When Kathleen T. O’Loughlin, D.M.D., arrived on her first day at the ADA as the Association’s newly hired executive director in 2009, she was celebrating her birthday.
Cake was served at the auditorium, but as she looked out at the audience, she noticed they all seemed uncomfortable in their business suits and dresses.
“It was like ‘Mad Men,’” Dr. O’Loughlin said with a smile. “I felt like I had just stepped back in time.”
So one of her first actions was to address the dress code.
“I said, ‘All right, my first decision is that we’ll all be in business casual,’” she said. “That got a standing ovation."
It would be one of her easiest decisions, Dr. O’Loughlin said. In her 12 years as the organization’s first female executive director, there would be many more difficult ones as the Association faced old and new challenges.
From governance and employee engagement to public opinion and finances, there was a lot to address. Employee and volunteer morale needed a boost. Debates were often heated on topics such as dental benefits and dental therapy. There was a recession. And the profession was still reeling from the 2007 death of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old Maryland boy who succumbed to a severe brain infection after his dental problems went untreated.
“The ADA was in the midst of some very troubled times prior to Dr. O’Loughlin’s hire,” said ADA Practice Institute Senior Vice President David M. Preble, D.D.S., J.D., who joined the ADA in 2006. “Her leadership was exactly what the ADA needed at the time she was hired. We needed a team leader that had a high level of business acumen but was able to bring about the positive change without ruffling too many feathers.”
While challenges remain, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. O’Loughlin said she’s confident she’s leaving the Association in better shape than when she first arrived: councils and commissions are running more smoothly; finances are stable; and workplace engagement is at an all-time high.
In 2020, Dr. O’Loughlin announced she would be retiring at the end of 2021. In May, the ADA named Raymond A. Cohlmia, D.D.S., dean of the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry and former ADA Board of Trustees member, to take over the role Nov. 15.
“I think knowing when to go is just as important as knowing when to join,” Dr. O’Loughlin said. “I don’t think I’m the right person to take the Association to the next 10 years because you run out of ideas, to be honest with you. It’s been a good run.”