As we kickstart the second season of Secrets to Success, Jana Denzel speaks with Michael Apa about his journey in dentistry. He covers his daily routine and his work ethic that has him consistently producing bespoke quality dentistry across Dubai, Los Angeles and New York.
I’m sure every dentist knows who Dr Michael Apa is. No matter where you are in the world – it’s hard to miss his presence online. As a dentist or patient, you’ll instantly be drawn to his consistent bespoke, quality cosmetic cases.
However, surprisingly, Dr Apa’s work ethic wasn’t always what we see today. He says if we asked his parents when he was a kid if he was going to be the person he is today: ‘There is no way they would say yes’.
So, what was so formative about his younger years that bought about the great work ethic we all see today?
‘I was actually referred to as lazy’ he says. From growing up in upstate New York in a place of chain restaurants, supermarkets and a high school of a thousand graduates each year – it was a place where he felt that he didn’t belong. ‘I felt like I always stuck out, for good or bad. People either loved me or hated me.’
‘You’re never going to amount to anything’
Dr Apa didn’t grow up as suave as he is today. He described himself as: ‘Chubby, constantly put in the friend zone by girls and never really athletic. I was a skateboarder, which was really kind of an outsider.’
But from a young age he knew what was going on in the world and that he did not want to stay in that position. One thing that really fuelled him to change was the people around him when he was growing up, who he said would tell him: ‘You’re never going to amount to anything.’
However, he knew inside it wasn’t true and it brought about that change to show people otherwise.
Dr Apa hit his stride in college. As he was just on the brink of losing his scholarship, he turned it all around. ‘It was just one thing and then slowly everything. I started working out, losing weight, eating right, studying more’.
He described it as a culmination of him waking up, getting out of upstate New York, being in his own environment and not having outside voices telling him what he can and can’t do.
From then on, the little wins he created generated more momentum. He was soon able to break ceilings people had created within dentistry.
‘As soon as I walked into New York City it was over,’ he says. ‘My energy felt good, my mind relaxed, I finally felt like I was somewhere I could really be myself. That was really what propelled me into wanting to be really successful.’
Everybody has another gear
We can all see the work Dr Apa puts in through social media and how he consistently puts out more work than many other dentists.
However, what really fascinates me was that he doesn’t do it digitally via chairside milling or CAD/CAM. What he creates is bespoke and hand-made. How does Dr Apa consistently put out so many great cases without compromising on quality?
He answered by employing his ‘race car analogy’ and said everybody has a different gear.
He felt that when he was younger in upstate New York that he was a race car, but driving in a parking lot. Now, he says: ‘I’m a race car that has the best mechanics working on my engine, I have somebody constantly rotating my tires, I have the purest gasoline put into my system and I am unleashed on a race track which is Dubai, LA, New York – for me I would not have it any other way.’
Developing the system
Speaking with Dr Apa, it’s clear that he is always trying to pile more on his plate. He says: ‘I need sleep, but I need action at the same time, all the time’.
He works much better with 50 different tasks coming at him at once. A lack of tasks makes him feel bored and relaxed. But 50, thats when he can feel ‘Laser focused and mentally and physically the best.’
It’s important to note that his success and doing this many cases, didn’t happen overnight.
Not long ago he worked out of one surgery in New York. This meant he was only capable of doing one case in the morning and one case in the evening.
Only after he started going to Dubai was he be able to do a lot more work in a shorter period of time. He figured out systematically how to divide up each part of treatment and relay this to his assistant so that the practice worked like a machine.
Then, adding surgeries as he went on, he eventually developed a system where everyone in his team plays a role and ensures there is no dropping in the detail of work they provide.
‘It’s not easy but it didn’t happen yesterday,’ he says. ‘It’s not like I woke up and ran three rooms doing three preps at the same time – it takes time, but we perfected it.’
Having this great work ethic has to come with routine and structure.
If you watch Dr Apa’s Instagram stories you can see he has a dedicated daily routine. From his morning mirror selfie to his workouts and the exit music his staff play as he leaves the office.
Dr Apa typically gets to bed around 10pm and wakes up at 4:45am.
He then leaves his house around 5:30am, starts to warm up with his personal trainer arriving at 6am. They get a good solid hour workout. He then gets dressed, adding that: ‘A good outfit and a good hair day also really helps!’
As well as looking good, feeling good is also crucial. This is why Dr Apa ensures he eats healthy food. He says that feeling bloated in the morning can make him ‘cranky’.
Although it is hard not to eat junk food, Dr Apa says his body doesn’t manage it well changing his mood. So he stays clear from it.
The secrets to his daily routine – sleep, eating well and getting a workout in. He says that if those things are in place, his day is pretty well set up.
He then goes into his office and finishes up around 5:30-6pm.
After this, his wife Lisa is home. They have a good routine of having dinner and conversation before 9pm they gear down to sleep. However, if she is not there he can tend to carry on working when he gets home and gets to bed late.
He claims having Lisa by his side always helps him feel more controlled and balanced.
What Dr Apa has built across his dental clinics is very different from the norm. In the field of dentistry, we often see a lot of dentists try and replicate what Dr Apa has created.
‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, take it as a compliment,’ is what Dr Apa says many people have told him. But how does he truly feel? Does it bother him?
The honest answer is… Yes. Not because he feels that they are going to steal patients, but because being good in this profession has everything to do with vision. He says it: ‘Shows a lack of vision’ on their part.
‘I would rather have people who would want to do something completely different than me because that’s what would really bring the profession forward,’ he adds.
There are some elements he feels everyone needs – an in-house lab for instance. And he also says everyone should be comfortable at work.
But a lot of Dr Apa’s inspiration for what he creates actually comes from outside of the dental industry. His whole idea is to create a unique experience. He therefore looks at outside experience to bring within.
Dr Apa uses high fashion as an example. There are elements in the fashion industry that he sees work well in his dental office and that is what elevates and changes the ordinary dental visit into an enhanced experience.
Ultimately, however, he isn’t fazed by those who replicate what he does, because at the end of the day everyone is unique.
‘The element of my personality creates my uniqueness that I’m not worried about someone stealing,’ he says.
‘You can’t be, nor should you want to be, me. It wasn’t until I started being myself that I started to succeed in this environment we are in now.
‘There is uniqueness to the individual that really creates the atmosphere, it’s not the white walls or the zip-up lab coats or the cool glasses – those are all just attributes.’
‘Vision, passion and a will to never quit’
For the dental industry, Dr Michael Apa will go down as someone who has contributed so much to his field – especially in cosmetics.
But when asked what he wants to be remembered for inside and outside of dentistry he replies: ‘Just a good person.’
However, Dr Apa wasn’t born with this fame and celebrity status we see today. This came from years of hard work, dedication and tireless energy to his craft. Still he says: ‘I think we are just scratching the surface in what we are capable of with this team and what we have built to this point. There is a snowball effect and it’s happening right now and I am excited about it.
‘No matter what you are going to do, you will make some people happy and some people not so happy. Those are again decisions that have to be made in order to preserve one’s own self,’ he adds.
His admiration for hard work shows after asking who his dream dinner guest is. ‘Michael Jordan’, says Dr Apa, referring to the legendary basketball player. ‘Because he seems like a mythical creature to me. Even though he walks the planet, it doesn’t seem like he is human!’
Finally, we asked what he thought were the three most important attributes needed to be a successful entrepreneur or dentist.
He responds with an answer that speaks to his true character: ‘Vision, passion and a will to never quit’.
Listen to the interview in full here: open.spotify.com/episode/0qZvhnWYfi7xPzgn2KB1Xf?si=RGbvThXIS-G4lV7cb-mobA.