LRN Perspectives

Prioritizing Purpose Over Profit: A Conversation With Michael Williamson of Pacific Dental Services

October 15, 2019 LRN Corporation

“The balance of purpose and profit is the paramount contemplation when you’re thinking about the equities of the regulatory and commercial healthcare environments.”

 – Michael Williamson

Host Marsha Ershaghi Hames interviews Chief Compliance Officer and Chief Privacy Officer of Pacific Dental Services Michael Williamson on this episode of the Principled podcast. Michael brings experience in the regulatory sector to his role in the private equity healthcare space. He explains that when a private healthcare organization has a primary focus on profit over purpose, it can be difficult to square up to regulatory imperatives. When an organization gets the balance of purpose and profit right, and the business is built on ideals and principles, then it is much easier to get support for Ethics and Compliance as a business driver, a strategic differentiator, and as a means of engaging employees.


  • [0:54] Tell us about your journey into compliance.
  • [0:57] Michael started in a general practice law firm, where he enjoyed very little of the adversarial nature of being a lawyer. He migrated within the firm to institutional representation in the healthcare arena and then opened his own practice, where he could deploy the law in support of what was good and right.
  • [2:58] How did you find yourself shifting into this type of path?
  • [3:03] Michael also worked for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and got to see the impact of regulatory pressures on the private sector. When Michael transitioned from there into the private equity healthcare space, it was also eye-opening for his career.
  • [3:36] How have you transferred your skills from the past few decades into your role today with Pacific Dental Services?
  • [4:09] Michael’s experience gave him insight into the potential impact of a heavy-handed or narrow-minded regulatory approach on private institutions. He was able to enter the field of Ethics and Compliance with a broader frame of reference, and found that the private equity influence in the healthcare environment contributed to the imbalance of purpose and profit.
  • [5:56] Given these conflicts, do you see Ethics and Compliance as a potential facilitator to make purpose more actionable and measurable, while meeting regulatory guidelines?
  • [6:17] Michael believes that Ethics and Compliance plays an essential role in finding and exploiting the heart and soul of an organization. Ethics and Compliance can bring out the best of an organization by tapping into core human qualities.
  • [6:53] In your experience, how willing is the workforce to share and speak about being a part of culture?
  • [7:14] When the purpose and profit are imbalanced, there’s no room, energy or support for leveraging the human qualities of an organization. But when there is a foundation of ideals and principles that are championed consistently, many folks are willing to join in on the Ethics and Compliance journey.
  • [8:36] Can you share a little bit about the values system at Pacific Dental Service?
  • [8:58] Eight “we believe” statements are actionable and used as guideposts for the organization. Ethics and Compliance, under Michael’s direction, was used to scale the CEO’s values via the “we believe” statements to ensure that it reached new employees and new geographies, as the company scaled. Each statement was associated with two desired behaviors, which allow employees to filter their actions and decisions through this framework.
  • [12:24] What would be your advice to Ethics and Compliance practitioners that are struggling to build the business case for internal stakeholders that they need to collaborate with?
  • [12:56] Rethink your organizational value statements and make them as genuine, unique, and organic to your organization as you possibly can. Then think about how that lands on your workforce and what it means in terms of behavior. Focus intently on modeling, rewarding, and course correcting that behavior.
  • [14:52] What trends do you forecast in the field over the next five or 10 years?
  • [15:02] Michael forecasts a change in the way we think about organizational learning, as things transition to more live, peer-to-peer sessions around real situations that carry risk. Boards and executives will also shift to incorporate Ethics and Compliance more into the company strategy, and will ask deeper questions about how culture drives behavior.

    Don’t miss our next episode! Be sure to subscribe to Principled on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Play or wherever you listen to podcasts.
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