On April 23, 2012, Mr. Carmelo Cinqueonce joined the Minnesota Dental Association as its new Executive Director. Northwest Dentistry sat down with Mr. C two and a half weeks later for a getting-to-know-you conversation that begins to paint an intriguing picture of a man who has himself come “brush in hand” to move the Association into its next chapter.
P.S. The gentleman’s name is pronounced chin-kway-own-chae.
NWD: Welcome to the MDA, and to Northwest Dentistry. Since this article is all about beginnings, please tell us about yours: where you are from, your family, education, and professional training.
Mr. Cinqueonce: I grew up just outside of Boston, and all my family is still there. I am the youngest of five – three sisters, and one brother. I was born in Sicily, came here when I was three, and became a U.S. citizen at 12, something I am very proud of. I went to Framingham State College outside of Boston, where I received my Bachelor’s degree in corporate communications. I went to the University of Massachusetts/Boston for my MBA. I lived in the Boston area until 2006, when an opportunity came to move down to South Carolina and work for the South Carolina Pharmacists Association, where I spent six years. Then came the opportunity in Minnesota. My wife is from Hugo, Minnesota, and we are settling down there. I have two stepdaughters, 12 and 13 years old, and then we have a little one together who is going to be two. No more commuting between Minnesota and South Carolina. It’s good to be home.
NWD: Your professional experience covers 17 years working in the non-profit arena. You started with the focus on non-profits rather than on health care?
Mr. Cinqueonce : Yes. [laughs] You know, sometimes you just never know where you are going to end up in life. I actually started out wanting to be in radio or television, maybe a DJ … I did college radio and all that wonderful stuff, but that’s a tough market. So I moved from general communications to corporate communications, marketing, and public relations. By virtue of that, I began working right out of college for the Massachusetts Pharmacists Association as a sort of assistant to Linda Barry, the Executive Vice- President; very, very good experience. I would attend Board of Pharmacy meetings and legislative hearings, report on and interpret what was said, and communicate that to the members. As I did, I understood more and more about that profession and industry, including their reimbursement models and how they fit with the overall delivery of pharmaceuticals in our distribution system. When my mentor, Linda Barry, left, the Board of Directors asked me to apply for the position. I thought about it long and hard and decided to do it. I was 27 at the time. The Board gave me the opportunity to lead the organization, and I was excited to do that. I wanted to learn and know everything I could about the profession, and I am doing that here as well.
As time went on, I was doing more and more legislative regulatory representation. In 1999, the association lobbyist position came open, and I became lead lobbyist as well as being Executive VP of the association, until 2006. Then it was to South Carolina for more challenges. We had some tremendous successes there as well as in Massachusetts.
NWD: Let’s talk about those in the context of your strengths — legislative/regulatory; health care policy; strategic planning; and coalition building. How might specific challenges you faced in previous positions relate to challenges here?
Mr. Cinqueonce: In Massachusetts we were among the first in the country to make changes to allow pharmacists to administer vaccines, expanding their scope of practice in the face of opposition from Massachusetts medical and nurses associations, and we did the same in South Carolina. We fought against third-party payers for the independent pharmacy community, including reductions in reimbursement and unfair audit practices. We had tremendous successes maintaining Medicaid reimbursements at levels higher than anywhere in the country. We brought electronic prescribing to South Carolina. There are a lot of parallels here for a similarly situated organization. Then there is the challenge of running a non-profit, understanding its unique interests and aspects. My goal in the first 30 to 60 days here is to get my arms around what the MDA is all about, what aspects and components, what member services, what contracts, what relationships with stakeholders we have, and to begin to work with those and clarify them for myself, the Board, and the staff so we can paint a picture of the MDA that will help us function in areas where we can focus for our members.
NWD: Since this article is all about starting, we would like to know your perspective from the proverbial Square One. What are the “layers” of such a job?
Mr. Cinqueonce: As I see it, there are two components to the organizational perspective of a non-profit association. The first is being a strong advocate for the profession it represents; providing services and benefits to the members to make sure their interests are well represented in all circles externally. The second, the other side of the equation, is being an effective manager who understands a non-profit. What are our IRS requirements; policies and procedures we need to have in place; Board governance? The “what we do/why we exist” mission and its operation on a day-to-day basis is just as important. Everything we do is to effectively represent the profession. That is what I believe in, and that is what I hope to bring to the table. The three core components of why an organization exists are communication, representation, and education. Administration should reflect all three. Ultimately the organization belongs to the members, and we (staff) have been entrusted with seeing that it is well run. There are no shareholders, but there are stakeholders, the members who pay their dues for services and benefits.
NWD: Let’s talk about becoming the MDA’s Executive Director. I’ll pose the classic question: Why did you want this job?
Mr. Cinqueonce: There was a tremendous opportunity here, with a lot of parallels to what I was doing, combined with a great organization, in a great state. I am up for the challenge. With challenge comes great opportunity, both for me and for the organization.
NWD: What’s first? What are you most excited about?
Mr. Cinqueonce: To begin to paint that picture of the components, services, benefits, and what our members really look to the MDA for, and to discover what our involvement in all these things encompasses, as well as learning and understanding those internal operations and policies. I am a great believer in policy governance, where someone could come in and pick up the “bible” and know where things are and what steps are necessary to continue to operate efficiently.
NWD: What are some of your impressions after these first two weeks?
Mr. Cinqueonce: I am extremely impressed with the membership — all the members I have met are dedicated individuals with the MDA’s best interests in mind. Discovering the MDA’s very, very active district components — that’s exciting. My first days included the Star of the North Meeting, and I cannot tell you how impressed I was with that program and operation.
NWD: The initial MDA News piece about your arrival included your goal of “taking the Association to the next level”. What is the next level?
Mr. Cinqueonce: For me it is having the Minnesota Dental Association become a premier dental association in the country — becoming a model that is looked upon by other dental associations, other associations, as a model of operation that will be emulated, envied, by other non-profit organizations. That is my goal, and once we “paint the picture”, we can begin taking the next steps down that road.
NWD: In our continuing climate of rapid change, what do you see as the challenges facing associations today?
Mr. Cinqueonce: There seem to be generational gaps and issues, and they are becoming more evident in organizations. The way individuals interact with organizations is changing. The opportunity to network was always a significant benefit of belonging to any organization, but now with all the instant communication options we have, the newest — i.e., most techsavvy — generation has a “virtual community”. This virtual connection did not exist 15 to 20 years ago. I think the need and the desire to want to come together as a group, as a part of a larger organization or entity, is diminishing. The challenge of meeting the communication needs of the younger generation will definitely be a priority. Economics is another challenge, of course. Overall, if we are going to remain relevant, we will have to look at what we will mean to our members in the future.
NWD: How do you see your new position in terms of the idea of leadership?
Mr. Cinqueonce: To me leadership is “servant/leadership” that recognizes that I am part of a greater good. I am here to serve the members through the Board of Trustees. I represent that Board to the staff and the membership and make sure the Board’s wishes are carried out. For me, it begins with mutual respect, which produces loyalty, which is followed by the willingness to rise to the next level. It takes time to develop that, but once you get there, it is a great place to be for everyone involved.
NWD: What message would you like to convey to the members of the Minnesota Dental Association as you begin this journey?
Mr. Cinqueonce: I would like them to know that I am excited, thrilled, to be here. I truly believe our best days are before us. If there is anything the Association can do for you, please feel free to call on us. That’s why we are here.