Case Studies

Ken Ziff – Dental Care Alliance

Real estate VP lives out dentist dad’s legacy of hard work

The dentist’s office was Ken Ziff’s second childhood home. He grew up watching his father fill cavities, administer root canals and guard his patients’ dental health. Ziff says his dad loved the work and swore to die “with a drill in his hand,” but the elder Ziff didn’t enter the field easily.

As Ziff explains, his father had been strongly encouraged to become a pharmacist by his father, also a pharmacist. When he finally pushed back years later and went to dental school while holding down night shifts at the family pharmacy, he was a decade older than his fellow students.

Ken Ziff | Vice President, Real Estate Operations | Dental Care Alliance

Ken Ziff | Vice President, Real Estate Operations | Dental Care Alliance

“It was really something that I always admired,” Ziff says of his father’s strong work ethic and the way he cared for patients at his northern New Jersey practice, where generations of families received care. “Anytime anyone said that things were too difficult, in my mind I was always thinking that anything is possible. He taught me that and proved it time and time again.”

Today, Ziff is vice president of real estate operations for Dental Care Alliance, a Sarasota-based dental support organization that includes more than 400 dental practices and 900 dentists across 22 states. Working with dentists to find the ideal real estate for their practices and to maintain their day-to-day operations, Ziff says he never forgets his dad or his advice to follow one’s passion.

“I’ve been with Dental Care Alliance for two years now, and unfortunately, while he didn’t live to see me join the company, I know he is watching over me with pride,” Ziff says.

Supervising construction in real time

At DCA, Ziff also oversees construction of new facilities and renovation of existing locations. For example, he’s currently directing a construction project in South Bend, Indiana, where two DCA practices located next door to each other are being combined.

Ziff worked with a developer to locate a parcel of land where DCA could tear down a vacant building and start fresh. By early 2023, despite the chilly Midwestern winter, the developer had already built the outer shell—a process that required heated tents to be put up around sections of the walls, so the masons could work and the mortar would cure.

Ken Ziff | Vice President, Real Estate Operations | Dental Care Alliance

The developer also negotiated with the church next door, which let them use its Wi-Fi to set up an outdoor camera so Ziff and his colleagues could watch the construction efforts. Ziff was able to monitor progress 24/7—check weather conditions, see the workers on the job site and provide direction and feedback.

The 12,000-square-foot, single-story red brick building with raised ceilings was completed in February 2023, save for the interiors, which Ziff’s general contractor is working on at present.

“We’re well under construction inside the beautiful new South Bend office, and we plan to open this summer,” Ziff said when talking to Blueprint in late February. “We are very excited about the new location, where we look forward to welcoming new and existing patients.”

Cultivating relationships

Sometimes dentists want to stay in their current office space rather than relocate, and in that case, it’s Ziff’s job to negotiate with landlords on everything from lease terms to maintenance costs.

“I always try to develop an honest and authentic relationship—I don’t want it to be us against them,” Ziff says. “Certain landlords are just too big to care, but for the ones that I’m able to get through to, and kind of develop that rapport, it’s a much easier conversation.”

For example, if a roof is leaking, Ziff’s facilities team will call the landlord. If there’s a gross lease in place, in which the landlord covers everything from janitorial services to building repairs, it’s typically a short conversation. But if it’s a triple net lease, in which the tenant is responsible for maintenance and upkeep, Ziff will jump in to negotiate.

Ken Ziff | Vice President, Real Estate Operations | Dental Care Alliance

“A lot of times, we’re able to come to terms,” he says. “But what’s the landlord going to get out of it? Well maybe we don’t have any intention of leaving anytime soon, so perhaps we’ll do an early lease renewal.”

Ziff and his head of lease administration also maintain the company’s lease management database, keeping an eye on expiring leases and having early discussions about whether dentists want to stay or relocate. If they want to stay, he’ll try to identify issues with the building—a potential source of leverage in renewal talks. If they want to leave, he’ll set up tours of new spaces and negotiate new leases.

Becoming a player coach

Outside work, Ziff has spent the last 36 years in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, conducting vessel safety checks and raising public awareness about boating safety. As for his career, after graduating from the University of South Florida, he got what he calls his “first real job” in 1997, as the head of the purchasing department at Staff Leasing, a large professional employment organization.

As part of Staff Leasing’s national expansion team, he had noticed no one was overseeing the rapidly growing corporate real estate portfolio. His boss, a CPA by trade, was managing it temporarily. Then, one day, the senior VP of sales invited Ziff on a site selection trip to Memphis.

“You’re already outfitting the offices,” he told Ziff. “We want you to see how we find an office and where it all starts.”

In Memphis, Ziff hit it off with the broker and peppered him with questions. A few months after he returned from the trip, the senior VP of sales put Ziff in charge of all the company’s real estate.

Ken Ziff | Vice President, Real Estate Operations | Dental Care Alliance

“I just went into it eyes wide open and asked the right questions,” Ziff says. “So that really was the springboard to me getting into corporate real estate.”

With recent stops at TriNet, a human resources technology company, in 2008, NRT, a residential real estate brokerage, in 2010, and TTEC, a global outsourcing and offshoring consulting company, in 2017, Ziff built his expertise further.

He joined DCA in November 2021, and he speaks highly of his team of five.

“I think of myself as being a player coach,” he says. “I’m part of the team, I’m in the trenches, I’m not just sitting back and dictating what needs to happen. It’s all a concerted, collaborative effort.”

Of course, he learned to put in that effort from his dad, who would no doubt be proud of where Ziff is today.

“I love what I do and enjoy assembling high-performing teams,” Ziff says. “We go into each day with an attitude of gratitude, and I hope that it shows in the work we do—partnering with our colleagues at all levels of the organization to be successful.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. IV 2023 Edition here.

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