The Interview: Drew Adia

Drew Adia is the chief operating officer of Horizon Family Dental Care -- the "preferred dentist" of the Baltimore Ravens. (Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor / September 11, 2012)

Drew Adia studied biology at Towson University, planning to attend medical school and become a doctor. His parents, immigrants from the Philippines, wanted that.

But as Adia prepared for the MCATs, his career plans suddenly changed. Working as a trainer at the Merritt Athletic Club in Timonium, he got involved with the gym's business side — and discovered he loved it.

It made sense. After all, Adia had grown up watching his parents build a video rental company in the 1980s and '90s.

"My parents wanted me to become a doctor," he said. "But watching my dad build his business, seeing how he was able to grow it and make our lives better, that gave me the drive to be a part of something like that."

Adia, 36, of Towson, is now the chief operating officer of Horizon Family Dental Care, helping three young dentists — Kuljeet S. Bhangra, Vikash Patel and Philip Qi — build their practice. He recently oversaw the opening of a new office, the company's third, at McHenry Row in Locust Point. The other offices are in Clinton and Hanover.

These are not just any dentists. As a sign outside the Locust Point office proclaims, they're the "preferred" dentists of the Baltimore Ravens. For the privilege of using the Ravens name in its marketing, the practice offers deals on services to people affiliated with the team, including players, front-office folks and, yes, cheerleaders.

So your career took shape when you realized how inspired you'd been by your father, Mario. In retrospect, what did you learn from him?

My dad, he's a pretty admirable guy. He's a typical hard-nosed Filipino father. He was the first of his brothers and sisters to come over to the States. He came over with probably $8 in his pocket, to Chicago [in 1969]. He lived out of a YMCA at first. He worked for a bank for several years. He knew of my mom, [who was] one of the first of her family to come over. They met up in Maryland — she was working at Union Memorial [Hospital] at the time as a medical tech — and got married.

My dad started a business here back in the '80s, when the video stores were big. … That's what took us out of the city. We moved to Towson when I was in eighth grade. So he did really well, by his standards. Remember, he's fresh off the boat. He didn't know much. So for him, it was an accomplishment. … They just showed me that it's all about hard work. You gotta create your own opportunities, and my dad building something out of nothing, that was instilled in me.

How did you end up working with a dental office?

I knew Dr. Qi a little bit. … [He] and I talked business — he was concerned that I didn't have dental experience — but I came on board, and it's just my job to take their vision and make sure it grows.

You were hired just as this new office was becoming a reality. There are plenty of locations Horizon could have opted for in the city. Why pick McHenry Row?

You can see what's been going on in Baltimore the last 20 years. A lot of the developers have done great things in the places everybody talks about: Harbor East, Canton, Federal Hill. Baltimore's on the upswing. It's recruiting a lot of talent. It has big-time companies like Under Armour. … Being [in Locust Point] gives us a chance to connect with a lot of 20- and 30-somethings who might not be totally engaged with this part of their health. But our practice can really connect with the great people moving into the city as it grows and can educate them [about dental health].

A large sticker plastered on the window out front tells me you're the "preferred dentist of the Ravens." What, exactly, does that mean?

I'm sort of nontraditional, at least in terms of dentistry and growing a business, in that I'll take that grass-roots approach. We have a partnership with Under Armour, too, where we try to give them incentives to come here. It's just corporate outreach. Not many dentists do it. But that's what I feel is important: Getting the word out there. And I'm old-school. I'll go pound the pavement, knock on doors.

The partnership with the Ravens is a little bit outside the box. But we wanted that as soon as we came into Baltimore. This town is about the Ravens. You see it all around. It just made sense. We're co-branding ourselves with a powerhouse, one of the most successful operations in Baltimore. I had to make a few calls, put in some work. [The Ravens organization] looked at us like people always do, thinking, "What are you trying to sell?" But we made them see it as a partnership. … They get some special rates on certain things, packages for all their people, from cheerleaders to groundskeepers to office people.

So if I hang out in the lobby, I'll run into Ray Lewis and Joe Flacco coming in to get their teeth fixed after games?

The players all wear those helmets, and their teeth stay safe. So they're not in need of us that much. We've had a few come in … I can't really talk specifics. So many of them live out of the state, so they might not need a dentist here. We end up seeing a lot of the rookies, the young guys who have just moved here. And, really, the deal with the Ravens is … about partnering with the whole organization. A lot of people put work into making the product on the field. They all need great dental care, too.

Do people care that you're affiliated with the Ravens? Do they choose their dentist based on that?

As with many marketing initiatives, it can be hard to tell. But you have to try. You have to throw it out there, and then either you're getting the volume of customers you hope for or you're not. That's the only way to know. But people have stopped by to ask questions about [the relationship]. It's a recognizable symbol, and we're affiliated. That helps us grow.

chris.korman@baltsun.com

twitter.com/chriskorman