You’ve met Tom Mayer, Spirit Dental’s energetic founder and self-described “Rainmaker.” But according to Mayer, it’s his parents – and the company’s twenty-person team – that have truly shaped the company’s success. “When I was forming the company, I kept coming across the word, ‘Spirit,” a bunch of times in my daily life,” says Mayer. “It just felt like the right name for the plan because that’s what I wanted for the company. I wanted it to reflect the values and lessons I got from my family. And I wanted to assemble a team that was as energized by the company mission as I was.”
Mayer says his diabetic father’s difficulties with dental insurance serve as a guide for continuously improving the Spirit Dental plan. But it’s his mother’s sense of playfulness and creativity that can be felt – and, literally, seen – throughout the hallways of the company’s headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota. “Tom’s mother likes to paint,” explains Lisa Talcott, Sales Operations Manager for Spirit Dental’s parent company, Direct Benefits, pointing to the seemingly endless rows of hanging artwork. In fact, a brief tour of the company quickly reveals that Mayer’s mother really, really likes to paint. Her works, mostly oil on canvas, are everywhere. (There is even a “nudes gallery” tucked away in a remote, less trafficked corner of the building.) “Tom gets them all professionally framed and we display them here, as part of our permanent collection” says Talcott, smiling. “But since we’re always getting more, we’ve started a give-away. Every visitor gets to choose a painting to take with them.”
Diane Lysen, Group Sales Executive for Direct Benefits, says the revolving art display and the giveaways are just a small part of the “very special” culture of the Spirit Dental team. “It is just an absolute joy to come to work every day because here, I have made lifelong friends. We just have so much fun here.”
Mayer agrees. “Direct Benefits is a unique place because we’re all very emotionally invested in achieving our shared goal. If I were the only one here trying to create a revolution in the dental insurance industry, it would be awful. But everybody here is trying to start that revolution!” While everyone shares the goal, each team member is strongly encouraged to bring their individuality – and a sense of humor – to work each day.
“We each have our own alter ego,” says Talcott. “If we feel like coming to a meeting as our alter egos, we do,” she explains. “We even have costumes. ” There is a Fairy Godmother, a Dental Guru, a caped Benefits Superhero, a Ninja, a Commando, a Princess, a Fairy, a Therapist, a Rock Star, a Genie, a Coach, and an Ace in the Hole. Mayer, of course, is “the Rainmaker.”
For Mayer, it’s all part of creating the right work environment by celebrating the power that each individual brings to the business. “I really enjoy the culture we’ve all established here now,” adds Mayer, who says growing the company too much more would risk losing that magic. “There are twenty of us here now and that really works. Everyone knows each other’s stories. We know we can count on each other. Turning this into a huge company would mean taking that away. I can tell you right now, if I had 200 employees, that would be the worst nightmare in the world!”
Mayer obviously relishes the fact that everyone is passionate about proving Spirit Dental is the best dental insurance in the world. “We know how intimidating and confusing it can be to compare dental insurance. So we’ve made a point of setting ourselves apart from everyone else.” If you don’t believe him, Mayer says all you need to do is stand in one of Direct Benefits’ painting-covered hallways and listen. “When our phones ring, we answer them. We actually talk to the people calling us, because we remember that’s someone’s mom or sibling or grandparent on the phone, trying to find better dental insurance than they got someplace else.”
“The people here make Spirit Dental so different from the traditional insurance company,” says Mayer. “And we’re really proud of that.”