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Interview

Arnaud Vaissié – Chairman & CEO, International SOS – France

28.07.2015 / Energyboardroom

International SOS provides a range of services to the oil and gas sector, from assistance and evacuation services to supporting a client in all aspects of its medical needs, from wellness to occupational health to remote site management.

You founded International SOS 30 years ago now, with your childhood friend Pascal Rey-Herme, as you felt there was a need to provide international standards of medical care and emergency medical assistance in the Asian region. How has the sector of medical assistance evolved overall? What is your perception of its global trends?

30 years ago, we started off providing clinical and medical evacuation services, in Singapore and Indonesia. We grew continuously by expanding the scope of our services. By listening to our clients, we identified solutions; from assistance and evacuation services to being able to support a client in all aspects of its medical needs, from wellness to occupational health to remote sites management.

In the process we have actually created a new industry as when we started mobile workforces were protected through insurance schemes, however now many countries are implementing regulations that companies have the duty to protect travellers and expatriates from medical or security risks while on a mission abroad. In addition, it’s now the expectation, rather than the exception, for organisations to provide their workers appropriate preventive services. The health, safety and security responsibility of all companies towards their employees has now become critical and is driven by a legal and moral context. This is even more the case in the oil and gas industry where HSE standards are high. We play an important role in helping our clients managing this duty of care agenda.

30 years ago, dealing with mobile employees was not recognised as a specific industry. Today, it is a massive and very well organised industry segment. In terms of global trends, there’s a more diverse workforce, more mobility, this is where companies are heading. By 2020, the number of mobile employees is expected to grow 50 percent. As result, there is a growing awareness about travel risk management within companies and our mission is to help companies and partner with them to support and protect their employees and fulfill their duty of care.

As you mentioned, International SOS’s mission is to pioneer the international medical and travel security risk services sector. As we are not from your field of business, could you please explain to our audience what does it consist in to pioneer your field? 

Safety is now the opening statement in any meeting occurring in the oil and gas industry. Prevention has become a priority for our clients. To meet their demand and to offer them new solutions in order to ensure their business continuity we have to be innovative. For instance, we had to develop strong logistics and IT. On the IT side, with TravelTracker, we have the world’s leading software to help locate and communicate with travellers.

For instance, after the earthquake in Nepal last April, thanks to TravelTracker, clients were able to find out within minutes if they had employees in the country. Last year we provided our clients the ability to track their 2.5 million unique international travellers in TravelTracker across every corner of the globe and we received The Business Travel Awards 2015 in January for TravelTracker in London from the Travel Industry. We invest a lot in e-health solutions, the digitalisation of healthcare is a game changer.

Therefore, technology-based services have become a major part of our offering to clients and are fundamental to our ability to provide a truly global service. It is clearer that the more that is done on the preventive side, the fewer costs in the end. For instance, we have helped our clients realise that their investments were profitable when implementing a global medical checkup policy. Companies that develop preventive programmes are saving money in the end.

One critical aspect in your equation is your resources, meaning doctors and security specialists.  How do you manage to secure the best professionals in these two segments? Which skills must they encompass to be able to operate in emergency circumstance and challenging environments? 

On the recruitment side, we offer a unique way of practicing medicine to doctors who usually work in hospitals or private practices. Many doctors are interested in a different way of practicing medicine. We therefore have a large and continuous flow of applicants. We have the opportunity of being extraordinarily selective. We look for doctors who possess strong internal medicine capabilities, outstanding emergency skills and who are experienced in leading on the field. We are also recruiting specialists in occupational health and epidemiology due to our strong involvement in those two domains. One of our senior medical directors in France was the former president of Doctors Without Borders. Many of them are highly specialised in their fields.

On the security side, we have the strength of our partners, Control Risks, to recruit the best talent available. Our analysts have extensive experience living and working in their regions, including in some of the most challenging security environments. They have diverse backgrounds including security services, military intelligence, Special Forces, aviation, non-governmental organisations and commercial security.

Since you operate in a wide array of sectors, how would you define the importance of the oil and gas to the company’s overall activity and how would you characterize the macro trends pertaining to this industry?

Oil and Gas is one the most globalised industry and we are suited to serve this industry. In 2009, our acquisition of Abermed, a UK-based provider of occupational health and remote medical services to the energy sector, further expanded our geographical presence. As of today, we look after more than 850 remote locations, from providing a single paramedic on an oil rig to fully staffed hospitals. We provide on-site medical staffing and assistance on over 250 oil rigs. Our medical services support the world’s major oil, construction and mining companies and now we are extending this expertise into government and UN environments.

Across the oil and gas value chain, whether in engineering logistics or catering services, the competitive advantage in contrast to traditional firms lies in the ability to deliver solutions tailored to the offshore sector, remote locations and extreme environments. How does International SOS deliver these custom made solutions to these rather unique circumstances? 

Operations in oil and gas are undisputedly more remote. I remember we were working on ships for exploration ventures in the Arctic! The conditions in Greenland were harsh.  We are capable of responding to these extreme circumstances, while ensuring compliance with safety requirements, thanks to our fully integrated services. Through a combination of organic growth and further acquisitions we created a global network of fulfillment centres to assemble and deliver bespoke medical kits and medical equipment for our aviation, maritime, oil and gas and governments clients. We ensure clients have an end-to-end solution by integrating our medical supply services into all our core offerings.

Could you share a few cases of critical emergencies and illnesses in which International SOS made a difference?

Over the last 30 years the world has changed dramatically. We have handled everything from tsunamis, earthquakes, civil unrests, epidemics such and SARS and the Ebola outbreak. You will find us helping people in every tragic accident. We recently intervened in Malaysia after the earthquake where we dispatched a multi-skilled team at the earliest stage. This team comprised medical and security staff as well as communications and logistics specialists, and created an assistance capability centre on the field. We evaluated and transported people outside of the location of the accident within hours. Our intervention speed is recognized in the industry and we can use our expertise in TeleHealth to immediately identify the risks at stake.

International SOS went beyond the Asian region in 1995 and is now a truly global organization. With 20 years of perspective on the company’s internationalization strategy, how challenging has this been for you and Dr Rey-Herme?

For the first 13 years, we were an exclusively Asian organization. We then expanded towards the US, the Middle East, Europe, Africa and finally Latin America. We had to overcome a wide range of obstacles along the way. We had to convince corporations that medical considerations needed to be integrated during the design stages of their projects. I believe that oil and gas operations require more planning on the safety and medical side than any other industry. We are proud of having developed health impact assessment studies, which are conducted prior to the commencement of a project to understand the health impact on local populations. These are very complex consultancy studies, which facilitate the creation of dedicated Health Plans.

We are today a truly global organisation. We are present in 92 countries and we have more than 11,000 employees, 1,400 doctors and 200 security specialists from all over the world. But we recognise that some patients like to be treated by doctors from their home countries. We therefore try to fulfill this as much as possible. For Chinese companies with Chinese workers outside of China for example we usually dispatch Chinese doctors.

Is that what you define as the “human touch”?

Our staff is driven by 4 main values: passion, expertise, respect and care. We care about the interests of our clients, members and employees and aim to make a real difference to their lives. Our people on the ground, in our medical centres or in our assistance centres always go the extra mile to provide invaluable local knowledge and expertise on a global scale, while offering them a truly personal service. All are sensitive to the social and cultural environments in which they work and, together, provide a wealth of experience to assist organisations operating internationally.

Which three major milestones in the company’s development would you like to highlight?

In 1998, we integrated security within our business. We realized that most crises situation combined an emergency situation and a safety predicament. Secondly, when we expanded beyond Asia to become a global company. Thirdly, we were very involved during the Arab Spring, when we had to go from crisis to crisis in a very structured manner within a relatively short period of time. The Arab Spring demonstrated our capacity to stretch our resources to deliver an effective emergency service. Lastly, a key milestone has been the capacity to have always been at the cutting edge of technology whereas it is with our TravelTracker service or the growing telehealth agenda.

You co-founded the think tank Cercle d’Outre Manche in London, a very interesting initiative! If you had to define the perfect entrepreneur, what specific features from the French and British business cultures would you integrate?

In their own ways, the French and the British are very innovative. The French are very attentive towards the product while the British are fascinated by ways of marketing and selling the product.  If a company combines both aspects, it will undeniably succeed.

Mr Vaissié, you are this year celebrating 30 years of existence of International SOS, what can we expect for the coming 10 years? Where else do you want to take your company?

Let’s not be shy… We are certainly looking at the next 10 years or more! Healthcare is going through a revolution. Patients are developing a capability to monitor their own health to all the new connected devices. We need to be at the forefront of the digitalization process, which will further facilitate the provision of our global service. We will drive a significantly enhanced service at a reduced cost. We obviously intend to remain the leader in our field over the next 10 years and adapt to technological developments to keep driving the evolution of our industry through continuous innovation and new services always closer to wherever our members will go.

Click here to read more articles and interviews from France, and to download the latest free oil and gas report on the country. 

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