The year was 1984, and Gary Saint Denis was living the life. A successful stock broker at Merrill Lynch in Beverly Hills, he was in his early 20’s, energetic, optimistic, financially successful, and reveling in the beach life of Santa Monica. What he really wanted to do, though, he had yet to attempt. When he did manage to realize his vision, it would include founding and running a company worth $50 million — and helping millions of people in need.
Gary grew up in suburban Connecticut, transferring out of Bryant University in Rhode Island to attend MUM (then MIU) in 1974. “My initial college experience was hollow,” says Gary, who recalls picking up an MUM course catalog and being enthralled by what he found in it. “I told my parents that’s where I want to go.” He enrolled at MUM as a philosophy major.
In his senior year, Gary became intrigued by the stock market and investing. After he graduated, he returned home to Connecticut to start an investment company with three MUM classmates. Quickly it thrived. But Gary had always been enchanted by sunny southern California, where he’d been on vacations, and wanted to move there.
He cold-called several stock brokerage firms in Santa Barbara, landing a job at EF Hutton, where he ranked #1 in his class as a new trainee. In 1982, he began work at Merrill Lynch in Beverly Hills.
“What I really wanted was to start my own business,” says Gary, who had always been struck by companies that were beholden to the bottom line at the expense of the needs of everyday people. “I wanted to start a business that didn’t have a conflict of interest built into it, one that could be successful and a service to society. And I wanted to create a work environment where people would love to come to work.”
In 1986, Gary co-founded 1-800-Dentist, a dental referral service, with partner and MUM classmate Fred Joyal. The company started out in a miniscule 300-square-foot office in Santa Monica. Today, 24 years later, it fills 30,000 square feet, employs a workforce of 300, and helps 4.5 million people find dentists each year.
“My experience in starting 1-800-Dentist was directly an outgrowth of my time at MUM,” says Gary. “I loved being around like-minded people and helping to build that community. That was part of what we were trying to do with the company. My years at MUM laid the foundation for that.”
In 2011, after more than two decades serving as Chairman and CEO of 1-800-Dentist, Gary sold most of his interest in the company to the financial services giant, Bain Capital, who bought it out. At the time of the sale, 1-800-Dentist was earning $50 million a year.
What next for this entrepreneur and expert at developing business models that provide services that improve people’s lives? In 2011, Gary founded Trusted Hands Network, based in Encino, Calif., a firm that matches seniors with the home care services they need.
Says Gary, “We help ‘the silver tsunami’ — elders who want to age gracefully and at home.” Trusted Hands Network comprises over 500 rigorously-screened home health care agencies that provide seniors with the highest quality certified services available on the market.
Sometimes, Gary’s business ventures yield unexpected, serendipitous outcomes. Like back in 1986, just after he had started 1-800-Dentist with a handful of employees. One of them was a young woman named Joanie, who Gary was interested in. Though their connection was kinetic, she refused to date her boss. Gary, ever the problem solver, came up with a solution. “I fired her,” he says. “Soon we were madly in love.” The couple married in 1987.
In 1990, their son Remy was born. Daughter Eva is currently a 19-year-old undergraduate at MUM studying business.
Gary’s family is steeped in the MUM tradition. His sister, Linda, an MUM graduate, married Chris Hartnett, another MUM grad, and their children, Heather, Kristen and Grace all graduated from MUM. Heather is a new MUM trustee and Kristen married Matt Levi, an MUM grad and the son of MUM professor Keith Levi. And the MUM connections don’t stop there. Gary introduced his sister, Sandra, to Jack Cross, one of Gary’s MUM classmates, whom she married.
“I’ve stayed in contact with many of my friends I met at MUM,” says Gary. “MUM altered the course of my life in so many ways.”
Gary sees a deep connection between his successes and the education he received at MUM. “You really do create your own reality,” he says. “As Maharishi used to say, ‘The world is as you are.’ I’ve had the good fortune to have financial success, live in paradise, have a wonderful family, and enjoy good health. At 57, I’m grateful to be able to savor the nature of the relative and enjoy the Creator’s handiwork. I’ve been very lucky, and I never forget that.
Fun Fact: In 1997, Gary bought a scenic bluff with 4 cottages on it from the Beach Boys’ Mike Love.
Written by Warren Goldie