Longtime VITA North America executive, Wayne Whitehill, recently announced his retirement as CEO, effective August 1. Mr. Whitehill will stay on as a VITA North America Board Member and consultant for the near term. President Fred Ketcho has taken over as the new CEO.
One of the original founding members of the company, Wayne Whitehill, along with Ray Morrow and Vern Hale, launched VITA North America in 1984 to represent the VITA product line in the United States. All three had worked with VITA in one capacity or another and were looking to partner with the dental laboratory industry, laying the groundwork for the founding of VITA North America. The trio opened up shop in Baldwin Park, California and got to work designing the first product catalog, unloading boxes and labeling products. “The three of us worked really well together,” explains Whitehill. “We split up the duties and each took on different areas of responsibility. I oversaw administration, Vern was in charge of sales and marketing and Ray handled the technical side. We were very efficient and were able to use our combined expertise to help grow the company.” First year sales for VITA North America were nearly $3 million. Today, VITA North America has a roster of almost 100 employees and has experienced strong growth at a phenomenal rate, increasing sales more than eight times over the last 20 years.
For more than two decades, academic and industry leaders worked closely with Whitehill to develop some of today’s most innovative products lines. “Mr. Whitehill and I met 25 years ago when he and Henry Rauter visited MIT to review our proposal for research leading to Mark II ceramic blocks,” explains Dr. Robert Kelly, Professor at the University of Connecticut Health Center in the Department of Reconstructive Sciences. “My capabilities were enriched enormously by annual visits to VITA North America and VITA, especially watching Wayne grow and develop VITA North America into the unique and successful enterprise it is today.”
Whitehill prided himself on forging quality relationships in the industry, allowing him to get to know people on a personal level, as well as a business one. “In the 35 years that I’ve worked in the dental industry, there isn’t a relationship that I’ve enjoyed more than the one I’ve shared with Wayne Whitehill,” says Josh Green, President and COO of National Dentex Corporation. “Wayne had a vision with a quality product and was able to combine that with his technical training to support his customers. Whenever I needed to speak with Wayne directly, he made himself available, even as the CEO. He is a man with a great deal of integrity who constantly did the right thing and he will be sorely missed.”
Known for his tireless pursuit of product innovation, Whitehill used his extensive experience and contacts to make an impact in the industry. “Wayne’s visionary leadership has helped propel a niche collection of quality products into an awesome resource that promotes the well-being and success of their laboratory, dental practice and patient end users,” says Mark T. Murphy, DDS, Vice President of Clinical Education for DTI-Microdental Laboratories. “VITA North America’s attention to quality and support is not an accident. It is the heartbeat of a business design that partners with dentistry at every level. The hand-off to Fred Ketcho as CEO will provide a seamless transition and continuation of an exceptional customer engagement strategy.”
In 2009, VITA North America began to actively seek a candidate for President of the company and after a nationwide search, Fred Ketcho was hired on in April 2010 to fill the role. “When we were looking to fill the position of President, we did so with the knowledge that the candidate would one day be stepping into the job of CEO,” said Whitehill. “We were looking for an individual with the right background, education and experience and Fred was the clear choice. His broad professional experience, leadership abilities and energy, along with his strong focus on customer relationships made him the perfect candidate.”
Ketcho’s priority of being customer focused has been evident from the start. “My interactions with Fred have been impressive,” states Dr. Sameer Puri with SoCalSmiles. “With Fred at the helm, VITA North America will do very well and have a positive impact on the dental market. A powerful leader like Fred will do great things for the company.”
With his recent promotion to CEO, Ketcho will tap into his vast management experience to help lead VITA North America into the future. “Over the years, I have learned to place a great deal of importance on who I work for,” explains Ketcho. “From the beginning, Wayne and I were able to develop a trusting relationship that laid the groundwork for a successful working environment. He provided just the right amount of coaching and tutelage to help me learn the business, but also gave me room to manage and lead. His accessibility, high level of integrity and respect in the industry has made him an ideal mentor.”
In his new role, Ketcho will assume responsibility for the day to day operations of the company, including his top priorities of focusing on close collaboration with VITA North America’s customers, evaluating the training and development needs of the staff, keeping an eye on the financials and driving continuous improvement from a process and system-wide standpoint.
“As a company, we will continue to leverage the heritage of our core beliefs and values and to actively demonstrate our devotion to our customers each and every day. To accomplish that, we have launched a focused strategy to get closer to both our clinical and laboratory customers and to really understand and meet their needs,” said Ketcho.