A very small percentage of actively practising physicians across the globe have an entrepreneurial mindset and even fewer have the foresight to introduce innovations within existing systems.
Chatting to Dr. Navas Usman, Chairman and CEO, Medilife, however, makes you realise that it only takes one industry maverick to disrupt the entire sector. And, how does he plan to do so? Find out in the following excerpt from our exciting dialogue with the rising star…
From physician to entrepreneur
Dr. Navas Usman is from the league of great entrepreneurs that aren’t just trying to make a living, or add a new asset to their portfolio. They are trying to do something to make a difference. As we sit down in his office, we are intrigued to find out: how did it all begin? “My family is based in Oman and that’s where I grew up. My father was a business owner running a successful chain of companies across different industries. His work really fascinated and inspired me.” It was perhaps the eagerness to follow in his father’s footsteps that led Dr. Navas to try his hand at entrepreneurship at the nascent age of 14 years. “It’s probably hard to believe, but I got together with a group of friends and tried to start a stationery enterprise! We got as far as convincing one of our uncles to invest in the business,” he laughs. When the idea didn’t yield successful results, it didn’t dishearten Dr. Navas. “I wasn’t demotivated at all and moved on. Surely something better would come about.” Even without realising it, the very young Dr. Navas had learnt his first lesson in entrepreneurship: overcoming failure.
Dr. Navas spent much of his childhood travelling between India and Oman – working towards completing his early education. It was shortly after he graduated from high-school that he was faced with a monumental decision. “I remember getting an admission offer letter from a prestigious medical university in Moscow. It was a hard decision because I had to choose between staying back to follow my dream of starting a business or getting a professional degree in medicine. Ultimately, I decided to take the offer – I knew that the foundation to building something great is good education and training.” And, he didn’t stop there. He went on to graduate as Doctor of Medicine in 2003 and started practising in India. But, Dr. Navas couldn’t resist his innate love of entrepreneurship for long; he decided it was time to start his own business. “It was the urge to create something from scratch and to make a difference that drove me towards entrepreneurship,” he enthuses.
Combining this passion with his knowledge of the sector, Dr. Navas ventured out into pharmaceutical distribution, operating medical centres, launching pharmacies and running diagnostic labs. By 2012, his company had a chain of 24 centres. What started as a proving ground for his breakthrough ideas had become an unequivocal success. “Innovation played a key role in building my business. The secret is to look for ideas that will drive value to the patients, because those are the ideas that will be profitable. If you’re not taking risks, you’re not innovating enough.”
Even as Dr. Navas continues to strengthen foundations of his growing business, he remains firmly connected to his roots as a physician. He explains it is important to keep pace with clinical and patients’ needs in order to succeed in the commercial world. “We always put our patients’ needs first and will continue to leverage our experience in the market, in addition to working with up-to-date medical technologies. My mission is to redefine healthcare in this region by producing consistent world-class quality service and products,” he explains.
Healthy growth: looking to the GCC
Given his previous experiences within the Middle Eastern market, the UAE was an obvious choice for Dr. Navas when he wanted to grow his presence. The ease of doing business, state-of-the-art infrastructure and emerging technology drew him to set up base in 2009. “The UAE – particularly Dubai – has the best opportunity in this region, in my opinion, to serve as the hotbed for entrepreneurship. The business environment here is very collaborative and enables a bridge between investors, entrepreneurs and regulators. This ecosystem provides nutrition for SMEs to grow,” he says.
With his sights set firmly on the GCC market, what does Dr. Navas presently have on his plate? “Well, I’m currently leading a company called Intego Healthcare as the Managing Director and oversee facilities such as a day surgery centre, a diagnostics lab as well as several other pharmacies and medical centres. We have established ourselves as a trusted and competitive holding company for healthcare and want to explore new frontiers and geographies. We are keen to enter Qatar and Oman with our offering.” In a fiercely competitive market, what does Dr. Navas regard as his USP? “We are not in the business of general hospitals, the focus is solely on the development of specialties and sub-specialties. The idea is to bring more quality and experts to UAE’s healthcare landscape. The foundation of our growth strategy is offering key specialised services and extending our technical capabilities by using technology,” he responds.
Pearls of wisdom
It is fair to say that Dr. Navas Usman is one of the new breed of physician-innovator-entrepreneur. While overlooking the strategic side of his business, he still has his finger on the pulse of the industry. Sharing his outlook for the sector, he remarks: “The GCC’s healthcare market has seen steady growth over the past few years, driven by the growing numbers of ageing population and an increased per capita spending on healthcare. This demand has led to the implementation of new technologies and the adoption of partnerships with healthcare providers globally. Government agencies across the GCC region continue to pump investments in the sector to modernise and reform the healthcare system, as well as promote economic diversification. A recent report by Ardent Advisory indicated that 37 hospitals are underway at a value of about US$28.2 billion.” He adds: “There are ongoing efforts to build infrastructure, improve regulation and encourage digitalisation. Medical technologies present a fantastic opportunity for private entities and they should take advantage of the gap in the market. For instance, the medical devices markets is valued at an estimated US$ 2-3 billion, according to a report released by Deloitte. Countries such as the UAE and KSA are taking great strides in this regard.”
What does Dr. Navas rate as the top priority within the healthcare sector? “Public-Private Partnerships are critical for the progress of the sector. They will significantly help in improving the level of service and raising the competencies of the healthcare system. Such partnerships help the public sector gain access to skilled talent and give the private sector access to proper infrastructure. They can help overcome the serious challenges faced by health systems across the region such as lack of infrastructure, low investment capital availability, insufficient manpower, quality care and differentiation in service. There are several examples of fortuitous partnerships between the public and private sectors in the Middle East: the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi Hospital – a partnership between the Cleveland Clinic and Mubadala; Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare – a joint venture between Saudi Aramco and John Hopkins Medicine.”
Moulding the future of healthcare
Given the massive developments in the sector, it is safe to say that the UAE is getting ready for a new era of growth. What does Dr. Navas regard as the biggest challenge the sector will face as it embarks on this journey? “With the roll out of the mandatory insurance law, the number of policies being purchased has obviously escalated. This will result in a higher number of people using insurance and subsequently a higher number of claims. In the simplest of terms, what this does is create an inflation of claims – ultimately increasing the price of premiums. It’s important to find the right balance between quality and affordable healthcare; providers will need to ensure they aren’t getting stuck in this vicious cycle, he points out. So, is there a solution to this hurdle? What is being done to surmount this challenge? He smiles as he cheekily replies: “Well, you will have to wait and find out!” Watch this space…
Rushika Bhatia Editor
Rushika Bhatia is one of the region’s leading commentators on business and current affairs issues. She is the Editor of SME Advisor magazine - the flagship title of CPI Business. She is passionate about infographics – with special emphasis on data, research and statistics. Rushika has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, USA and is also CIMA qualified.