21 Women Making An Impact: Liz Johnson, Director Of Operations, Saving Smiles Dentistry

Written by: Brady Drake
  • United Way Volunteer and Investor
  • United Way Employee Campaign Coordinator
  • United Way 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program Alumna and Volunteer
  • United Way Women UNITED Leadership Team Volunteer

How did your experience in the United Way 35 Under 35 program influence your career journey?

My career journey really changed after completing the UW’s 35 Under 35 program. The program was one of the confidence builders that led me to leave my corporate job of over 10 years and focus on the family business (Saving Smiles Dentistry). I was trying to juggle working full-time as a manager in the accounting world while supporting the growth of the dental practice after hours. Ultimately something had to give. The experience and now having less to juggle has also given me the opportunity to stay involved with United Way through the Women UNITED Leadership Team and their annual Women UNITED Golf Scramble.

What is one lesson you have learned? How did you learn it?

After surviving 2020, I’ve learned to not be surprised by anything. My first year after leaving the corporate world included figuring out the “how to” for both keeping a dental office alive and helping pivot the annual Women UNITED Golf Scramble to be “COVID-friendly” from the co-chair position. They both came with some long days and hard decisions. Amazon didn’t have a guide for this one!

Also, to find the good in the situation you’re in. Whether it’s personal or professional, it makes it much easier to navigate.

Why and how do you make philanthropy a priority as a small, family-owned business?

Both my husband and I believe in the importance of giving back to our community and we encourage our team to share the same passion by getting involved. Outside of the donated dental care we provide, our team members are given 8 hours of paid time to volunteer throughout the Fargo/West Fargo/Moorhead community each year. We try to coordinate regular opportunities for team members to volunteer at and we also look to our team for input in choosing the organizations and causes we support. An example of this includes 2020 being our first year of many to come hosting a United Way team fundraising campaign. We had fun daily events throughout the week and our team surpassed our fundraising goals! It was a great way to get our whole team involved in giving back, while having fun right at our office!

How do you maintain a successful family-owned business and a successful family knowing they are so intertwined?

This is tricky, as they are completely intertwined. Both our family and the business are 24/7 responsibilities and most of the important business decisions happen right at our kitchen island when our whole family is home. However, this is balanced with the office being closed on nights and weekends and the fact that it requires limited travel. We are fortunate to have most of that time dedicated to our family.

At the very least, we’re having meetings and discussions at our home versus being somewhere else away from our family.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

My time in the corporate world gave me a lot of consulting experience with clients on what didn’t work for them or what not to do. This experience has been invaluable in how I try to lead. I try to put myself in team members’ shoes and understand the effects of decisions on them as well as the team as a whole before decisions are made.

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.