nation. It was a very good place to go to school. I followed up with postgraduate work at different venues across country.
After I graduated, I still had a burning desire to have a better understanding of my profession and particularly orthodontics. I took several hundred hours of continuing education in that specialty. One orthodontic continuing education course (which I took on weekends) was nine-months long. I took that course three times because I wanted to pick up as much as I could.
I also wanted to stay on top of the most current dental technology. So I traveled around the country to learn from top dentists in their particular specialties. Among other places, I went to Cincinnati to learn about implant dentistry from a doctor who was very good in that particular discipline. I also went to Florida to learn about sinus lifts.
When did you open your first practice?
I graduated in 1990 when I was about 23 years old and did a short associateship with a large practice in Arlington. I opened my own practice not long after that.
My initial idea was that I wanted to go into a small town and have that special relationship with small-town folks. But there’s a lot of risk with opening up your own office and I was concerned about that. So the associateship in Arlington was very helpful for me as I became more comfortable and knowledgeable about setting up my own practice.
Are there any highlights or achievements as a dental professional of which you’re especially proud?
I learned that helping these people was something that was really worthwhile and something to be proud of.
In my senior year of dental school at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, I was given an award of excellence by the faculty. I’m proud of that.
An achievement of which I’m especially proud is the creation of my Mobile Dental Unit Program, which has helped thousands of people who were isolated from dental care. I had a lot of skepticism from others at first but they soon came to realize the program’s worth. I developed this program after I had expanded my practice, about 13 or 14 years after I had started.
The story goes like this: a dentist passed away who had two clinics that were not private paid or insurance-based like mine were. They were Medicaid-based. I took them both over even though the clinics were not in great shape. One had all equipment totally removed and the other had been shut down for 6 months even though it still had its equipment. I worked those two clinics after my regular office hours, often until midnight.
I quickly came to realize that I was working with an indigent population that had basic needs that were going unfulfilled and I learned that helping these people was something that was really worthwhile and honorable. So I continued to work those clinics and my practice expanded. Soon I went to three and then to four clinics and I hired associates to help render the care.
But it was obvious that access to dental care for people in that area was very limited. The resources just weren’t there. Even someone who lived as little as 30 minutes outside of town, say in Ferris or in Waxahachie or any of the small areas outside of the Metroplex, had very limited access to a dentist.
And so I developed the Mobile Dental Unit Program, We got one big RV at first which then expanded into two, then three, then four units that were retrofitted to become full dental offices.
Where did your mobile dental clinics go?
We went to schools, Boys and Girls Clubs and churches all over the state. For some people, even a 15-minute drive is a severe impediment. It’s even more remote when you get out of the suburban areas. There are no providers there. Our mobile units allowed us to provide expert dental care to needy individuals.
We ended up building between 50 and 60 offices before I sold out.
But I can tell you – and this goes back to your original question about what I’m most proud of – it’s not that I got a trophy for anything. It is knowing that I created a reputable business that did things for the betterment of others and found innovative ways to get dental service to those people. That makes me proud.
How do you define business success and when did you know that you had become a successful business professional?
Business success is not just a monetary thing. It has to do with knowing that you’re located in a place that you created and knowing that you feel like that’s where you belong.
I knew (dentistry) was what I had been put on this earth to do, aside from raising my kids and taking care of my family.
I feel like dentistry was my calling, in terms of my work experience, and I never felt like I had been better positioned throughout my entire life. I knew that’s what I had been put on this earth to do, aside from raising my kids and taking care of my family. I felt really good about that. I think that I’m no different from any other parent in that we all want our kids to have better than what we had.
And I guess I’m just thankful to know that in my business endeavors, I was in a place where I could fill a need.
Tell me more about your father, who came to the US a poor man but managed to find success here. How much of an influence was he on your life?
I saw the sacrifice and everything that my father went through to make a better life for his family. He used to have to travel from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia to work on the American pipeline. He risked his life going through border checkpoints just to go to work so he could get enough money to take care of his family.
And so because of my parents’ – and especially my father’s – influence, I always wanted to succeed and exceed expectations.
And then he had the courage to sell everything and bring his eight kids to a country where he didn’t know the language. He couldn’t read English, couldn’t write English and couldn’t drive a car. Yet he was still able to put all his kids through school.
I think that it would have been a waste or totally disrespectful for me not to do something beneficial for others when my father did all he could to put me through professional school. That just wouldn’t have been right.
Our culture in general has a really strong work ethic. And in my family, my parents never quit harping that “you have to take care of your business.” But I think with my family that our motto is “we work harder than everybody else.” And so because of my parents’ – and especially my father’s – influence, I always wanted to succeed and exceed expectations.
Have you done any other work in the community?
Basically, we wanted to lend a hand wherever and whenever we could.
A big part of our business was community outreach. A lot of times my wife would go to community events with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce or with Navidad in the Neighborhood. We were also involved with the CHIP coalition. There would be a lot of times where they would have something set up at a grocery store and we would go and help people learn about the program. We would also go into schools and give demonstrations to young students on how to take care of their teeth. We would hand out products and do free screenings and a lot of times free cleanings and so forth.
It got to a point where we probably were doing about 250 outreach-type programs. There would always be some kind of Boys and Girls Club or a church or whatever that had something going on. And eventually it became so big that we had to have a department specifically for the outreach programs.
And in our Mobile Unit Program, if the kid had nothing at all, we treated him for free. And when Hurricane Katrina came around [in 2005], we treated a lot of those displaced people for free. We were all over the place, all the time, doing different types of outreach programs.
Basically, we wanted to lend a hand wherever and whenever we could. We would even get calls from the director of Medicaid who would ask us to handle mentally or physically challenged patients or patients who needed complex procedures because nobody else would do it.
One time, Medicaid asked us to go to a school and do 700 clinical assessments on one day’s notice. We took three dentists and a whole bunch of assistants and handled the situation. To me, I think that shows how they thought of us as an organization.
What would you say is your guiding philosophy?
Maintain your own principles and moral character and make your own decisions.
Maintain your own principles and moral character and make your own decisions. Work hard, keep God first and then family next in line. And keep things simple.
I was and am always looking for more, because I’m just that kind of person. I’m always looking to exceed. I’m not one who strives to be average. I always try to push myself — especially when it comes to work.
What are your future goals?
I went through a process of building a company and learning about how to use my knowledge as a springboard to go to another level.
What I want to do now is continue to excel in business because, at heart, I am an entrepreneur.
I love to grow businesses!