Engineer Sobhi Batterjee
President of the Saudi German Hospitals Group
Engineer Sobhi Batterjee
“We hope to expand our global reach, after developing a solid presence in the Gulf and the Arab World”
Eng. Sobhi Batterjee, the renowned Saudi businessman and President of the Saudi German Hospitals Group, has received numerous titles and awards in recognition of his achievements and accomplishments in the Middle East for his contributions to the construction of the Saudi German Hospitals and the great success it has achieved. He began his career as an electrical engineer after receiving a master’s degree with honors from the University of Colorado, USA in 1973, and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Kansas in the United States as well in 1972. Today, he is one of the pioneering leaders in the private health sector in the Middle East, and is dedicated to establishing a strong medical system that contributes to the development of medical services in the region.
In a candid and comprehensive interview with “Hospitals” magazine, Eng. Batterjee spoke openly and transparently about his beginnings as an engineer in the world of health and hospitals, and the major challenges facing the health sector. He stressed the importance of focusing on medical tourism in the Gulf and activating it by ensuring all the requirements for its success compared to active countries in this field such as Taiwan, India and others. He pointed out that he has several developmental factors and conditions that he can offer to officials in the Gulf countries and the Arab world to make medical tourism accessible to everybody. He also stressed that the Saudi German Hospitals Group aspires to have a global reach after the spread of the Group’s hospitals in the Gulf and Arab countries. Below is the full interview:
Can you go back to the starting point of your professional path, and how your family influenced your career?
It is true that we are a family with a long-standing history in hospital work. My grandfather was the first to bring medicines into Saudi Arabia. It was in the 1940s, when Batterjee National Pharmacies spread and were the first and sole provider of medicine in Saudi Arabia at the time. I grew up in a family culture of alleviating people’s pain. After my brothers, cousins and I studied abroad, my parents, brothers and I decided to add patient service and hospital building to the family business. We succeeded because we have a strong determination and ambitions and we work 24 hours a day. If you go to our hospitals anywhere, you will find my phone number at the entrance to the reception areas, in the elevators and in patients’ rooms. We advised inpatients and outpatients to contact the numbers mentioned (including my number, hospital manager, medical director and clinic manager numbers) should they have any comment on the service or if they were uncomfortable for any reason. This is what patients don’t find in other hospitals. The sincere desire to serve people is our main motivation and drive that make me wake up at 5 am to this day to follow up on my work in the Group.
Where are the Saoudi german hospitals currently located? Tell us about the story behind your first hospital construction?
The operating hospitals of the Saudi German Hospitals Group are in Jeddah, Aseer, Riyadh, Madinah, Hail, Sana’a, Dubai, Cairo and Sharjah. Soon we will be in Ajman. The story of building the Group’s first hospital begins with my mother’s desire that we become doctors, while I had studied and graduated as an engineer. Then I worked at Juffali company as a site engineer with a salary of 2200 riyals. After that, I established my own company in electrical contracting and air conditioning from 1975 to 1985. When my brother Khalid graduated from Germany, the idea of working in the field of medical services, to fulfil our mother’s wishes, as well as building a hospital began to develop.
Then I challenged the reality and was determined to fulfill my mother’s wish. I decided to embark on this adventure and built the Jeddah Hospital, although oil prices plummeted from $ 40 to $ 8 a barrel, people believed, out of ignorance, that Saudi Arabia had gone bankrupt, and investors started leaving the country. At that time in 1985, we started digging the foundation for the first project in the middle of the desert, the Saudi German Hospital in Jeddah, and they said that Batterjee had gone insane. Then he built a large hospital away from the center of Jeddah and thank God we succeeded in the operation and construction of a large hospital in the city of Jeddah – the Saudi German Hospital in Jeddah.
What about your book “Road to Success”?
When I attended a conference in the United States entitled “Hyper Competition” in 1996, I learned about things I had not known before that inspired me to think about building a chain of hospitals. Then, I returned from that conference and started building and operating a chain of five hospitals by 2005.
We started in Aseer, Riyadh, Madinah and Sanaa and soon in 2019 we will be in Ajman and Dammam and in 2020 in Mecca and Alexandria to complete the construction of 30 hospitals, on the basis of which I published my book “Road to Success” which benefits the reader a lot. In the Arabic library, they talk about success stories mostly about foreigners. Even most of the successful local entrepreneurs who had time to write their own success stories, wrote an biography of what they had accomplished. My book is different; it is not about a success story but the road to success. It is aimed at small investors and those who want to build a future in a company or in an investment that benefits them. Therefore, I think that my book would be very useful because it includes a work system and talks about 6 steps; if anyone follows them they can reach their goals. Here is an example: An Arab journalist came to me years ago and interviewed me, I asked her what her goal in life was and she answered that she aspired to be the editor of the magazine she represented, then I offered her my book. After a certain period of time, she came back and told me that she had bought the magazine.
In my book “Road to Success”, I put my own recipe that I experienced and adopted throughout my journey to achieve success and excellence. This process began since I was one of the top ten students in high school in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. To sum this recipe up, I can say that all ideas and goals can be transformed into reality no matter how great and disparate they were.
What is the added value of the Saudi German Hospitals Group for the health sector?
The Saudi German Hospitals Group has proven that providing medical services is not exclusive to doctor, we have even introduced new concepts to this industry. We are the first to introduce the term “Corporate Health” into hospital work, and hospitals are now owned by companies, not individuals. It is also worth noting that we are the first to introduce IT to our hospitals.
What about Saudi German Hospitals Group being the first group to introduce the IT concept into its business?
IT has invaded all economy sectors and has brought about profound changes. The Saudi German Hospitals Group is the first group to introduce the concept of information technology into its business. We have stopped using papers and paper files and are now adopting electronic archiving, thus our hospitals are now paperless. Everything related to the patient is done electronically, and we do not have paper files for patients.
This way, we saved outpatients a lot of time and the loss of their medical files. We also save a lot of money that would have been spent on employees who transferred the files and that would have been spent on purchasing and printing files and papers, etc. We also saved storage costs, paper accumulation and preservation for long periods of time in addition to the cost of storage space. On top of that, we saved a lot of our doctors’ time, and provided them with quick and easy access to the information. This is reflected positively on the quality, speed and excellence of health services.
Where are you now from achieving your goal of building thirty hospitals?
I am still convinced of the vision, and my mission is to keep urging and motivating the team so we don’t fail. Therefore, we have adopted two steps that will increase the chances of success: the first is to become a public shareholding company and enter the capital market and the second step is to launch charitable hospital projects.
You have high management skills. How did you acquire them?
Experience is key as well as the constant pursuit of the best in addition to the management skills I learned from conferences and lectures that I participate in, especially a lecture in Philadelphia that has enlightened me about several issues and made me see things more accurately, thus, I learned the Power of Network concept. A man alone is not like a man who has ten sons, each one of them in a different city providing him with opportunities and information. If an organization grows and expands its branches, it will have an added power. I also attended a four-day lecture series entitled “Hyper Competition” and learned that the purchasing power of an individual is not similar to the purchasing power of a group where you can get cheaper prices because you buy in larger quantities. In addition, I learned about the concept of market share, as the share of a group of hospitals is a big force in the market that cannot be compared to one hospital share. Insurance companies, for instance, do not deal with me as they do with other hospitals. We have a group of branches, therefore, insurance companies cannot impose their price on us.
Based on this principle, I set my goal to build five hospitals in 2005, and many considered that this step was not calculated. However, we were able, thanks to God, to achieve this goal a year ahead of schedule. My brother Dr. Khaled has formed a Total Quality Management team. We have adopted a unified computer program for all hospitals, and we started a unified procurement process for the whole group.
You have a solid theory in the concept of willpower, how do you explain it?
A human being is not bound by anything, he was blessed with the Spirit of God. So there is no room to say: I do not know, I cannot do. I do not believe in these terms.
“I cannot” is not in my dictionary at all. If a man wants and is determined to achieve something, he will achieve what he wants. I have a famous saying in this regard: “What man wants, man gets; it’s a matter of passion and persistence”.
What is your comment when they describe you as an assertive leader?
Besides being the head of the Group and the final decision-maker, I am very democratic, and I backtrack on any decision that is proven to be wrong or if there is a better one to be taken. This is known to everyone around me. I am also a very good listener to the opinions of others and they even come before my personal one. I never impose my opinion, but in return I am very disciplined and firm.
How do you maintain the success of the follow-up system that you created?
Business follow-up is originally my lifestyle, and if the institution did not have a business follow-up system, it will not operate well. Anyone who does not have in his life and in his office a business follow-up system, they will not accomplish anything at all. Many people spend a lot of time theorizing and planning and then when the time of implementation comes, they do nothing. Many things are lost with the numerous tasks and burdens of implementation, due to the lack of a follow-up system. Therefore, we were the pioneers in connecting hospitals technically: audio, video and information (computational, patient information, meetings…) from 2003, and we were the first to launch an interactive website with patients to answer their questions and follow up on their affairs.
What is the adopted policy of the Saudi German Hospitals Group to achieve success?
My personal philosophy is that anyone wishing to work within the hospital sector must have a specific culture. Hospital work is not only a matter of money or investment, but a mixture of culture and investment. It means that if someone has money but has no desire to serve people “they must forget about it” because it would be a heavy burden on them and would require great effort. Investing in the service of people, medical care, and patient care requires a great deal of effort, because you will be dealing with people’s most valuable asset (father, mother, brother, child…). Therefore, there is no success if the work culture is not unified among the management department and employees. Therefore, it is best not to invest in this industry, and serve people as in real estate, hotels and tourism, but not in health.
Engineer Sobhi Batterjee currently holds the following positions:
- Chairman of Middle East Healthcare Company (Saudi German Hospitals Group)
- Founder and CEO of Saudi German Hospitals Group
- Chairman of Bait Al Batterjee Medical Company (Holding Co.)
- Chairman of the Board of Directors of Batterjee Medical College for Science and Technology.
Engineer Sobhi Batterjee’s main achievements:
- Designing, financing, establishing, equipping and operating an international multidisciplinary hospital group.
- Establishment of faculties for medical sciences in various specialties.
- Awareness and education of health and medical management.
- Community development (through non-profit organizations).
- Establishment of charitable hospitals to serve the poor.
- The most important awards he received in his career
- The 2003 Investment Pioneer Award in 25 Islamic countries, awarded to him by the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector of the Islamic Development Bank.
- Best Hospital Developer in the Middle East for 2004, awarded to him by the Gulf Medical Journal and the ECRI, Inc.
- Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Arab Management in the category of “Best Arab Management Personality” in 2006; it is one of the most prestigious awards that recognize outstanding Arab management figures and their achievements in the region.
- Best Executive Director in Healthcare Award by the Middle East Excellence Awards Institute and presented to him by Mr. Dominique de Villepin, former Prime Minister of France in 2008.
- He was named Ernst & Young Middle East Entrepreneur of the year Award for 2008 after being selected from among sixteen active and talented regional business leaders. Engineer Sobhi Batterjee received the award in recognition for his hard work and determination to build a successful institution in a short period of time and contribute significantly to the promotion of healthcare standards in the region.
- Saudi Achievement Award for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) by Arabian Business in 2007 for the Saudi business sector in 2007 where he was honored by His Royal Highness Prince Sattam bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Governor of Riyadh Province.
- National Medal of Cedar – Grade Knight awarded to him in Lebanon by the former President of Lebanon in 2007 Emile Lahoud; it is the highest state order of Lebanon granted to non-Lebanese, in recognition for their efforts and support for Arab health.
- Eng. Sobhi Batterjee has been selected amongst an elite group of YPO-WPO members as an award recipient for the SEN Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Leadership Award in mid-March in 2009 at Miami, USA.
- Eng. Sobhi Batterjee received Arab Takreem Award in the category of Outstanding Corporate Leader in 2010.
Saudi German Hospitals Group’s Main Awards
- Best Training and Educational Hospital Award by the International Arbitration Committee formed on the sidelines of the Arab Health Exhibition and Congress in Dubai, the second largest medical event in the world visited by about 100 thousand specialized visitors and more than 4,000 exhibitors from more than 49 countries.
- Saudi Achievement Award 2007 for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) by Arabian Business Magazine.
- United Nations Millennium Development Goals Award and Arab-African Initiatives in Cairo in 2007.
- Saudi German Hospitals Group was selected among the 50 most impressive companies in the GCC region, according to the field survey conducted by Arabian Business (the first company in the list in the healthcare field).
- SGH Group won an award in Arab Health Dubai 2014 by Orthopedic Department of SGH Jeddah for the Excellence in Surgery Services Award.
- Saudi German Hospitals Group has been selected and honored as a Global Growth Company 2014 by the World Economic Forum.
- Best Education Project in the Middle East and North Africa for Batterjee Medical College for Science and Technology for year 2010.