Heartland Dental’s Travis Franklin On What Entrepreneurship Can Teach CFOs

One finance leader says also being an entrepreneur helps give him a needed ‘operational bias.’

Heartland Dental CFO Travis Franklin

To say Travis Franklin is a multitasker is an understatement.

Franklin is the CFO of Heartland Dental, an Effingham, Illinois-based company founded by dentist Dr. Rick Workman that provides non-clinical administrative support to roughly 1,150 dental practices in 38 states. But Franklin was raised among entrepreneurs, and he has pursued broader business interests throughout his career. We asked Franklin how he juggles his multiple hats, and what advice he would offer other CFOs looking to be entrepreneurs in addition to their day jobs.

Tell me about your entrepreneurial spirit and your roles in multiple companies.

From a young age, I’ve always enjoyed business. I grew up around family members who had their own businesses and enjoyed investing in businesses. This interest culminated in 2001 when I started my first business at age 25, BT Rentals, which provides consumers with rent-to-own products from appliances to furniture. It was an invaluable experience that taught me the complexities of operating a business. BT Rentals is still successful, and I continue to own it to this day.

Another key milestone occurred 17 years ago when I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Rick Workman. Dr. Workman is a true entrepreneur and I was brought on to help him with his various business ventures. I had the good fortune from a young age to get a real-world education in business and mentorship from a visionary entrepreneur.

I’ve worn many hats during my time with Dr. Workman and Heartland Dental. I’ve overseen the affiliation and de novo growth strategies, managed site selection, leasing, construction and the talent acquisition teams. I also served as the chief investment officer for Workman Family Office and its subsidiaries, Workman Enterprises, an asset holding company, and Professional Resource Development, a real estate portfolio company owning 400-plus properties in 38 states.

I ended many of those responsibilities in 2017, when I became the CFO of Heartland Dental. I have learned a great deal from working alongside Dr. Workman over the years with regard to starting and operating successful businesses. His entrepreneurial spirit is deeply rooted, and I’m inspired by his desire to provide real-world solutions to a dentist’s real-world problems.

I continue to be involved with multiple businesses outside of Heartland Dental, and today I run other businesses, which include multiple commercial real estate holding companies and an award-winning retail franchise business.

With my various hats I am super busy, plus I have four very active children. Fortunately, I have really good partners within all my business ventures, and they take care of most of the day-to-day operations.

What drives you to oversee multiple companies?

I’ve been in some type of partnership since I was 19—I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I was raised around entrepreneurial people, and for me, it’s just in my blood to do entrepreneurial things. I’ve been involved with other small businesses for years. I call them my hobbies, as I just enjoy business in general. And I very much enjoy the opportunity to advance my finance career at Heartland Dental. The industry has been really strong—and with that comes the ability to invest in other ventures.

Much like Heartland Dental supports over 1,150 dental practices—all of which are locally branded—I like having side businesses that are unique to their communities and that also provide a niche service.

How do your entrepreneurial ventures help you in your role as CFO at Heartland?

I am continually learning and growing from each business venture with which I’m involved. It really helps put you in the mindset of being a business partner to the organization with an operational bias. From leadership and building great relationships, to time management and best practices, there’s always something that can be applied in my role at Heartland Dental. Heartland provides world-class support to more than 1,800 dentists across 38 states, which is no small feat. So having diverse experiences from a multitude of businesses outside the dental industry has proved to be beneficial in my CFO role.

What can other CFOs learn from managing multiple companies?

Set up the situation for success and learn from your experiences. Make sure you don’t have issues that are going to distract you from your core job as a CFO. To achieve this, you must build strong leadership skills, be willing to delegate and focus on your relationship with your operators to manage your side businesses on a day-to-day basis.

It’s important for you to know how your side business works, to understand the risks, and to realize what can impact the business over time and how to best prepare for that. But if you don’t have an entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to work hard, success is improbable. It’s definitely not something you can do flippantly.

If you have side businesses on top of a CFO job, be careful—you most certainly will work a lot. But you can’t do it all. There is only so much time in the day, so you have to surround yourself with really good people and have sound partners whom you trust.