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A week in the life of Chris Barrow

Dental business coach and co-founder of BKH Group.

Day 1:

First day of my 'Week in the Life of' for Heart Your Smile - so welcome to The Barrow Bunker - my basement office at home in Altrincham, Cheshire.

For the self-employed and business owner, a Bank Holiday often represents an opportunity to 'catch up' and I'm no exception to that rule.

In fact, my two partners in life, Anneliese Bradley and our 5-month old Hungarian Vizsla, Kibo, have just spent the last week in a North Wales cottage, where each day has been a blend of project work from 07:00 to noon and then the rest of the day at play.

Today will be no exception to that rule and I've been working on my personal finances for the balance of April (I'm fanatical, nay paranoid, about financial control) before catching up with emails, scanning mail into Evernote and preparing for a busy week of travel and meetings that begins at 04:30 tomorrow - ouch!

You will be travelling with me this week and I'll be focusing on all the events, conversations and tasks that inspire me with confidence in the future of UK dentistry.

Somewhere in all of that, I also need to keep training for The London Marathon which is now just 13 days away. My preparation has been poor I must admit, but then I've been running a busy consultancy practice and launching a new dental corporate, so I think my excuses are valid!

Day 2:

One of the best decisions I have made so far this year has been to employ my 25-year old son Jon as a driver and intern.

Driver because I average 30,000 miles a year around the UK visiting clients and, after a lifetime of motorways, finally decided to delegate my love of fast cars and focus on the business.

Intern because at Barrow Kwong Hing Group we have set our goals at a high level and I anticipate that there will be a need for plenty of talented people in the organisation going forward.

Tuesday begins with a 04:30 alarm call at home in Altrincham. I packed on Monday evening and so can be showered, dressed, fed and out of the door within an hour - a long-established routine that surprises only the dog as I appear in the kitchen to make a cuppa!

Pick Jon up ay 05:45 and hand over the car keys to him as we head 183 miles South.

My phone starts ringing at 07:30 (they know I'm around), with an hour's conversation with BKH Operations Director, Lindsey Wordley. After last week's vacation I want to catch up on what's been going on and we work through a list of names and projects. Then a call to my personal assistant Phillippa Goodwin, to review the week ahead and head off any issues before they arise.

Whilst I'm chatting on the phone, we head to Whitchurch in Hampshire for a full-day practice visit with Manish and Shilpa Chitnis, co-owners of Dental Concepts, a two-surgery practice providing 90% NHS services and 10% private dentistry to the local community.

A lovely couple who qualified as dentists in India and arrived to buy this formerly dilapidated practice 6 years ago.

They have invested heavily in the building, the equipment and the team - creating a small business that they are justifiably proud of - proving that you do not have to be a mega-corporate (focused on profit and not people) to succeed in the NHS sector.

My role today is to meet with the owners and with their practice manager and treatment co-ordinator to talk through:

  1. the financials and reporting systems - with special emphasis on the key performance indicators and how they compare to national averages
  2. the marketing systems that they employ to attract new patients, request referrals and maintain visibility direct to their local community
  3. their web site and social media engagement (or lack of it)
  4. the patient experience they deliver to NHS and private patients - and whether there are actually any differences
  5. their product mix - what type of dentistry are they offering?
  6. their team - are the right people in the right places, doing the right things?

In spite of the excellent practice (and financial performance) demonstrated, we gradually realise that there is huge untapped potential in the future of the business.

What I like best about Dental Concepts is their demonstration that a two-surgery, independently owned NHS practice CAN prosper and earn the appreciation of a loyal team and patient base.

As soon as our meeting concludes I jump back in the car for Jon to drive us 16 miles to Newbury - and whilst travelling I'm interviewed on the phone by Eliza O'Keefe, a member of the team at EK Communications, Erica Kilburn's dental PR business, who are handling the BKH launch.

We plan a series of articles on various business coaching topics and this evening's subject is 'why hire a business coach?' - a chance for me to express some bold opinions of the types of clients who do, and don't, see the benefits of external business advice.

18:00 at the Hilton Newbury, there to meet with Ash Parmar for a couple of hours (over dinner) and agree the terms on which he will be delivering some high-end clinical training to the BKH dentists in 2012 and beyond.

Ash offers an 8-day hands on course, focusing on treatment planning, how to conduct dental review meetings, composites and occlusion. I'm very excited to be working with him as I admire his dedication to his clinical and educational career - we've been threatening to work together for over half a year but our schedules have allowed only slow progress - now, at last, I see some light.

Waving goodbye to Ash at about 20:30, Jon announces that he is off to bed - the result of what appears to have been a very riotous Easter weekend - ah, I remember the days...

I call home to catch up on domestics with Annie, press my shirt in the hotel room, take a shower - and then manage to read in bed for about 30-minutes before my eyes start rolling - lights out at 22:00!

Day 3:

Hampshire to Scotland

You may wonder what I'm doing standing outside a derelict and deserted shop front in Hampshire?

The answer is that I'm looking at potential locations for a new squat practice with my friend and colleague Dr Manish Chitnis who is Director of Clincial Services here at Barrow Kwong Hing Group.

My day started at 05:00 with the usual 2 hours of emails and preparation before hitting the gym at The Hilton Newbury for a 30-minute treadmill run, followed by a good breakfast.

Jon Barrow and I joined Manish at 09:30 for a good look around 3 or 4 possible locations and some preliminary decisions were made.

How to choose a location for a dental practice? I tend to rely on the 'coffee factor'. Enter a search for coffee into Google Maps and see where the Costa, Cafe Nero and Starbucks sites are - they will have done the market research for us and are a good indicator of the viability of a family-based practice location - the mission in this case.

There were two coffee locations within yards of this place and added good drive-by, visibility, parking and the proximity of local supermarkets make the choice a good one.

Now, the negotiations begin.

Following this, Jon drives me to Terminal 5 at Heathrow and I enjoy a light lunch air-side before catching a packed 13:20 BA flight to Edinburgh (recession - what recession?).

During the flight a chance to read my latest novel on the Kindle - 'Before I go to Sleep' by S J Watson - an intriguing story of a middle-aged lady who loses her memory every night when she sleeps - and wakes each day with zero recollection of anything before her life as a youth and young woman - 20 years have been wiped out, she wakes each day in a strange house with a stranger (her husband) sleeping next to her and has to be re-educated as to her history. The plot is thickening and it has me hooked.

Good to be back in Edinburgh, one of my favourite cities on a lovely sunny afternoon - and a practice visit at one of our first potential acquisitions (secret - sorry) - also meeting with my business partner Dr Alan Kwong Hing and his wife Brenda (just arrived from Toronto), with Lindsey Wordley our Operations Director and Simon Trobridge our Finance Director.

The BKH Executive are in town for two days of meetings that begin with final negotiations on what we hope will be our first private practice merger - very exciting - ending in a 17:00 team meeting to tell the existing employees of our plans.

We are currently in negotiation on about 10 potential M&As (mergers and acquisitions) and at that frustrating moment where we are keen to get the first few across the line - but don't want to rush the process or panic people.

I haven't met with Al & Brenda for a month and it is so good to have a chance to catch up and enjoy some laughs about the crazy situations that arise when you are launching a new business with owners from both sides of the Atlantic.

Business concluded, we all drive to The Hilton Caledonian in Edinburgh city centre - our base for the next 2 days of meetings.

The Cally is a favourite hotel of mine and I'm delighted to be upgraded to a really nice suite that will serve as an office base whilst I'm here - points do make prizes.

The evening is about a couple of telephone conferences - the first is transatlantic with Mike Meehan the COO and Mike Gurgan the Sales & Marketing Director of 6 Month Smiles - to talk about running some of their training courses over in the UK for BKH dentists and independents.

The second is a monthly client conference call - and just to prove that 'gurus' don't always get it right - I sit there for 10 minutes on the conference call line and - nobody shows up! My clients have deserted me this evening - it happens.

Ah well - time to unpack and press those shirts!

My final evening appointment is actually social - dinner with Willie and Xandra Maceachen, close personal friends who live here in town and, although they own a dental practice and I've worked with them for years - we have evolved beyond that and just love each other's company - I'm off duty.

So my day begins outside an English derelict shop and ends in a Scottish 5-star hotel - that's showbiz folks!

Day 4:

A day at work and play in Edinburgh.

My weekday starts, as usual, with a 05:00 alarm call and a couple of hours of email and social media catch up.

Next up at 07:00 is a 40-minute jog from The Caledonian, along Princes Street and over to Holyrood Palace, then back up The Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle gates, to enjoy the views over the waking city.

Thus inspired, I join the BKH team for breakfast and an impromptu meeting of the 4 founding Directors to review our overall strategy and tactics to date.

At 11:00 we are joined by Dr Willie MacEachen and his business manager wife Xandra to discuss the future of one of their three clinics in Edinburgh, in the southern suburb of Craiglockhart.

Pictured here from your left to right are Wille and Xandra (coaching clients for over 5 years and very close friends), Brenda and Al Kwong Hing (my new business partners) with Lindsey Wordley and Simon Trobridge (the BKH Operations and Finance Directors respectively).

I'm encouraging Al to visit as many UK clinics (or 'offices' as he would call them) as possible so that he can get a flavour of the similarities and differences between this and the Canadian market.

Craiglockhart is an NHS clinic that opened its 'lists' (no UDAs in Scotland) just over a year ago and has registered over 1500 new patients in that time, hardly surprising considering the very visible location and the high-spec of the interior.

The challenge now is to manage the growth in the clinic and also gently introduce more private treatment options to existing and new patients.

Over lunch at the nearby Kilted Pig we talk through various ways in which BKH can become involved through our Partnership Programme and Management Services division.

Back to town for me after lunch and I actually take an hour off mid-afternoon to take a quick look-see in Jessops the camera store. Why? Because Panasonic have announced the new Lumix GF-5 and I'm trying to track down a live model to take a look. No such luck as they don't have any stock in the store just yet - but at least I get an indication of price. I own two Lumix cameras so obviously a fan - and thinking about an upgrade, funded by the sale of the existing collection!

Next stop a nearby running store to look at new trainers for the Marathon - store closed for Easter :(

Finally the O2 store on Princes Street to get a date for my next iPhone upgrade - 3rd June 2012 - tick tock.

16:30 a meeting with Scott McClymont, from the Commercial Banking arm of Bank of Scotland - who has been tasked with healthcare lending north of the border - I meet him with Simon as he will be a useful contact for our Scottish partnerships going forward. Scott is a delight to meet - a bank manager with a sense of humour - how many of those have you met?

17:00 my friends and clients Yann and Gilly Maidment from the award-winning Stafford Street Dental Care in the city centre. We meet to prepare for a practice visit I'll be making later this month and agree the agenda and topics to be covered during my visit. I also get a second chance to take Al and Brenda on a tour of a superb practice - this time their gorgeous Georgian building just off the financial centre.

My mid-evening meeting is with a local associate dentist who I've known for a few years, to catch up on gossip and share my BKH plans for the future - from there I rejoin the BKH crew and the MacEachens who are taking dinner at The Scottish Malt Whiskey Society on Queen Street.

I arrive too late for the meal but do get to join in the 'tasting' that follows - indulging in a favourite pastime.

We sample a few drams of very special stuff and listen to the tall tales of Lieutenant - Colonel MacEachen of Her Majesty's Dental Corps.

Willie, having served most of his life in the TA has some amazing stories of Desert Storm, Iraq and other places that seem a long way from where we sit and listen. 'Drink is taken' as they say here - and we all stagger out of the place after midnight.

Bedtime - 00:30 - ouch.

Day 5:

Friday the 13th begins not at all ominously with yet another 05:00 alarm call followed by an 07:00 taxi with the BKH team to Edinburgh airport for our flight to Heathrow.

The first challenge of the day is fog in London and a potential delay of up to 2 hours - I have to congratulate the British Airways flight crew (Captain included) who emerge from the parked aircraft, gather us in groups and explain the situation.

Choices - wait in the terminal in comfort but delay our departure or wait on the aircraft in relative discomfort but with the chance to a getaway if the weather lifts.

We choose the latter, board the plane and - bingo - the fog lifts and we arrive just a few minutes late to meet Warren (our pet London cab driver) who takes us into town.

The rest of the working day is spent at the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel on Park Lane, where we meet with our new Non-Executive Clinical Director, my good mate Chris Potts - and with our Director of Non-Clinical Education, Laura Horton.

Chris is a fantastic addition to the management team, bringing a wealth of experience in corporate dentistry. Laura exudes enthusiasm and innovates just like us.

On the way in to London my Friday 13th disaster occurs - Macbook Pro overheats and freaks - white screen, grey apple, whirling ball of death - caput.

Good news is that I'm pretty well backed up to iCloud, Dropbox, Yammer, LACRM, Basecamp and elsewhere - so I can switch to iPhone 4 and iPad 1 straight away.

I'll have Jon Barrow take the Mac in for repair or recovery next week - and I'm going to hold out for the new SSD Macbook Pro that is promised any day now.

Friday night is for fun - my life partner Anneliese arrives on the train from Manchester and we dine out with my business partner Al Kwong Hing, his wife Brenda and their two lovely daughters at the fabulous Cipriani restaurant in Mayfair - although get this - Japanese and Italian fusion? Possibly the most confusing menu I've ever seen.

Lots of good food, Proseco and laughter brings an exciting week to an end.

p.s. Saturday morning I'm back at The Four Seasons with Al to meet with an ambitious young dentist who is looking for a career pathway. I am continously inspired by youth. That sense of "no limits" and the perspective of a long and bigger future.

Annie and I catch the 11:20 back from Euston and I grab a final two-hours of email catch up on the iPhone before closing down for a weekend of fun.

I hope you have enjoyed my week - typical in many respects of my professional life nowadays. I love my job, I love the people I meet, the places I get to go and the hours I put in. Al and I are "lifeaholics" and we are having a blast.