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They say a goldfish will grow commensurate to the size of its fish bowl; if you want it to get bigger, then give it more space. So after Christian Saurman joined his father's orthodontic laboratory—then with 12 employees—he told him, "Dad, all you've got to do is give me a bigger fishbowl. I just need room to grow."
Eleven years later, the lab employs 35 people and, in 2009 moved into a new 7,000-sq-ft fishbowl...er laboratory.
"From the time I was bagging plaster at six years old, I knew I wanted to work with my father," says Christian, who earned a degree in computer information systems and marketing before joining the lab in 2001. However, Christian didn't just jump in at the top; his father, Bill, employed the strategy of the United Parcel Service—which makes executives work their way through the ranks—and started Christian in the trenches, cleaning the lab and answering telephones.
Although Christian spent time in every department and knows how to fabricate an appliance, he's not a technician. "My father is an extremely quality-oriented technician and he admits his bench work consumes him; he has never had time to grow the business," says Christian. "So he said to me, 'if this business is going to truly take off, you can't be a bench technician. I want you to learn how to do it, but I don't want you to have to do it."
That left Christian in a good position when—four years after he joined the business—the laboratory manager decided to leave the field. "My father looked at me and said, 'What do you think? Are you ready to take over?'" says Christian. He jumped at the chance.
Christian started implementing changes—from as small as where they bought supplies to larger ones like broadening marketing and customer service strategies. "At the time, I didn't have a family so I happily put in tons of hours, working until 10:00 or 11:00 every night," says Christian. "Our employees used to joke that I slept here; but I think it went a long way towards earning their respect. I wasn't just the owner's son who got everything handed to him."
More recent changes include implementing digital technologies; for example, during the first quarter of next year, New England Orthodontic will be one of the handful of laboratories printing digital study models onsite. And that fishbowl? It's getting too small again...plans are already in the works for an addition to the laboratory facility.
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