Leading with Confidence

Clinician. Entrepreneur. Leader. Mom. Dr. Laxmi Reddy believes today’s women dental leaders can do it all.

As a clinician and dental organization leader, Dr. Laxmi Reddy, DDS, has honed a quiet, inner confidence over the years. Anytime Dr. Reddy walks into a room, she’s aware that people she’ll meet might assume she’s a hygienist or front office staff, rather than a board-certified dental surgeon and business owner. “They rarely think that as a female, I’m the dentist or the owner,” she said. 

Unfortunately, it’s a frustrating stereotype that many women dental leaders face regularly. “People will try to make sense of the fact that you’re a female, successful, driven, and also a mom,” Dr. Reddy said. “Society makes it seem like all of that is not possible. You can’t be a good mom and be successful in work – and an entrepreneur.” 

But Dr. Reddy has embraced the challenge. “As a woman leader, you must have confidence,” she said. “Inner confidence is important because society will tell you that you can’t do all those things. Women are questioned and scrutinized more. So being able to feel confident and having that mindset that you can do it, is important in today’s industry for women leaders to be our best selves and successful. You can be a fantastic mom and you can be a fantastic business owner, and you can balance all of it. You can do all of it.”

‘Dialed in’

Dr. Reddy and her business partner, Dr. Vaibhav Rai, DDS, founded Smile Loft Dental in part because both were seeking a balance between running an organization and practicing dentistry as clinicians. 

Dr. Reddy and Dr. Rai are both owners and practicing clinicians, they work well together and complement each other’s personalities. Typically, when dental organizations grow beyond a few locations, they’ll use outside investment or outside ownership to run the business. However, even through tremendous growth over the last few years, the two co-owners have preserved their unique operating model. 

“We’re very dialed into our business, but we’re also really dialed into what happens with our patients and what’s going on at the office level,” Dr. Reddy said. “Sometimes that can get lost when you’re growing and expanding. If you don’t have that ground-level perspective, you may miss seeing how the patients are greeted, what the doctors are doing in the back, what’s happening with hygiene, etc.”

The mission of Smile Loft Dental has always been to provide quality, affordability, and accessibility to its patient base. Dr. Reddy comes from immigrant parents, so she believes strongly in providing care to as many people as possible. “But we also give them excellent clinical care, because I think that can at times be missing. People always think it’s one or the other – affordability or quality. As clinicians, we provide the highest standard of care, but we won’t charge $3,000 for a crown. We want to make it affordable to people because it’s important. They’re the ones who need it the most. That’s a big part of what drives me and motivates me.”

Yes, balancing organizational leadership with clinical work can be taxing at times. Dr. Reddy works three days on the clinical side, “and I’m a leader every day,” she said. “I run the office operations every day. I check in with my team before I go in clinically, then check in with the leadership team afterwards.” On Thursdays and Fridays, she is usually in the corporate office with her business partner, taking meetings with the leadership team and making sure they are being well supported. 

Smile Loft Dental has tripled its revenue to $20+ million and quadrupled its staff since the COVID pandemic began. In that time the company acquired several locations and bought additional space to expand two of the offices at well-established locations. “We’re in the middle of renovating and expanding those offices now,” Dr. Reddy said. Smile Loft Dental is also looking at other sites where they could add new offices and other ways to increase revenue through new services. “We’re excited,” Dr. Reddy said. “We have a lot coming up, so hopefully we can stay on this trajectory.”

Smile Loft Dental currently operates in eight Maryland-based locations. The organization also has a corporate office for centralized operations. There are about 100 employees in total, with 15 doctors and 17 hygienists.

The goal is to grow in an organic and sustainable manner for the next 10+ years. Dr. Reddy said Smile Loft Dental used 2023 to set up building blocks like adding critically important leadership team members and opening a corporate office to handle operations and administrative duties. They’ve done a lot of groundwork to be able to grow further. “We grew so fast in a few years that we had to catch up. Now I think we’ve put another layer of foundation down so we can grow again and hope to have controlled and sustained healthy growth over the next coming years as well,” she said.

Authentic connections

With the growth of the organization, Dr. Reddy has refined her approach to how she motivates and communicates with her team. “The best way that I have found to motivate my team is to be with them, support them, work with them, and connect with them,” she said. 

Dr. Reddy makes it a priority to ask team members what their challenges are. She will also share hers. In the beginning, she admits to being a little more closed off and focused more on getting things done rather than opening up. “I’m a bit more of an introvert, so it’s harder for me,” she said. “But I’ve noticed that as I’ve learned to engage, as I have shared my challenges or what I’m working on, it has become much easier to connect.” Once she’s made those authentic connections, she’s found team members to be more receptive to guidance and feedback. 

Presence matters in leadership. Dr. Reddy wants to set the example as the first one in and last one out when she is in the office. She also wants to meet face-to-face with her corporate team as much as possible. While she could communicate with team members remotely, it’s easier to form bonds in person. 

Judging by engagement, the Smile Loft Dental team has bought into the mission. “They connect with me, and they connect with my partner,” Dr. Reddy said. “They are bought into the vision because they’ve seen where we started and how far we’ve come. The sky’s the limit. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do if we didn’t have them.”

Indeed, finding ways to connect with team members – especially new hires – has never been more important. A new generation is entering the field, requiring leaders to rethink how they interact with new employees. “That’s a big trend,” Dr. Reddy said. “How do you utilize Gen Z? What are their skills? What are they good at?” 

Dr. Reddy said leaders must figure out a way to work with the new generation who have their own thoughts, methods, and strengths. “They have their own skill sets, which are very different from the previous generations, just like every generation. What motivates them is very different from what motivates Millennials or Gen X.”

And that changes the way the business runs. Recruitment, HR, and even training are different. For instance, Smile Loft Dental has revised its training manuals to better engage a generation more familiar with online learning. Along with hiring and training a new generation of workers, things like wage inflation, consumer preferences, and market volatility are all trends that Dr. Reddy and her team have had to navigate and make adjustments to in recent years.

Being an example

When Dr. Reddy is finished with her career, she wants to have blazed a trail so bright that tomorrow’s women leaders will gain the confidence and encouragement needed for their own journeys. “I have women that I look up to – my mom, friends, colleagues,” she said. “There are a ton of women that have done it. I hope I’m that example for my two-year-old daughter and other young girls.” 

Smile Loft Dental is already well embodying that hope. The company is diverse and inclusive, and its staff is predominantly female. “We have a lot of female employees, and many are younger than I am,” Dr. Reddy said. “I hope they see that there is a female who’s in a leadership role who is a doctor, a mom, and an executive. Those examples can motivate women. It certainly is what motivated me. I hope I can do that for at least one person.”