Philippe Huinck, Regional Managing Director South & Southeast Asia, International SOS, Singapore
”Oil and Gas companies have an obligation called the ‘duty of care’ (DOC) to look after their employees. Many countries legislate on the DOC and non-cooperation could carry hefty financial implications. This used to be more of a developed market phenomenon but companies are more and more applying the same DOC in Asia as they do in the West. This level of DOC has created rippling effects in the improvement of healthcare in Asia’s oil and gas industry.”
What is the business model of International SOS and what services does the company provide clients in South and Southeast Asia?
We have a business to business to employee model (B2B2E). Our main clientele are overseas assignees and business travelers. We provide a facilitation service for business travelers to access medical and security services. This method allows them to call for help if they do not know how or where to receive these services.
Typically we have arrangements with multinational corporations, governments, and international institutions as these clients send employees all over the world. For example: we work with a development bank based in Manila and they approached us asking for our service. We assessed how many people would need access, figured out specifics such as issuing malaria kits or first aid training, and quoted them a price. Such members have 24/7 access every day of the year if they ever have medical or security needs. Our staff answers every call to mitigate medical and security risks and resolve issues in an efficient and collected manner.
Our service platform is broad and diverse. It includes locating pharmacies and medical practices, to sorting out every day needs such as delivery of medicines or prescription eyeglasses. Moreover, we offer doctor visits, evacuation capabilities and centers of medical excellence located near strategic choke points. Two examples best highlight our services: Firstly, we had one member who was bitten by a rabid dog during a routine jog in Bali. Bali did not have the required vaccination to fight rabies so we ordered and shipped it to Bali within six hours.
Another example is an expat who began experiencing chest pains in Vientiane (the capital of Laos). We asked for permission from his employer to evacuate him from Laos and send him to Bangkok—the nearest center of medical excellence. We mobilized an aircraft, organized a crew, acquired departure and landing rights, and other logistical necessities to ensure this individual got the required level of care he needed. The facilitation service is covered under the employer’s corporate membership with International SOS, while the medical bill and air service bill (out of pocket) is sent to the employer, who can later arrange for them to be reimbursed by their insurance company.
The magnitude of our logistic operations brought us business from important players in the oil and gas industry. They needed a service for their employees working on rigs and vessels in remote areas. We work with oil and gas companies to ensure they have highly trained staff onsite the rigs and vessels. We hire doctors, train them in our Asia Pacific Training Center in Jakarta, and send them projects and assignments at remote sites. These postings could range from two weeks to four months.
The medical services we provide are heavily regulated. If an incident occurs on the rig, our medics can treat the injury or recommend a plan of action that will not affect the company’s reputation if necessary. We have also dedicated three response centers (one in Johannesburg, Kuala Lumpur, and Sydney) that only deal with oil and gas issues.
Having worked in Asia for over two decades, how do you assess the evolution of attitudes towards health and safety in the region?
The Asian Region is broad and diverse and therefore cannot be treated as a monolithic bloc. To manage it appropriately it has been separated into segments: North Asia and South and Southeast Asia. Our region is the latter and primarily focuses on oil and gas. Oil and Gas companies have an obligation called the ‘duty of care’ (DOC) to look after their employees. Many countries legislate on the DOC and non-cooperation could carry hefty financial implications. This used to be more of a developed market phenomenon but companies are more and more applying the same DOC in Asia as they do in the West. This level of DOC has created rippling effects in the improvement of healthcare in Asia’s oil and gas industry.
When International SOS began, we relied on inbound business; western companies beginning operations in Asia. Today, outbound business is stimulating demand for our services within and outside of the oil and gas industry. PETRONAS, the Malaysian oil and gas company, is now a mega multinational corporation and global ambassador of the industry. Asian companies are understanding the value of their employees and ensuring their safety regardless of their next destination. Additionally, oil and gas companies are outsourcing their specific medical and safety necessities to us. These companies originally hired their own medical staff but the administration and regulation is too complex for these companies. Our presence on exploration projects ensures that there is an emergency medical response plan (EMRP) that dictates the procedure should an incident occur in a remote location. Our EMRPs are individually designed to reflect the best plan of action for each company and each rig and vessel.
You have obtained a number of different positions and roles. Since joining International SOS, what traits and values make the company special?
The best companies in each industry can cherry-pick talent to enhance their own company. However, in our line of work, we do not have a main competitor. Therefore, we are required to hire talent from different industries. At International SOS, we look for people who fit within the strong company culture. The people we hire must truly be smart and adaptable global citizens, because our company is so diverse. You will find that our teams are well mannered, well experienced, well educated, and focused on providing the best service for our clients.
As someone with vast experience in managing companies in Asia, what is the best way to forge partnerships and build business development?
First of all, our plan is not to identify which markets we do not have a presence in and penetrate them. We build our business based on our clients’ needs. We are in Myanmar because our services were required in Myanmar. We invest if our clients need us; not out of pure commercial profit alone.
Second, in some countries you indeed need a partnership. Luckily, our physicians and medical doctors are well networked; they studied together and worked together. So when we initiate operations in new countries, the superior cooperation efforts of our doctors offer us the best advice on ministry of health regulations, registrations, and licenses and it does not conflict with the commercial agenda.
When we begin operating in a new country, we start small and grow with the more business that we get. In the region I oversee, I have 13 different budgets to serve 18 countries that pay over 1300 staff. I have a very committed South and Southeast Asia regional team partly based in Singapore and partly based in Kuala Lumpur—the primary location for oil and gas services. Every country has its own staff including a general manager, a chief medical officer, security team, medics, sales and marketing departments, assistance centers, etc. Such a vast regional operation requires us to be well organized and disciplined in order to succeed.
Eighty-five companies from the Fortune 100 utilize the services of International SOS. Why are you the partner of choice?
The companies we serve take their Duty of Care very seriously. Our service works because we put our patient first and worry about finances later. We will go as far as we need in order to save lives. We do at times make mistakes but we put even more effort into making sure we do not make the same mistake twice. Our focus is fixing the one complaint we get than to celebrate the twenty compliments we receive.
Our expansion contradicted the typical expansion of a western company. We were founded in Asia and decided to expand in the western world, rather than the other way around. Singapore has been the cradle of the company since the company’s inception and this was partly because our founding doctor was located in Jakarta and that Singapore was and remains an exceptionally attractive place for business. Business in Singapore is transparent, has fantastic infrastructure, no corruption, a strong currency, and the list of reasons interminably continues. We have our global headquarters in Singapore, a commercial hub in London and other 24/7 assistance centers in 37 locations.
What is the Achilles Heel of Singapore’s economy, threatening to inhibit impressive rise?
Singapore will need to change continuously and adapt to different trends in order to maintain their high quality of life. Innovation is crucial and I think that some sort of strengthened collaboration with Malaysia could be a win-win for both nations. The leadership needs to stay strong and stay one step ahead of the curve. Singapore is the benchmark for South and Southeast Asia, and only time will tell how Singapore navigates the next fifty years.
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