Rodney Young

Forward, One Flash at a Time

Tuesday, September 22, 2020



As the CEO and president of one of the largest dental insurance providers in the nation, Delta Dental of Minnesota, Rodney Young understands the powerful impact businesses can have on the communities they serve.


Rodney A. Young

Chief Executive Officer and President at Delta Dental of Minnesota

8 years

St. Louis, Missouri

International travel, new restaurants, museums and basketball

Through a variety of initiatives, large and small, Young and his staff have demonstrated time and again that businesses can be a force for good. Y

Young spoke to the Carlson School of Management about his career path, how Delta Dental is helping address issues in underserved communities, the role of “flash philanthropy” in their company culture, and more.

You’ve worked at various medical companies and served on various boards dedicated to health. Why are you drawn to this sector?

Interestingly, it’s a sector I didn’t know I was going to be drawn to until I was recruited into pharmaceutical sales out of college. I discovered the healthcare industry offered significant opportunities. If you think about it in plain terms, your health is one of the most important things in life, thus healthcare is very important.

I find the healthcare industry rewarding based on the ability to help others. I’ve had the good fortune to work in prestigious organizations like 3M’s Healthcare Division and Baxter International. I’ve also led two medtech corporations selling products in the U.S. and in global markets that help diagnose, improve outcomes, and the quality of life for people.

Today, I have the privilege to lead a high-performance organization committed to providing industry-leading dental benefits that improve oral health.

African Americans and other people of color experience large disparities in health outcomes. How does Delta Dental work to address those disparities?

We—and I share this with great pride—have a couple of mechanisms that we’ve been utilizing for quite some time. Annually, Delta Dental’s corporate giving through our Community Benefits Organization supports groups that help underserved communities. We also have our Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation with a mission to improve access to oral health and overall health that provides grants to organizations across our state.

We also instituted “flash philanthropy,” a term we coined to describe how we rapidly engage in our community. About four or five years ago, when I was visiting New York, I saw a group of individuals perform a flash mob presentation. It inspired us to think about how we could help specific organizations—go in, help in the ways most needed, and then let the work get done. A recent example was a homeless shelter, People Serving People, right down the block from our offices. One of our team members happened to walk past their building and stuck her head in. She found out what their most pressing need was. Surprising, at least to me, was that the number-one need was diapers.

Our entire Minneapolis team went to work securing diapers. We ended up delivering something like 36,000 or 38,000 diapers within a week’s time. It turned out to be one of the most rewarding actions that we’ve ever taken.

As Minnesota and our country work to address systemic racism and injustice, what do you see as the role of your own company and businesses, generally, in promoting equality?

Our responsibility is to continue to support the initiatives we have in place in the communities we serve. Additionally, in light of the tragic death of George Floyd and the resulting unrest, we’re encouraging individuals and groups to have ongoing, honest conversations. Our hope is to inspire interactions internally, and then, hopefully, our team members will continue those conversations in their homes. Our initial thought is if you have conversations at home with your significant others and your children, more conversations will branch out from there. We’re trying to create our own mini-flashpoints that will improve individual awareness in and around the issues of inequities. We are also trying to ensure that our corporate culture is one that recognizes the challenges associated with systemic racism. We routinely communicate in an attempt to ensure our team members are educated and well-informed on the most recent topics affecting our communities and nation. We have established a corporate-wide objective that each individual, on a monthly basis, advances their understanding of the inequity problem. We believe learning and understanding are required first steps toward making a difference. Many rural communities suffer from a lack of access to dental care. How is this issue being addressed by Delta Dental and others? We created a program called Dedicated to Minnesota Dentists (DMD) through our Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation. This program was established to help pay off dental school tuition for dentists that were graduating and ready to go into practice. To take advantage of our DMD program, dentists must commit to practicing in a rural community for five years.

We set the time frame at five years because we predicted that if they establish themselves in the community by building a successful dental practice, they would most likely become active and engaged members of that community and more than likely stay. To-date our DMD program has successfully helped ten dentists establish their practices in rural towns across Minnesota.

What leadership traits do you live by?

I have a list: 1) Be a good listener. I’ve found this bonds individuals to your leadership style. 2) You must always be honest. For 3) and 4) Trustworthiness and integrity are two traits that are not optional. 5) I believe you have to be positive in how you lead. 6) It’s obvious but often overlooked: Be prepared and do your homework. 7) Staying on top of your game is critical. What I mean is to stay current with technology, business trends, other industries, and international markets 8) Embrace learning from others no matter their title or position. This is actually one of the things I enjoy most. 9) For my leadership style, there are very few times when I use the word “I.” I truly believe in “we.” I use the word “team” so much within our organization that it’s considered kind of corny sometimes. But it’s real. We are a team and I refer to myself as our “team captain.” We all have our roles and responsibilities as a team and when we fulfill those roles on our team, we typically win. A final thought on leadership traits: In my experience, true leadership is measured by the success of the whole—the team.

What advice would you give to current Carlson School students?

I typically advise people to look out five years from now and envision where your life and career will be. Wherever you see yourself, create a mental plan for what you need to get there. Then document your plan. Make sure you visualize, capture your goals along with your action steps. Keep in mind a major component of a successful plan is setting milestones to check your progress. Routinely check your milestones along the way to make sure your plan is still desirable, achievable, and sound. Lastly, seek out a mentor that can assist with the execution of your plan.

Fall 2020 alumni magazine cover

This article appeared in the Fall 2020 alumni magazine

The year 2020 has brought forth unprecedented change. In this issue of our alumni magazine, we explore these changes and the Carlson School’s role in it.

Fall 2020 table of contents