There is a certain group of individuals who have the remarkable ability to turn everything they touch into gold — and Michael Cataldo is on that list. A 1983 graduate of Columbia University, New York, Cataldo always displayed strong leadership skills. An elite rower on the Columbia crew team, Cataldo, who was co-captain during his senior year, went on as part of the United States National Rowing Team to claim gold at the Henley Regatta in England, silver in the Senior B World Championships in Germany, and gold in the Pan American Games in Caracas, Venezuela.
Still a competitive masters rower, Cataldo continues to apply his leadership skills in the business world. Most recently, these efforts have given birth to the rise of Massachusetts-based Convergent Dental — an equipment and technology company and developer of the world’s first computer-aided, CO2 dental laser system. We spoke to Cataldo to learn more about his golden business opportunities.
What is the most valuable lesson you learned in college that you still apply to your daily business interactions?
The truth is that the most valuable college lesson I learned didn’t happen in the classroom; it happened in the boathouse where I had a work-study job and reported to the Boatwright, Jimmy O’Hara. Jimmy made it clear that this was not a do-nothing “jock job,” and I would have to do real work to get paid. “Mike, you go to class in Hamilton Hall, but you get your education here,” he told me. We were constantly innovating and problem solving, and we fixed everything from launch engines to broken heating systems. I kept in touch with Jimmy until he passed, and I credit him for teaching me how to be an entrepreneur.
How did the idea for Convergent Dental come about?
I am an investor in a venture fund that was approached by an engineer about an idea for a dental laser. He had a background in using lasers to mark things like etching dates in plastic bottles. The fund asked me to evaluate the idea and the more I looked at it, the more I liked it. The idea of solving the problem of dental anxiety resonated with me, and the technical challenge was more than a little interesting. I decided to jump in as CEO, and the rest is history.
What did your early post-collegiate career look like?
When I graduated from Columbia, I called Horace “Davvy” Davenport, CEO of Northeast Petroleum, a former rower from Columbia’s 1929 class. Davvy loved me, and I was certain he would offer me my first job. Instead he said, “Mike, I got nothing for you. But don’t go to one of the ridiculous investment bank training programs.” Instead he advised, “Get a sales job where you have to close a deal every day. Learn how to sell something … because if you have the greatest idea in the world but can’t sell it, it doesn’t exist.” When I was ready for a new challenge, I accepted a product manager job and learned how to listen to customer wants and effectively turn those wants into products and whole product solutions. This evolved into studying leadership and common attributes of great teams. And I implemented what I learned into my day-to-day business interactions.
Explain to sales reps the importance of knowing your prospect and the most effective means of communication with him or her.
This is a topic that cannot be overemphasized. Doing your homework is essential to success, and it still astounds me that so few people do it. This goes back to my product manager days when I would spend countless hours asking questions to fully understand market requirements. Knowing your prospects enables you to find solutions to their problems. I also rely on the “Cataldo’s 3 Cs:” clarity, comfort, and commitment. Whether you are selling a product or leading a team, you are seeking a commitment. The more clearly you can communicate the importance or benefit of what you are selling, the more comfortable your audience will be. Comfort yields commitment. It is difficult to create clarity without knowing your audience and your product, so homework and good communication skills are a must.
What do you foresee as the greatest challenge ahead for digital dentistry?
Like so many others, I see dental service organizations (DSOs) as making a significant impact in the future. DSOs seem to be heavily focused on cost management while still trying to improve quality and outcomes. This will put margin pressure on distributors and manufacturers and pressure on general dentists to broaden their repertoire in response to patients’ desire to stay with one dentist. Collectively, this will put pressure on manufacturers to build even more versatile products so that dentists can maximize their technology investments.
What keeps you up at night?
Between my morning rows to my long days at the office, I pretty much exhaust myself. The challenge is not falling asleep; it’s staying awake.
From MENTOR. December 2017;8(12): 42.