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Interview

Glenn Keys – Co-Founder & Executive Director, Aspen Medical, Australia

Glenn Keys, the co-founder and executive director of Aspen Medical, describes how the company is helping the oil and gas industry push the frontier on HSQE with outsourced healthcare services, while also detailing the fundamentals that have helped fuel its steadfast growth trajectory, despite the global downturn in oil prices. Additionally, he evaluates the landscape for new and existing market entrants and delineates Aspen Medical’s future ambitions.

Can you start off by describing the underlying aspirations behind Aspen Medical, and illustrate how far the company has grown now since its conception?

Having started the company in 2003, we were looking for a company that provided the complete package of healthcare solutions. We’re not about just providing staff or medical equipment, but more so, whatever is required to meet a customer’s healthcare need. Spanning all of our operating segments whether that’s in defense, oil and gas, or indigenous health, we can provide as much or as little as our customers require in terms of medical personnel, equipment, pharmaceuticals, facilities, vehicles, aeromedical evacuation (AME)—anything that is necessary to get the job done. We even cover remote area surgical care—something that few companies can boast. In tandem, we also provide the whole spectrum of accompanying logistics support including accommodation, catering, transport, cold-chain management, poison licenses, import and export licenses, bio waste disposal, and environmental health. Ultimately, we’re not agency or locum staffer, but a complete healthcare solutions provider.

We have always focused on the next stage of growth. If you look at our financials, we’ve always been investing in where we need to be next year since day one—whether that’s in our IT systems, quality accreditation, office space, or supervision policies. Only by doing so have we been able to successfully expand our operations as contracts are awarded. We now have 2,200 staff members working for us worldwide, and we’re looking to add on another 1,500 more by next year. We’ve had fairly significant growth not only in Australia, but also Asia-Pacific, Africa, and the Middle East—which will most likely remain consistent over the next one to three years.

How have you gone about replicating this success abroad?

Based on some of our early successes, we were actually asked to support oil and gas operations over in Africa. This was also right around the time that the Ebola epidemic broke out. Since we were already there, governments from the US, the UK, and Australia had all contracted us separately to provide an Ebola response. We were one of the only companies in the world to be contracted by three separate countries to deliver treatment for this disease.

Generally speaking, however, we spend a fair of time in understanding different cultures such as Africa, Middle Eastern, or even American, before attempting to penetrate a foreign market.  We don’t believe we have the mortgage on knowledge, and there’s a lot we’ve learned from working with those cultures that has now been instilled across the company as well. Within the next 12 months, I anticipate that we’ll have more of our business abroad than in Australia.

Is Aspen Medical fulfilling a palpable market gap or did the company create its own demand?

From my perspective, there was a desperate need for these types of services, but people just didn’t know it. Many of these companies had, in fact, integrated clinics that experienced a moderate amount of utilization here and there. But introducing this idea of proactive healthcare truly changed their mindsets—especially when witnessing the results first-hand in terms of productivity, cost-savings, and general worker wellbeing. For example, one of our clients upon conducting their own reviews had stumbled upon four employees with gastrointestinal disease—equivalent to 24 days of productivity loss and over USD 150,000. After conducting our own audit, we made several straightforward and virtually costless recommendations to improve nutrition, hygiene, and sanitation, while also minimizing the spread of germs, bacteria, and infection that can cause some of these diseases. A few of the recommendations included implementing blatant wash points with enforcing signs, separate drums for disseminating utensils, portion control, prioritizing healthier foods in the beginning on the buffet, and timer-controlled refrigeration to prevent spoilage. So, simple assessments and arrangements such as the one mentioned can have enormous impacts on bottom lines, and that’s the sort of mentality that we’ve helped instill among our clients—invariably fuelling the demand for our services.

Where does the oil and gas sector fit within the company’s portfolio of business in terms of importance and composition?

Oil and gas is not only a critical part of our business, but underpins the sustainability of Australia’s economy—intersecting so many parts of our lives. One of the most notable aspects of work in this particular industry is the fact that companies operating in this space don’t sit back and wait for their people to get ill or injured; HSQE is at the forefront of their primary concerns on a day-to-day basis. The model we’ve taken is one we’ve used for all of our customers: pursuing a preventative approach towards healthcare and ensuring that people don’t get sick or physically impaired in the first place. And if they do happen to get ill, then our aim is to help them recover as quickly as possible. Every hour of lost productivity is another dollar off the companies’ top lines. For us, the ultimate tag of success would be if no one ever gets ill or injured as a result of our close-working efforts. But, unfortunately, the reality is that there will always be incidents—so the best we can do is to take a more proactive approach with regards to training, education, and conducting inspection for our customers and effectively minimize the risk of work-place sickness or injury.

Many healthcare clinics or individuals are quite often solely focused on maximizing volume and patient turnover—the antithesis of oil and gas companies who want to eliminate instances of absenteeism or presenteeism as much as possible. And we pride ourselves on the ability to be proactive, rather than reactive, when it comes to working with our clients—what we believe to be our unique selling point when it comes to healthcare.

On top of that, business aside, having a direct hand in maintaining the overall welfare of people is something we at Aspen Medical inherently enjoy.

How are outsourced healthcare solutions helping your clients optimize their bottom lines, while also maintaining the utmost standards in HSQE?

From an oil and gas point of view, we think we’ve developed the complete healthcare package, which encompasses everything from medical staffing, pre-employment checks, rehabilitation, ambulatory care, facilities, equipment setups, and all other forms of comprehensive healthcare required on site. We’ve already developed a prominent track record with some of the largest names in the industry. For example, on behalf of key US Oil and Gas multinationals, we helped service a major Australian LNG project by providing the complete healthcare service offering: equipment such as kits, vehicles, and defibrillators; the staffing of healthcare practitioners; and fixed-wing and rotary-wing AME services.

For AME specifically, we’ve established an AME contract that covers Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory, which provides this service to seven of the world’s major oil and gas corporations.  We’ve now performed over 600 AME missions for them over the last few years, and over 200 missions this year alone. We have two aircrafts, with the supporting aircrew, medical crew, hangarage, and spare parts, currently based in Karratha—covering an area equivalent to two-thirds the size of the continental US.

Which of your services have displayed the most promising demand prospects across your oil and gas clients?

Physical wellbeing and mental health support are among the most pervasive concerns—especially for the “fly-in, fly-out” type employees who are constantly separated from their families. There’s also a clear demographic split in this industry: the under 30s who experience more work-related physical trauma and the over 50s who are afflicted with more lifestyle related health issues such as diabetes, strokes, or heart attacks. In understanding the demographic profile and corresponding emerging health issues, we’ve been providing a comprehensive range of services such as online or face-to-face mental health consultations, toolbox training with paramedics, and pre-employment checks to vet pre-existing medical conditions. We’ve received an overwhelming response to creating the appropriate frameworks to minimize risk, whether that’s through things such as diet, exercise, or medication, and companies have actually been quite compliant in adopting these programs.

From your perspective, has this particular segment of your business maintained momentum despite the global downturn in oil prices? Or has there been a significant slowdown in activity?

There’s certainly been a tightening. But one of our primary value propositions is to ability to induce cost-savings—which many of these companies across the oil and gas sector are now looking for in response to global macroeconomic trends. And what we’ve done with our clients is not cut our service packages, but actually find more efficient solutions that can deliver the required services, while maintaining the quality standards that we’ve become known for. That has really required collaborative action between us and the customers—which has been quite successful.

Since the company started, have there been other competitors entering the market and offering the same set of services? or are the barriers to entry at this point too high?

We’ve actually seen many competitors leaving the market either through M&A or exiting the business all together. Oil and gas is a critical part of our business, but we’ve also diversified into several other market segments. We now have thriving operations across Indigenous health, defense, public health, and disaster management and humanitarian assistance. There are a lot of commonalities and synergies between those markets, but this also means that we essentially have five legs to our chair. If one of those legs falls short for a period, such as the case of oil and gas, we’ll be among the few left undeterred and resilient.

Over its 12.5 years of operations, Aspen Medical has received multiple awards, now widely recognized as the global leader in outsourced medical services. What would you consider your most fundamental pillars of success?

My former schoolmate and longtime friend Dr Andrew Walker and I started Aspen Medical together. We have a very clear rule: we don’t make a decision unless we both agree on it, which has worked out quite well for us so far. We have different skillsets, but are still compatible. We’ve also got an unbelievable group of people, which Aspen Medical would be nothing without. These are team members whom we can wholly trust in difficult, remote, and challenging locations to always keep in mind our customers’ needs, while also taking care of our own people. Aside from our focus on quality, risk mitigation, and delivery, that has been a real contributor to our rapid growth.

Furthermore, part of the reason we have a business is because health professionals are in short supply. We had to find innovative ways to engage them in a way that would suit their needs, our customer’s needs, and our own needs. How we manage our team has been critical to our success. Essentially, we see three intersecting areas of importance: high quality service delivery, excellent people management, and strong financial management.

Given your growing level of success and prestige, is it not unreasonable to expect some investor interest for acquisition or partnership stakes?

We’re constantly receiving investor interest from all sorts of bodies spanning private equity firms to logistics providers. We’ve seen all of them, and we’re ready for any of them—given the right match. We’ve deliberately set the business up for the prospects of an IPO or an acquisition, but at the right time; it’ll have to be a seamless culture fit. We are not prepared to commit our team  to an organization that we wouldn’t personally want to work and didn’t align with our value sets or the overarching vision that Aspen Medical is trying to achieve.

How will you measure your own success moving forward?

I’d like to see us continue to grow. We’re at 2,200 people now, but both Andrew and I still feel like we’re a family company—and that’s an atmosphere that we will strive to maintain. Our customers, our patients, and our team approve of us, and we want to make sure that all the cities and countries we operate in are pleased to have us as a part of their communities.

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