Led by its ambitious CEO, Dr Beng Teck Liang, Singapore Medical Group has turned from a floundering healthcare provider into a robust, respected regional player. We speak with Dr Beng to discover the secrets to his success.
The year is 2005 and Singapore Medical Group (SMG) opens its first clinic, a Lasik eye treatment centre, on the 13th floor of Paragon. SMG is publicly listed within just four years, amassing 10 clinics in Singapore by mid-2013 and giving the outward appearance of a thriving business. However, according to Dr Beng Teck Liang, “it wasn’t in healthy shape.” Its former management had no medical background and in the long term, this lack of industry knowledge led the company finances from the black and into the red.
Yet Dr Beng — today’s SMG CEO — saw huge potential in this underperforming business, one that could be turned into a success if backed by an ambitious and strategic team. In October 2013, Dr Beng and his partners made a general offer and took over SMG, with plans to restructure and strengthen the organisation.
Earlier in his career, Dr Beng started as a junior doctor, before seizing the opportunity to work in a healthcare-related dot-com, followed by jobs with General Electric and Hewlett Packard. “I was running regional billion-dollar businesses before I decided to leave and do something for myself.” Whilst this background granted Dr Beng crucial skills in strategic planning, digital marketing and technology procurement, two of his most valued qualities are resilience and optimism. “As an entrepreneur, you always find a way of navigating through problems. You look at the bright side and squeeze the opportunity to make things happen. And don’t give up,” the last piece of advice gleaned from his training as a doctor. “If you give up, the patient gives up.”
The early days were hard, requiring careful change management and the meticulous shearing of inefficiencies. They focused on reinventing their team by seeking out the top clinicians in the industry, enabling them to stand out in terms of quality of care in the market. Secure in the knowledge that their team was both efficient and highly competitive, SMG then turned to improving its portfolio, by building new clinics as well as upgrading existing ones. As a result, “we turned around what was a loss-making entity, into a profitable, fast-growing regional healthcare company in five years. Taking it from a $20 million market capitalisation company, to one that is worth over $200 million,” says Dr Beng. “It’s a great turnaround story.”
SMG is a now a familiar brand in Singapore, with 36 clinics specialising in women’s health, diagnostics, cancer, paediatrics and aesthetics. It has also expanded its horizons beyond Singapore, with two clinics in Ho Chi Minh City and another to open in 2019; an eye clinic in Jakarta, and plans for expansion in Kuala Lumpur next year. “We are focused on growing the company outside Singapore and that’s what I’m really excited about, because that’s where I see the growth coming.”
Dr Beng takes great pride in his role in transforming the company. “It’s satisfying that I built a successful team and have seen tremendous growth. We’ve built a strong foundation and over the next years we will reap the benefits of the investments we’ve made.” He cites SMG’s recent acquisition of local aesthetics brand SW1, the largest dedicated aesthetics hub in Singapore, as one of the company’s greatest successes. “It is a one-stop non-invasive and invasive facility. The levels of service it provides, the privacy, the paperless environment, there is quite a buzz around Singapore about it.”
Through this remarkable business transformation, Dr Beng attributes a key success factor to SMG’s partnership with CIMB Bank. “We have a fabulous relationship that revolves around trust, as they are our investment bank and bankers. It’s extremely important [to have a supportive financial partner] because without the ease, flexibility and agility, we won’t be able to grow or move as quickly.” SMG’s ongoing dialogue with the bank has been essential to this process, helping ideate their future plans. “They are always just a phone call away, responsive, and work quickly … It really helps to have the right partners like CIMB Bank.”
Looking ahead, Dr Beng foresees SMG going from strength to strength with the support of key partners such as CIMB. “We’ve consistently created huge levels of growth, between 17 to 40 per cent year-on-year. Things are getting harder because the base is now a lot bigger, but at the same time we see many new opportunities. We just have to make sure we keep our heads down and execute,” he explains, pointing to the expansions in Vietnam and Malaysia.
As with all industries, technology is also presenting SMG with new opportunities, not just to improve quality care, but also to optimise resources even further. As a result, SMG is preparing a new telemedicine platform that will allow SMG’s doctors to offer prospective patients a second opinion. “This will be particularly useful for patients in Vietnam and Indonesia that might be keen to use our services, but might not be keen to fly over from the onset. A tele-consultation first, prior to coming over, will disrupt and lower costs,” Dr Beng beams, his thumbs thrust upward, an optimistic gesture to a bright future.
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