Q&A with Northeast Delta Dental CEO Tom Raffio

‘I heard Dave Cowens speak at a business conference, and it seemed that every point he made aligned with the points that were in our book drafts.’


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Tom Raffio, co-author of ‘There Are No Do-overs: The ‘Big Red’ Factors for Sustaining a Business Long Term’ with Boston Celtic great Dave Cowens: ‘I heard Dave Cowens speak at a business conference, and it seemed that every point he made aligned with the points that were in our book drafts.’

Photo by Jodie Andruskevich

Tom Raffio was in the middle of writing a book about his experiences as CEO of Concord-based Northeast Delta Dental when he had a chance encounter with Boston Celtics great Dave Cowens at a conference in Mexico.

After listening to Cowens speak about the lessons he had learned as a player and coach, Raffio approached Cowens and asked him to become co-author of his book, along with fellow Northeast Delta Dental executive Barbara McLaughlin.

The recently published “There Are No Do-overs: The ‘Big Red’ Factors for Sustaining a Business Long Term” is the result of their collaboration, which merges successful business and sports lessons.

“(Tom) said there were a lot of parallels between the chapters he’d already written and the elements of my talk,” said Cowens, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991 and was on two Celtic championship teams in 1974 and 1976. “I don’t think there’s a book like ours that draws such deep parallels between running a sports franchise and running a business, between being a coach and being a CEO, between being a great player and a great employee.”

Raffio has led NEDD, which provides dental insurance for some 750,000 people in northern New England, since 1995 and has received numerous personal honors and awards for his business leadership and numerous civic activities.

Q. Why did you write the book?

A. We decided to write it because NEDD and I personally had won so many awards that we were always being asked for our secrets of success. To name just a few of the honors, NEDD has been honored repeatedly as one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America, received a Health Innovator Award, and won the Granite State Quality Achievement Award.

Q. How do you write it?

A. Barbara and I began in March 2011, and I wrote the first drafts of the book with her. We focused on our behind-the-scenes experiences in running a company and on trying to make the hidden truths visible. I began to sit down with Barbara every time we had an hour here or there and just talk about our beliefs, our values, what we thought had made us so successful, why we admired certain people, and so on. I’d do most of the talking and Barbara would record our ideas and get them converted to text. We then sorted the ideas into chapters and we thought we were nearly done.

Then I heard Dave Cowens speak at a business conference, and it seemed that every point he made aligned with the points that were in our book drafts. I immediately approached him and eventually sold him on becoming part of our book team.

Every chapter begins with “Big Red” stories and ends with “Big Red” factors or lessons learned.

Q. What business book inspired you the most?

A. “Leadership Is an Art” by Max DePree. This is one of my most prized books on leadership and one I quote throughout my book. One of the points of his book and mine is about the importance of servant leadership. This is the philosophy that the leader of the organization is in service to their employees, customers and other stakeholders.

As I describe it in the book, servant leadership means “My job is to create the vision, develop the strategic game plan and create the environment where players can thrive.”

Q. What do you hope readers will take away from this collaborative approach?

A. The book is about how organizations of any size or type can be successful – how they can outplay and outperform their competitors by doing some fundamental things right from the start, such as giving your best to the important details.

It draws on two of my personal passions – business excellence and sports. Together, Dave and I have created a memorable and persuasive blend of stories and tips that work in both the business and sports worlds.

Q. What is the importance of hustle?

A. Dave, like all the best athletes, worked hard during and after practices to perfect his skills and was known for the extraordinary way he hustled for a loose ball during games. At NEDD, when the pressure is on, everyone hustles to make sure the job gets done.

For instance, when NEDD was implementing a new IT system conversion or when we had to prepare to operate under the Affordable Care Act, we all were motivated to work the extra hours because of our shared passion for serving our customers and making our organization, our team, strong.

Q. How important is communication in strategic planning?

A. Leadership can be learned and shared, and we believe in the long view for optimal corporate governance. We took the view and convinced the board that the Affordable Care Act and the exchange model wasn’t going to go away and created our own personal exchange for the shift to greater retail demand.

Beginning in 2010, when the ACA passed, we created a five-year plan and made significant capital and marketing investments to put us in a stronger position for 2015 and beyond.

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