Bill Zanin describes it as a "rav-enous appetite." From the first day he was introduced to the dental laboratory industry, he wanted to learn all he could about it.
He was 17 and a delivery boy for a laboratory in California. Having an artistic streak and a penchant for examining everything under a microscope as a kid, Zanin was immediately taken with the intricacies of dental technology. "I pestered and pestered the owner yet he refused to teach me anything," says Zanin. "But I was relentless; I'd constantly watch over his shoulder, pick up his handpiece when he put it down, and even practiced at home with a candle and a wax pot."
Eventually the owner gave in and six years later, Zanin was running a satellite lab for him. He left to open his own lab in 1982 and that ravenous appetite kicked up a notch. "I was working so many hours because I was constantly filling my desire to learn as much as possible. I was probably a little obsessive-compulsive about it," he laughs. "But at that point in my life I was lucky to meet some very smart, influential people in the field who were very generous with their knowledge."
Over the next decade or so, Zanin spent a lot of time traveling to courses around the country, racking up countless hours of education studying under Oral Design members and other expert technicians. One year, his accountant even questioned the $10,000 in continuing education that he wrote off on his tax return. "I refused to sit in my lab and be isolated. I told myself, 'I'm just going to get out there and take every course I can,'" he says. He found that much of that traveling was to the East Coast, and he eventually moved and opened Cusp of Integrity Dental Restorations in Connecticut.
The fact that he was a familiar face at many manufacturer-sponsored courses led to a new facet to his career: the student turned teacher. "The manufacturer representatives got to know me, saw my work and fortunately thought it was good. Initially, I started fielding calls for them from technicians with questions about the materials. That evolved into being invited to present courses," says Zanin.
Despite his initial fear of public speaking, the new role was a perfect fit. "I just love this business and feel such an obligation to teach. Too many technicians work in a vacuum and just go through the motions without understanding the implications of what they're doing," he says. He also points out that young technicians often don't have access to education that only laboratory owners and managers can afford. That's why he sometimes offers free courses to study clubs or other groups.
For Zanin, though, his work with manufacturers comes on one condition: "I won't tie my name to a product that I don't believe in; it cheapens my name and my reputation," he says. "But the manufacturers with whom I've worked understand and respect that."
Despite his success, he seems surprised at the suggestion that he's widely considered a top-notch ceramist or an in-demand speaker. "I don't know about that, but if that's truly how I'm perceived, then I've met a huge goal," he says. "It's given me tremendous satisfaction. I love to get a call from someone who says, 'Do you know how much your course helped me?' I even hang up all of the thank-you notes I receive and read them to bring me up if I'm ever down for some reason."
But after 30 years in the industry, this instructor is still a student, too. "I'm just scratching the surface of what there is to learn," says Zanin. "I've yet to meet a technician from whom I can't learn something."
Cusp of Integrity Dental Restorations Wallingford, CT
Bill Zanin felt the entrepreneurial spirit early in life: he owned four businesses before he was 17, including making and selling candles and jewelry. "My mother was very influential; she told me that I could do anything I wanted to," says Zanin.
In 1977, Zanin got his start in the industry as a delivery boy and it all "just clicked." He owned his own lab for 15 years in California and has been in Connecticut since 1997.
Because he travels extensively in his role of educator and manufacturer consultant, he keeps the laboratory small-he's the only technician-and does mostly full mouth rehabilitations for about eight dentists. Still, only 50% of his time in the lab is spent on casework; the other half is spent doing research and development for manufacturers, "playing" with materials, writing articles or networking with others in the industry.
Because of his work with manufacturers, he is in on the ground floor of new technology and sees positive changes ahead for the industry. "In the future, we're going to be spending a lot more time with a computer mouse than with a porcelain brush. Our job descriptions are going to radically change and there's a lot of fear about that. But change breeds opportunity...it's exciting."