“You can never put a price to goodwill.”
Dr. Steve Mark Gan, President and CEO of the GAOC Group of Companies, is quite literally a household name. Known as Dentist to the Stars, he is responsible for the smiles of the most ubiquitous celebrities in the Philippines. Boy Abunda, King of Talk, who famously feared the dentist’s chair, came to Dr. Gan’s clinic one fateful day and having enjoyed the experience so much, repeatedly thanked “Dr. Steve Mark Gan” daily in his shows. That sent a long line of people, showbiz and non-showbiz alike, to the doors of Dr. Gan, and the rest, as they say, is history. But before Boy Abunda, before his slew of clients and before the GAOC chain of clinics, this Canadian-born and US-trained Chinoy overcame the worst challenges to fulfill his dream of bringing world-class dentistry to the Philippines.
Like the plague
“I was always different,” explains Dr. Gan. “Ever since I was a kid. People would wear this type of t-shirt; I would say I want to be different. People would play basketball on a certain style, everybody would think about Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan. Ako, I would like Larry Bird. I was always, always different. In dentistry, I knew in order to change the landscape or to be a game changer in dentistry, I had to be different. Of course when we opened up our first GAOC in 2001, we’d set up a surgery room, usually kasi at that time na when you do dental surgeries or “bunot” (they were calling it), I would change the terminologies, it’s not extraction but it’s a surgery. We would create an operating room in a dental clinic and before they would do the procedure just in the dental chair but we would create a surgery room, and this I learned a lot from again from Dr. Peter Moy from UCLA.
During that time in the 80’s and the early 90’s, uso kasi second hand and third hand dental chairs, made from Japan, made in the US, and of course at that time I said, ‘If we are going to showcase the best, we must have the best,’ so for ourselves we wanted not only one but two Siemens, Siemens Chair, the German chair. At that time, those were the most expensive chairs, it was like a million pesos for one chair and people were saying that I was crazy but I said, “It has to be done.”, “We have to do this kind of things to be different, to give the patients the different quality or a different atmosphere, a different feeling, we always want to be different.”
This ambition to create the best and to be the best naturally entailed a very high investment. And during these early days, Dr. Gan had to work 7 days a week, and he had to solicit money from friends and family. Dr. Gan reveals, “I started with a modest clinic in Binondo which was 20 square meters. And I was building a 60 square meter office in Makati. Of course, I needed funds and during that time too I was very young and I was also still learning how to run my practice financially and control my finances. I was borrowing money, left and right from different kinds of people and you know word would get around that I was borrowing money left and right. People started to avoid me like the plague. You know, parang, “When Mark calls you don’t answer the phone. He’s just going to borrow money from you.” So, I was very desperate and there’s that fateful day that I had to pay off my partners and my partners they need funds too. I had to ask assistance from my cousin and we visited a loan shark. I brought my best friend along with me and my cousin, when we visited the loan shark somewhere in Araneta Avenue, I was told to be there at 5 p.m. I went there on 5 PM because usually after office hours na ‘yun, so, we were expecting easiest transaction, I borrowed the money I pay the interest in the said due date, case closed.”
But this meeting would drag on and on, with the loan shark drinking beer and rudely making Dr. Gan and his best friend and cousin wait. “We waited till 11 – 11:30 past. From 5 to 11:30 that’s like 6 and a half hours and he didn’t offer us a drink, we were just waiting there and finally my best friend was so angry, his name is Dominic Chung, my best friend. He said, “Mark, c’mon! Let’s go!” I said “I can’t! I cannot leave. I need to get this money. If I don’t pay, I will be ruined.” And he says ‘How much do you need?’ and I said ‘P250,000’ and he said ‘Okay, let’s go home. I’ll give you the money,’ We went home, I never got the loan from the loan shark. My best friend borrowed money from his father, asked his father to lend him P250,000 just to help me out. So, then the rest is history. My friends from grade school, they all chipped in all their money just to help me out to finish the dental clinic and I knew having that first dental clinic in 2001 would spell the difference, it would change the history of dentistry. That’s how it started.”
Hard Work Makes You Lucky
Dr. Gan had to toil to make his dream a reality. And work hard he did. So much so that right after his wedding, instead of going on honeymoon with his wife, he went back to work so he could pay for the wedding cake. He confesses, “When we got married lahat utang ’yan, utang lahat. Everything was utang and I had to work and pay off. In 2003, I paid off all my debts then yun na tuloy tuloy na. And also, I didn’t have shoes pa that time. Me and my cousin… shoes ko sirang sira na and we were in Rockwell, then I would pay/use my credit card, lahat it was all maxed out and it was cut, then my cousin would pay for us, ang hirap talaga. That time talaga… Let’s just try to imagine that no money na talaga. You don’t know where to turn and lahat ng dental suppliers are so afraid to supply us because they don’t know if we will pay and there were three dental suppliers lang na who stood by our side and now they are very rich because of me.”
From having only P3,000 in his wallet after completing his residency in the US, to becoming arguably the most famous and in-demand dentist in the country, Dr. Gan cites his Chinoy upbringing and the discipline instilled in him by his parents, who were medical doctors. Dr. Gan recalls, “My dad works seven days a week in his office and my mom who is an anesthesiologist works also seven days a week. I haven’t seen another person who’s more hard working than my mom. Normally kasi on Sundays, my mom, brother and I would go to McDonald’s in the morning, after she hears mass while my father would be working in his medical clinic for half a day. So, we would go to Morayta, the first McDonald’s and we look forward to every Sunday. Me and my brother would always dread that the phone would ring on a Sunday morning, because when the phone rings and my mom has an emergency case, we don’t get to go to McDonald’s, so we have to wait for the following week. And what was so funny is, my mom would always gather us and say, ‘I have to work.’ And, she would say, ‘Strike while the iron is hot. Mommy has to strike while the iron is hot.’ This is so true. We would miss our McDonald’s, but of course at that time, we wouldn’t understand because we were kids. But now we’re adults, we see the big picture. Striking while the iron is hot, creates opportunity. Its creates opportunity, its creates more doors, opens more referrals, more business opportunities. Hard work would make you truly lucky.”
Gamechanging & Goodwill
On his success, Dr. Gan cites a uniquely Chinoy value and he is adamant that is proudly Filipino, choosing the Philippines as his home and here to innovate the dental industry. He describes this value best, “I always believe in the saying, ‘You can never put a price to goodwill,’ in short in Chinese, ‘man ya gao sung’ or ‘huwag mabilang.’ It doesn’t matter which level you are. You can be a rank and file or a boss but everything you do that you shouldn’t count, it has to be given compassionately and whole heartedly, and you will see the rewards will come back unexpectedly and a thousand fold.”
Catch 1CH1NOY: Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart only on CNN Philippines via Free TV Channel 9, Sky Cable Channel 14, Cignal Channel 10. It will also simultaneously air on CNN Philippines’ webpage www.cnnphilippines.com.