Other board service
Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation 2010-present
Metropolitan Hospitals Labor Management Council 1990-1997
Anoka-Ramsey Community College Foundation 1987-1990
Ramsey Health HMO Plan 1976-1979
Union leaders, who want good benefits for their members, frequently serve on the board of Delta Dental of Minnesota.
One of those leaders, the SEIU’s Betty Bednarczyk, contacted Michael Howe in 1989 to urge him to serve on Delta Dental’s board. Howe was the chief human resources officer for a predecessor of Allina Health.
“I suggested somebody else on my team,” Howe recalls, “and Betty Bednarczyk said, ‘No, we want you.’ ” Bednarczyk, who was well-respected for getting results, persuaded Howe to join the Delta Dental board. Thirty-two years later, he’s still serving. But what began as a dental benefits nonprofit “has transformed in ways that are beyond anything I think anybody would have expected back in 1989,” says Stephanie Albert, Stratacor’s chief legal officer and general counsel.
Stratacor is the parent of Delta Dental of Minnesota; 16 nonprofit or business entities exist under the umbrella of Stratacor, Albert says. She credits Howe with an instrumental role in developing the vision and organizational structure for these units, which extend the reach of Delta Dental into a health services organization.
“[The units] are all in some way, shape, or form focused on improving oral health, improving the practice of dentistry through innovation, and pressing the technology envelope to see how we can come along as an enterprise with a lot more than just dental benefits and claims administration,” Albert says.
Delta Dental of Minnesota generated $1.4 billion in revenue in 2020, and Howe chaired its board from 2012 to 2018. He is the current chair of the Stratacor board, a post he’s held since 2012. The two organizations have different roles, but their board memberships are identical.
During his early tenure on the Delta Dental board, Howe describes the nonprofit’s extensive provider network as one of its key strengths. However, he acknowledges that he and other board members recognized some vulnerabilities.
“If you are in a mature industry and you are going to be challenged, you want to broaden your revenue base,” Howe says. “You want to grow and make sure that you aren’t a one-trick pony.”
One of the major developments during Howe’s tenure involved a 2009 transaction. DeCare Dental, which was Delta’s claims processing operation, was sold for $100 million to health insurer WellPoint Inc. Money from the sale was used to create the Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation, which funds oral health initiatives.
“We support over 100 different charitable organizations, community-focused organizations, around the state today,” says Rodney Young, Delta Dental of Minnesota’s president and CEO. “That all began under Mike’s leadership as chair of the foundation.” In the foundation’s early years, Young says Delta Dental made a significant gift to the University of Minnesota to address oral health needs of underserved communities. A grant of $3.5 million was awarded to the School of Dentistry to support construction of a hospital-based pediatric dental clinic.
By 2016, Howe and others at Stratacor ventured in a new direction and created a for-profit entity called Abova. Its stock is owned by Stratacor. Albert describes it as “an incubator for innovation to support the mission of the overall enterprise.”
Howe, who has served on the Abova board since the organization’s inception, says Abova “gives us more arrows in the quiver” to achieve the overarching goals of Stratacor and Delta Dental. “The idea is to broaden the base of income, because we recognize the challenges a stand-alone dental benefits company will have in the marketplace,” Howe says. “It’s a defensive strategy and an opportunity to grow and provide more service.”
Abova can make investments, acquire companies, deliver services, and create products. In some parts of Minnesota, it’s difficult for dentists to establish practices. “Through Abova, we’ve created a loan program for dentists who open offices, and it’s a way of getting a return [for Abova] from a loan,” Howe says.
If Abova turns a profit on a given business venture, Howe says that money could flow back to the parent, Stratacor, or Abova could make a direct donation to Delta Dental’s foundation.
“At Abova, we’ve acquired an internet development company,” Howe says. “It does work for organizations if they want to have some type of webpage interface.” It provides services to Delta Dental and also sells them to a variety of employers.
Young chairs Abova and is its CEO. He and Howe work closely together on the constellation of Delta Dental-related boards. Howe comes across as “very unassuming in terms of his approach,” but Young notes that he’s smart, conscientious, and highly engaged.
Howe is energized by working with several new board members, including Kim Price, retired 3M executive and Delta Dental’s foundation chair. Over the summer, Howe is connecting one-on-one with each Stratacor board member. It’s vital to the chair role he defines as providing coordination, coaching, and continuity.