When Susan Greenspon Rammelt joined SmileDirectClub in 2018 as chief legal officer, she and her colleagues helped usher it into a time of plentitude. They secured and closed on an equity raise of over $400,000,000, won a “bet the company” litigation against one the company’s largest competitors, and helped it obtain regulatory approvals for its medical devices on an international basis. Wins like these enabled the teledentistry company to take its next big step: going public.
“The lead up to going public was an incredible experience. Everyone worked long hours in the months preceding the IPO but when we got to the night before we were to ring the bell at Nasdaq, and were oversubscribed by ten times, the hours put in seemed well worth it,” she reflects.
That was until the market changed overnight and seemingly without warning. Suddenly, the cascade of successes and accelerated growth became irrelevant as investors and analysists shifted their focus on the collapse of the WeWork IPO (which was scheduled to go public that same week) and companies with a history of profits rather than explosive growth, resulting in the company setting a chilling record: to have one of the worst first day performances for an IPO in nearly three decades.
“To go from being a company that was way oversubscribed to being one that went hours without having a share of stock bought or sold was beyond shocking,” Rammelt says.
“Dealing with that overnight shift and the short selling that occurred after that was incredibly challenging and frustrating,” she adds. “Nothing about the company had changed during that twenty-four-hour window, and yet we had to spend the next six consecutive quarters proving that the company was on solid ground and had to deal with a high level of shorting until the very end.”
For this company, however, success was challenged from every direction, leading to the need for a legal team that could meet those challenges at the state, federal, and international levels. These challenges included direct and indirect attacks from powerful trade associations made up of competitors, criticism from the media that was also often competitor-driven, competitor-driven investigations, a global pandemic, ongoing challenging macroeconomic factors, and ultimately the decision to file for bankruptcy and wind down operations.
These kinds of issues are enough to leave the most seasoned leaders with a spinning head, but not Rammelt. As a leader who wears many hats in the organization, she feels responsible for being “the duck on the pond” to her senior leadership, legal team, and others throughout the company.
“No one can be aware of how fast your feet are peddling underneath the water, particularly when the company is facing any sort of crisis,” she says. “My job is to be the calm in the storm no matter what the winds are doing around me and to find the best path out of the hurricane for the benefit of all stakeholders.
“Certainly, filing for bankruptcy was a daunting process that is filled with uncertainty for anyone who is not in the bankruptcy industry,” she continues. “As was the case in so many other situations at SmileDirectClub, this was a new experience for all of us, myself included. Rather than fearing it, however, I looked at it as a learning process—a chance to obtain additional skills and experience and have encouraged others to view it the same way.”
From the way she carries herself today, Rammelt comes across as someone who can look at every unfamiliar situation like she’s seen it before. But the leader admits that the calm posture she takes toward uncertainty took time. She started her career as corporate transactional associate in Big Law, making it to partner in six short years, but not without a lot of mentoring along the way. “Doing well in law school came easy for me so it was surprising to see all the red ink on draft documents as a young associate,” she admits. “I had to learn that those markups were training, not a criticism, and that while law school may have been in the review mirror the ongoing learning was not.”
While Rammelt soon became comfortable advising clients as a partner in Big Law, making the transition to being an in-house chief legal officer was yet another situation where she had to learn to get uncomfortable and embrace change and challenge.
“I had zero background in healthcare, let alone telehealth, other than as the relationship partner for the company for less than a year while I was still in private practice,” she says. For Rammelt, making the shift to going in-house to SmileDirectClub not only was a drastic change professionally, but also required a whole new set of skills that had to be learned on the fly given the fast trajectory the company was on and the numerous attacks it faced as a disruptor in the industry.
“Drinking from a firehose would be an understatement, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything,” she affirms. “I learned more in the past five-and-a-half-plus years than I had in thirty years of private practice.”
When Rammelt took the legal reins at SmileDirectClub, the legal team comprised only three other people. “We were growing as a company very quickly and had plans to expand internationally. Building out a legal team as well as starting and growing our regulatory, quality, and government relations teams became a top priority,” she recalls. “I knew I needed team members who could embrace and flourish under challenges and a rapid pace. I was incredibly lucky to have found those team members, and mentoring and working alongside them has been one of the most rewarding aspects of this position.”
No doubt, building that team was not as hard for Rammelt as it may be for others. In 2023, she was honored with the WIPL award for in-house collaboration. Rooted in her approach to embracing change and uncertainty at the company is a commitment to prioritizing her team members and maintaining transparency, both internally and with external counsel. At the end of the day, she wants to help them grow and achieve their goals, both short- and long-term.
Rammelt notes that the legal team supports every aspect of the company’s business operations, and that has led to its legal team members having the opportunity to expand into areas of the law that they never had before, giving them skills and experience that they might not have gotten had they stayed in private practice or been at another company.
“We often talk about paths they want to take to get them where they want to be in their careers,” Rammelt says. “The expansion of their skill sets has already led to many of them taking general counsel or other leadership roles at other companies.” Rammelt is proud of the relationships that she still maintains with all of them. “They are all such talented individuals who not only understand the myriad of legal issues that companies can face and how to address them, but also understand the need to support the business from a practical perspective. Any company or firm would be lucky to have them. I know I felt that way!”
Those who have worked with Rammelt in other capacities attest to her strengths as well. “Susan is incredibly smart, talented, and hardworking in managing the many different demands of an innovative dental service organization that is truly changing the face of dentistry,” says Brian Colao, member at Dykema Gossett PLLC. “Susan also contributes her time as a founding board member of Women in DSO to promote access opportunities and mentorship to the women of the dental industry and promote diversity and inclusion.”
“Susan is truly a rare talent and I have enjoyed working with her at SmileDirectClub and on the board of WinDSO,” he adds.
While Rammelt continues to assist her company in the wind down of its operations, she is looking forward to the next chapter and had this advice for others out there who may be facing challenges, uncertainty, or whether they have chosen the right path in practicing law:
“Don’t be afraid; accept challenges and have faith in yourself and those around you,” she says. “You’ll get thrown curveballs and can either look at them as problems or opportunities to flex your intellectual curiosity and grow. If you can use the latter lens, life as an attorney or any other type of professional is not only that much more enjoyable, but you can enable everyone else around you to also see the opportunity and embrace it with open arms.”