Alumnus surprised to find joy and fulfillment in family business
by Mary Denny
Several years ago, Bill Keith, who grew up in Kansas City, Mo., had a major change of heart. He pivoted from "I don't want to be one those kids who follow in their father's footsteps" to "One of the coolest things I have accomplished is being able to work with my dad in his dental practice on a daily basis." Today, Bill is on track to graduate in May from dental school—from his father's alma mater no less. And in typical fashion, he is wildly enthusiastic about the prospect of becoming a dentist. "I love it!" he exclaims.
Having a dental practice in Mission, Kansas, is a far cry from the career he originally planned as a business and finance major. But upon graduation in 2008, he discovered the opportunities on Wall Street were few and far between. Instead of the Big Apple, Bill headed back home and went to work for a large health care IT company. He quickly discovered that corporate America was not for him and he charted a more entrepreneurial path, starting a real estate management company with a good friend. While he enjoyed the freedom it provided, he felt himself wanting to do something where he could "give back more." Asked by another friend why he hadn't considered dentistry "since you talk about it all the time," Bill signed up for prerequisite classes that same week. He also began helping out at his dad's dental practice and ultimately enrolled in the University of Missouri School of Dentistry with aspirations to be the "the best and most prepared dentist I can be."
When his dad's business partner became disabled and had to retire unexpectedly, Bill's role expanded and he began to run the day-to-day activities at Keith and Wilson Family and Cosmetic Dentistry. As his May graduation approaches, Bill has pretty much taken over the reins of the practice, and his enthusiasm about his new career is palpable. "So far, I think my biggest surprise about dentistry is how much I really enjoy it," he says. "It's a perfect combination of business problem solving, working with your hands, communicating with people, and working to make others' lives better. I can go on for hours about how anyone even remotely interested in the field should really consider it."
While taking the reins of a family business is very special, Bill admits it is also daunting. "Dentistry is a unique industry," he explains. "The owner of a practice has to be a CEO and head of marketing as well as treat patients."
A big plus in Bill's career change and his enthusiasm for it is the fact that his Trinity business major has been extremely valuable. "My Trinity education cannot be overstated enough," he says. "As I make different decisions I can hear professors such as Phil Cooley in the back of my head advising me on each and every move." He especially enjoyed Cooley's Student Managed Fund class and remembers being in the class when Cooley and a former student took over the Steak and Shake restaurant chain.
Looking back, Bill says for him Trinity was an "easy choice." An avid runner, he was drawn by the track and cross country team, the excellent business and engineering departments, the "fun city with a small town feel," and, of course, the Mexican food. "I love how you could bounce from group to group and always feel like you knew people. I miss going to Bay's and always knowing there would be a great group of friends there."
Last fall Bill married his wife, Ashley, whom he met when they were ring bearer and flower girl in a wedding as children. They reconnected as adults. They are avid Chief's and Royals fans who enjoy traveling, outdoor activities, and caring for Zoey, "maybe the most spoiled dog on the planet." Already applying his new skills in the community, Bill volunteers with organizations that provide dental care to those in need.
Looking ahead to his leadership role in the family dental practice, Bill says, "My parents affectionately call me their retirement plan." He does have some expansion plans, but for now, "I just want to focus on providing the same great care and experience that folks have come to expect from our office."
You can contact Bill at BILL.R.KEITH [at] GMAIL.COM