CEO of the Month Rodney Young

Rodney Young

Doing Good Works

By Haley Freeman

At Delta Dental of Minnesota doing good works isn’t just good business, it’s a way of life. CEO and President Rodney Young goes a step further. He says it’s a passion – a passion driven by the belief that doing good works.

Young began his career in pharmaceutical sales and went on to distinguish himself as a thought leader in multiple facets of the wellness industry, ultimately serving as CEO for two publicly traded med-tech companies, LecTec Corporation and Angeion Corporation (now MGC Diagnostics). He is also recognized for his 20-plus years of leadership on boards of publicly traded and nonprofit corporations with revenues as high as $19 billion. Prior to joining Delta Dental in 2012, he served on the company’s board for over a decade. His long commitment to the organization coupled with his comprehensive understanding of health care made him the ideal choice to lead this dynamic company where people come first. “Across the nation, client engagement is at the top of the value the company provides. When I came here, I didn’t have to infuse that conviction; I just had to continue it.”

Delta Dental is an independent, nonprofit health service plan corporation and one of the largest providers of dental benefits in the Upper Midwest, serving more than 9,000 Minnesota and North Dakota-based purchasing groups and 4.5 million members nationwide. The company is doing good works by helping its members obtain quality care, while also investing in the industry and community to improve the grade and availability of services.

Young was energized by the opportunity to grow and diversify this already successful enterprise, while enhancing the human experience. “We consider ourselves the most member-friendly provider in the industry, with a commitment to both the quality of the product we sell and the customer service associated with it. We are fully focused on our relationships with our clients and members, as well as with our provider partners. As we grow, we are launching new products and services that continue to meet and exceed expectations of members. We have developed strong relationships with the Minnesota Dental Association and with individual dentists in and out of the state, all of whom have helped in the delivery of care to our members.”

Delta Dental’s good business practices generate goodwill and prioritize reinvesting in the community. Young is enthusiastic about the many initiatives underway through both Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation and its corporate philanthropy investments. Both measures are founded on three pillars: access to care, workforce development, and prevention and education. “We have as many as 140 initiatives going at any given time,” Young said.

For instance, Young and his organization are helping to pioneer collaboration between medical and dental professionals to initiate progressive diagnosis and treatment of the increasing number of disease states linked with oral health. “One of the reasons I was excited to take over here is the correlation between good oral health and overall health. I was beating that drum for many years even before I was CEO. Evidence suggests that up to 120 different medically related conditions can be detected through the mouth. Diabetes, certain coronary artery diseases and low birth weight babies are a few examples. Typically, medical and dental professionals don’t talk to one another, but now there is a good dialogue going on in this region between the University of Minnesota, Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) and the community.”

The foundation is now working in conjunction with HCMC on a new clinic that will house dentists next to physicians in one state-of-the-art medical facility. “The importance of this is that Hennepin County focuses primarily on underserved and uninsured populations, and this facility will provide resources to see up to 60 percent more of these individuals. We’re pretty excited about that and proud to say that through our foundation’s sponsorship, we are helping to lead the charge.”

The Centers for Disease Control reports that in this, the richest country in the world, nearly half of all people over age 30 suffer from gum disease, and about one quarter of people over age 65 have lost their teeth. Statistics like these underscore the need for early oral health education and care. This is another place where Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation is making a difference. Recently, Young and his colleagues began an educational initiative designed for delivery by teachers to first-grade students in Minnesota, made up of a fun, interactive curriculum with art, games and a backpack filled with a water bottle, toothbrush, toothpaste, educational booklet with a brushing chart, and a two-minute hourglass to encourage children to brush for the ADA-recommended two minutes.

“We are reaching the majority of first-graders in the state. We sponsor a sealant program aimed at second-graders, to be followed by a research study on third-graders to measure the success of our efforts with first and second-graders. We hope this data will help to promote a national strategy for improving oral health care for children.”

Young also helped mastermind the Dedicated to Minnesota Dentists (DMD) loan repayment program, a win-win for Minnesota residents and the next generation of dental professionals. “We identified 10 dental deserts in Minnesota, defined as large geographical areas with no, or very few, dental professionals available to help the population. Then we set aside enough money to initiate a graduating dentist for each area who is willing to give a five-year commitment to service. In exchange, we will repay their student loans up to $200,000. So far, we have placed nine dentists, and once we identify one or two more, we will have successfully met our goal to increase the number of dental professionals serving these dental deserts.”

Delta Dental provides funding and volunteers to support Missions of Mercy, an annual, state-by-state initiative that provides a full day of free dental services to the community. “We go to a community center or large auditorium and provide a triage of every kind of dental care, from X-rays to oral surgery. We’ve been a signature sponsor for the past five years. The first year, I went to witness it, and a gentleman of about 45 years old saw me walk in. He ran up and gave me a big bear hug and said, ‘Thank you very much. Do you see these? Before I came here, I had no front teeth.’ Part of what gives us such great pride and comfort is knowing we’re making such a difference in someone’s life.”

Doing good works begins with a corporate culture where workers feel connected to one another and the community. When Young took over as CEO, he decided to move the company’s headquarters from Eagan to the revitalized Mill District. “This is a young, high-energy, cosmopolitan area with lots of restaurants and entertainment. It’s a fun place to be, and as a result, people like to work here. You can get out and walk along the river or use the skyway system. It has a great energy, and it’s been a positive move for our 120 team members in this office. I’m happy to report that for the past few years, we’ve been voted one of the top workplaces in Minnesota.”

Ever hear of something called flash philanthropy? You have if you work at Delta Dental, where they coined the phrase. Flash philanthropy is an employee-driven phenomenon that happens when the Delta Dental team learns about a community need. “We quickly rally and organize through our HR and corporate philanthropy departments, and money is given to each employee to go out and buy what is needed. We have a contest to see who can get the best value for their dollars. Then we deliver the goods and get out of the way.”

Recently, two employees walked by a homeless shelter only blocks from the office. They stopped in to ask what was needed. The answer was surprising – diapers. They further discovered that of the 300 individuals living there, 60 percent were under the age of 12, and the little ones used an average of 4,000 diapers per month. Delta Dental’s team sprang into action with a scheme they called The Four Ds – The Delta Dental Diaper Drive. Team members began cutting coupons and shopping for bargains. They doubled their buying goal, purchasing a total of 16,000 diapers, which they loaded into cars and trucks and then delivered to the happy recipients.

“When you help someone in need, it makes you feel good. But we also try to have fun. When we have a contest, somebody gets bragging rights. One employee here is a coupon expert who turned her $40 for diapers into $300.”

Young has dedicated his career to innovations aimed at improving the quality and delivery of health services to people in Minnesota and beyond, and he continues to demonstrate that doing good works.

He summed up, “I’m honored to lead this organization that smiles a lot because of the fun things we do.”