October 06, 2010

Interview with Prathap Reddy, Apollo Hospitals

Often referred to as the father of modern healthcare in India - after all, he revolutionised healthcare in India at a time when the country was mired in babudom - doctor-entrepreneur Prathap C. Reddy remains unfazed by such adulation. When he set up Apollo Hospitals in Chennai in 1983, private healthcare institutions were virtually unknown to the country.

Today , with a network of over 8,000 beds across 52 hospitals in India and abroad, Reddy has laid the foundation for one of the largest hospital groups in the world. As his voice crackled over the phone from Apollo's Chennai headquarters, it told anecdotes of his interactions with top politicians and a wide array of other experiences. Excerpts:

A doctor in business or a businessman who happens to be a doctor?

It's very interesting because my father wanted me to be a businessman and I wanted to be a doctor. I went to NASA when the Apollo landed and saw 70% of NASA had Indians. Some were top doctors too. Why couldn't we provide the best healthcare in the world back home? That set me thinking. But I didn't do the business. I just picked up the right people as the concept took root in the early Eighties.

I told Mrs (Indira) Gandhi only the rich and powerful get access to healthcare and she really gave the first impetus by telling everybody that here's a man who wants to reverse the brain drain. But the man who changed the face of healthcare in the country with his vision and clarity was none other than Rajiv Gandhi — by opening up hospitals to funding and other opportunities . I am a doctor in the business of health because I use professionals. So I'm doctoring the business.

The Eureka moment when you decided to be an entrepreneur?

What drove me was an incident that occurred once I came back from the US. In the Seventies, there was no acceptable surgery in India. On November 19, 1971, I lost a young man since he couldn't afford $50,000 to go the US for his operation.

What was the most difficult part of being a businessman and a doctor?

Creating trust between the patient and the doctor by weaving in the element of care.

The one lesson your daughters have taught you?

Compassion. There are no limits to what people can deliver . With compassion comes passion. That's why the 70,000-plus members of Apollo are a family.

You like being a contrarian...

We challenged everything. If there are a million bricks in Apollo, I had a million problems. Obtaining import license was a problem, for instance. We imported 375 items when we started. Every week, I used to go to Delhi to get the import license cleared. Having said that, many people have also helped me in enabling better health in India.

Is world-class service at low prices a pipe dream?

We charge $5,000 for a bypass surgery here, whereas elsewhere it costs $50,000 and above. From Day 1, I created a three-tier system in my hospital-a general ward, a middleincome ward and a very small high-income group area. All my wards are air-conditioned to keep the infection out. Naturally , the cost of air-conditioning is woven in to the overall cost.

But we maintain the same operation theatre, the same post-operative rooms and the same surgeons for the patients . Even the nurse doesn't know if the patient comes from a super deluxe ward or a general ward. The ultimate outcome is care.

A mistake you regret?

My biggest mistake was when I was not in medicine. In entrepreneurship, I was interested in IT and was perhaps the first Indian to have invested $1 million along with my brother-in-law in an IT company in Chennai that did work for Intel. But when I started out, I paid high customs duties and that was unsustainable at that time.

A survival strategy that every youngster should know...

Every one of us have tremendous amount of potential. If we are not able to deliver our best, it is because of a screen that pulls us back. So we must stay positive.

Best business book?

Bhagwad Gita because it tells you your karma. You learn all principles of success because all inhibitions will go.

What kind of mails do you hate seeing in your mailbox ?

When somebody says, I'm God. Of course, my secretary screens them for me.

Your biggest management dilemma?

Getting greater access to all people.

Any Reddyisms?

Be positive. In Telugu, there's a saying: Reddywa Rajwa (Are you a Reddy or a king?) . Perhaps, it's in my DNA now (chuckles).

Decision-making : Theory or gut?

Whatever we call dreaming, is not a dream. Apollo has now done 300,000 check-ups in the world, making it the world's largest health check-up hospital. But I tell my people how can we achieve 5x or 10x of that number. Ultimately , it's all about teamwork. Take away the 'I' and replace it with 'We' . Gut feel comes from the way you've positioned yourself and theory comes later.

Best life lesson?

I say, 'Good Morning, Apollo' , when I walk in to my office each day. And when I leave, I wrap up the day with a simple prayer saying that we've done our part but hope for the very best from God.

Link: Original Article

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