Sonya Taylor Acree is the owner of the Center for Cosmetic Dentistry in Albany.
Sonya Acree wanted to be a dentist since she was 12 years old and working for her dad. She held firm on her goal, she says, because she loves to make people feel better about themselves.
When she isn’t beautifying teeth, Acree spends a considerable amount of family time, reading with her children and watching movies.
Acree recently participated in a question-and-answer session with Herald reporter Jim West.
Q. What was your first job?
A. Working in my dad’s dental office as assistant to the assistant, so I started low on the totem pole. I was 12.
NAME: Sonya Taylor Acree
POSITION: Owner, Center for Cosmetic Dentistry; Senior Dentist, Albany Area Health Care’s Glover Center
FAMILY: Married to Mathis with children age 8 and 12
EDUCATION: Albany State University; Medical College of Georgia School of Dentistry
Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first paycheck?
A. The reason I started working for (my dad) was because I wanted to buy an acid-wash blue jeans outfit like they had on “Back to the Future” a long time ago. The rest is history. I’ve been in dentistry ever since.
Q. What’s the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?
A. I think that making them a part of the patient process keeps them motivated — letting them know I value their opinion. Sometimes a second pair of eyes will accentuate yours and help to create a rounded patient treatment.
Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to operate your own business?
A. Starting in dentistry at an early age, I grew to love it, not just because I wanted to get some extra allowance money, but because the interaction you have with people, the expression on someone’s face when you’ve allowed them to have a nice smile, networking with other dentists on different things. I thought it fit my personality. I like to make people feel better about themselves.
Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?
A. My dad was my biggest mentor as it pertained to dentistry. He guided me into getting into dental school, the undergrad process and all of that. When it comes to being a business owner, as far as being a stickler for perfection, keeping good records, making decisions about the right employees, I have to say my mom. She retired in 2000 as assistant superintendent of the Dougherty County School System so her ideology as far as being able to hire people and get the right people in place helped to create the dental offices I’ve had in the past.
Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?
A. I am a planner. I have an type A personality. I don’t just leap out on faith. I think I was more prepared than some people because I didn’t have a lot of things to deal with as far as money. Being able to run a tight ship really helped us to get through the recession without many problems.
Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology – examples email, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. – what would you most like to see go away?
A. I’d like to see some of the automated systems go away. Even with me as a professional, when I’m calling to see about phone service or something like that, I want to talk with someone. I try not to have a complicated phone system in my office because I want you to be able to talk to someone, not have to press 10 buttons just to get to the right person.
Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?
A. Digital X-rays, or radiographs as dentists call them. When that first came on board maybe 10 years ago, that was really the best thing because now you can just email them to another dentist. And you’re able to see things in 3-D. You’re able to catch cavities at an earlier state. Also, when you want to communicate with insurance companies, you can write on (digital X-rays ), you can write on them and draw on them and show them exactly what you’re looking at.
Q. What is your favorite tradition?
A. Just sitting down face-to-face with my patient and doing the opening, “How are you doing, how are you?” I’m old-fashioned, I was raised in the South so I’m going to ask “do I know your people?” Just being a hands-on dentist.
Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?
A. Of course I read the dental journals we get on a month-to month basis. The last book I read was “The Hobbit.” My sixth grader had to read it. We read it together, kind of to motivate her.
Q. I’m up and going by? And what is your morning routine?
A. Taylor has to catch her bus 6:55 a.m. so I’m up by 6:15, helping her get dressed, getting breakfast. Lesland and I try to leave the house by 7:15 a.m. so she can get to St. Teresa’s by 7:45. We’re coming from Lee County so it takes a minute. I try to be at my desk by 8 a.m.
Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and why?
A. President Obama.
I would love to meet him. He’s an Icon. I just feel like some of the things he says, the ideology that he uses, I just relate to him a lot. I would love to meet him and his wife.
Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?
A. We just like to go to the movies. We’ll go get a bucket of popcorn and slushies. We consider that an ideal thing to do on a Saturday. We just went to see “Hansel and Gretel.” I wasn’t too much into that, but it’s the family time that’s important so I just sat there and actually enjoyed it.
Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?
A. I think that the decision I made to hire a human resources director wasn’t a good decision for my staff. It was good for me. It helped me with organization and stuff like that, but I kind of got out of touch with my staff. Someone was handling the complaints, someone else the hiring, more than I was. I may not have hired a person like that in that full capacity.
Q. Best thing about your job?
A. The end result. The last appointment when I’ve fixed everything and it’s all shiny and new and the person looks in the mirror with that smile. I’ve had people to say, “You know what, I just never knew I could look like this.” That’s the best part of my job — changing someone’s life for the better. The first thing a person looks at when they see you is your smile.
Q. Worst thing about your job?
A. Not being able to help someone as much as I want to, either because of finances on their part or because of health reasons, and seeing the disappointment on their faces.
Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?
A. Definitely business courses. Being a dentist is easy, you’re trained on that. But you’re not trained on dealing with staff as much as you need to be. You’re not trained on getting things prepared for your CPA. You’re not trained on how to budget and stuff like that. That comes with time and you can takes courses on it, but until you actually do it and get organized you don’t realize how hard that is.
Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?
A. Definitely teaching. My mother started off as a kindergarten teacher and accelerated all the way to assistant superintendent of the school system. And watching her interact with students when she was still in the classroom — that’s something I wouldn’t mind doing as a second career.
Q. Finish this thought: “On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself …
A. I plan to semi-retire at the age of 50, which is six years from now. So I see myself preparing my oldest child for college. I’m preparing her for life outside mama’s house, because she’ll be 18 years old then.
Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?
A. Integrity. I feel that your word is your bond. If you tell someone you’ll do something, do it.
Q. Crystal ball time: What’s your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?
A. The economy is definitely recovering. We have a lot of growth in the community. We do have some downfalls. I feel there are more pluses to the economy than minuses right now.
Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?
A. I share my iPod with an 8-year-old and a 12-year-old so you might find everything for Beyonce to Carrie Underwood to Phillip Phillips. We listen to all kinds of music. We might have 2000 songs with all the digital equipment that we have. It all depends on what kind of day and what kind of mood I’m in.
Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?
A. We’ll see a boom in the economy. We’ll have a definite growth in all our institutions here — Albany Tech, Albany State, Darton. I think that growth is helping us and we’ll see a lot of technological growth in Albany. Our hospitals are growing. We’re definitely getting to be a medical center here in Southwest Georgia so I see growth in education and in health.
Q. What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken? Why?
A. Wow. The best vacation was with my husband. We went to Las Vegas. It happened by accident because we were headed to Punta Cana in 2011. The hurricane came through and they re-routed us to Vegas. Well, we’re sitting in LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) and it was the week of the Video Music Awards. So all of a sudden we start seeing these different famous people coming in and I got to meet a couple of them. It was a surprise vacation that turned out very well.
Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?
A. The main change in dentistry is the way insurance carriers have restricted some payments and the things we do for patients. That’s a change I don’t too much agree with but you have to handle it when it comes. Patients are being more proactive as far as treatments. In the South, ten years ago we were doing a lot more extractions than root canals. Now people are trying to save their teeth. A lot of patient care is now centered on restoration and restoring function rather than pulling everything. We’re doing all sorts of things to save their teeth now.