By Jola Chudy
As Makarem Sobhi Batterjee assumes the leadership of Saudi German Hospital Group, he reflects on the healthcare legacy of his father, Engineer Sobhi Batterjee and shares his plans to take the regional healthcare provider global
From humble beginnings in the pharmacy business, the Batterjee family enterprise established by Shaikh Abdul Jalil Batterjee almost 100 years ago, grew to become the largest healthcare company in the region today.
The driving force behind this success is the founder of the Saudi German Hospitals (SGH) Group, Engineer Sobhi Batterjee, who with his brother Dr. Khalid Batterjee have grown their hospitals from one facility in Jeddah in 1988, to an impressive 10 hospitals open today with many more to come.
The SGH brand along with many other well-renowned brands are part of Bait Al Batterjee (BAB) Holding, the parent company established by Engineer Sobhi Batterjee and Dr. Khalid Batterjee as a way to keep all the family businesses consolidated under one entity.
The family, under their leadership, has long been close to the heart of Saudi enterprise and has been key in progressing healthcare and education in the region.
BAB Holding presides over the largest healthcare group in the region and its portfolio includes hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, educational facilities, hospital construction, pet care, IT and fitness centres, as well as divisions that focus on more traditional real estate. BAB Holding has a workforce comprising more than 12,000 employees, and one of its biggest achievements includes the world’s first gym for women in Saudi Arabia, established in 2005 by Makarem Batterjee, the son of Engineer Sobhi Batterjee.
Makarem Batterjee is President of BAB Holding and is also the Vice Chairman and Deputy President of one of BAB’s largest groups, the Saudi German Hospital (SGH) Group. As he prepares to take the group from regional powerhouse to global healthcare player, Makarem Sobhi Batterjee – entrepreneur, leader, visionary and star of Rotana’s popular business reality TV show, Shark Tank – talks to CEO Magazine in an exclusive interview, revealing how he is balancing his family’s legacy with his own ambitious vision.
“It’s my ambition to be not just a regional healthcare player, but a regional brand that is going global,” he tells CEO Magazine at his corporate offices in Downtown Dubai. His high-rise office, a symphony of contemporary minimalism softened by elegant cream touches, seems a far cry from the sleek and functional hospital wards over which he presides, but it is the nerve centre from which he operates when in Dubai, which is often.
“Who can resist Dubai?” he says with a smile. “There are so many synergies that exist between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which is why it is important to have an office here, too”. His advisers and executives buzz around him, but the younger Batterjee exudes focus and affability, bantering with his staff and with the CEO photographer.
As a relatively young leader, his stewardship of the Saudi German Hospital Group is impressive enough, but Makarem Batterjee has already achieved much more. Assuming the mantle of a vast family empire is just the beginning for this dynamic entrepreneur.
“Both my grandfather and father have been driven by ‘doing good’ for others and this is part of my core philosophy,” he says. It is a philosophy that has been recognised at the highest levels. He was selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2008 and anointed the youngest member of the prestigious Bretton Woods committee in Washington DC. He is the founding president of the Young Entrepreneurs Organization (YEO) in Saudi Arabia and holds an MBA from London Business School.
Makarem Sobhi Batterjee was awarded an honorary doctorate from the United Nations for his efforts in empowering the women of Saudi Arabia thanks to the opening of Saudi Arabia’s first women-only fitness centre, the aforementioned Gold’s Gym, which has more than 25,000 members. It was a challenging achievement that called on every ounce of his power to sway opinion. Women’s gyms were unheard of in Saudi Arabia before this. The project was an exercise in changing perceptions.
“When I started this project in 2005, gyms for women in Saudi Arabia simply did not exist. We focused on, and highlighted, the medical benefits of exercise and I eventually managed to convey that fitness is a vital part of preventative care and wellness. It was both a big business risk and extremely challenging, but in this part of the world it was much needed,” he notes.
His work in championing women’s health and empowerment has been recognised by the World Economic Forum and the Bretton Woods Committee, a network of highly prominent world leaders working together for international economic cooperation.
“We plan to invest a lot of time and effort in opening 50 Gold’s Gym in Saudi Arabia, as franchises in other regional countries are given to other players. Our focus is on raising awareness about health and wellness through preventive care. The very fact that we are born human is a blessing and to have a purpose of helping others through the family business of healthcare and education is a second blessing. I feel blessed to continue the mission and message of my family in this region – and hopefully outside the region, too.”
It is a statement that is both ambitious and humble. It echoes the philosophy of the family business, which is a line quoted from The Holy Quran: “And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.” (Al Maidah, Verse 32).
Makarem Batterjee is adamant that this remains a core component of his vision moving forward.
“The motivation is not just to make money; that is not our model. We are here to improve healthcare and relieve suffering first and foremost and I believe that money follows if you are sincere in your purpose. We are in the business of doing good and driving positive change in the MENA region, through healthcare and education. The SGH brand has great goodwill in the region and that is also because we were early pioneers in the media; our brand is widely recognised across the Middle East and Africa.”
Makarem also founded Humania Capital, an investment platform dedicated to delivering enhanced and much needed health services in the region. In addition to the projects underway, Humania aims to become the most credible healthcare platform in the MENASA region striving to deliver high-quality healthcare with affordable pricing.
Educational facilities form a core component of the family holding group and building on this, Makarem Batterjee presides over the Global Business School (GBS) in partnership with leading international business schools. GBS aims to establish a new educational benchmark within the Kingdom.
“We are one of the largest investors in education in the region. We have one of the largest private medical colleges in the Middle East. We were one of the first companies in Saudi Arabia to develop private-sector higher education in medical education and it has been very successful,” notes Makarem.
“Now we’re also in executive education. We’re planning to launch one of the top business schools in Saudi Arabia. We’re also expanding our medical colleges in Saudi Arabia and other countries.”
The group provides medical education through its Batterjee Medical College (BMC); to date, thousands of female and male students from the region have enrolled. The college offers programs in medicine, nursing, pharmacy and dentistry. Many students have moved on to become employees at Saudi German Hospitals.
“We believe in ‘employability’ and education that ends in employment,” he states. “We have provided thousands of jobs within the business to those who study with us and have the right attitude; passion, willingness, warmth, discipline and a strong work ethic.”
While he stamps his identity on an array of new business ventures, in overseeing the expansion of Saudi German Hospital Group across the Middle East, Asia and Africa, Makarem Batterjee is continuing the legacy started by his father. Does he feel a sense of pressure, or obligation, in this respect?
“Saudi German Hospital was founded by my father and uncle 30 years ago in Saudi Arabia, but just because you’re not the founder doesn’t mean that you don’t know the business,” he says. While his father continues to mentor him, the Saudi German Hospital (SGH)Group shows no signs of slowing down. The hospitals in Riyadh and Jeddah are being renovated this year, and the group has already opened its milestone 10th hospital – SGH Ajman – this year with another to open in Dammam in 2019.
“I hope I could be seen as an ambassador for healthcare, I would be proud and honoured to be that, but I think my greatest honour to date is to be a human being. I have always believed that the ultimate purpose of the group is not just to make money, but to improve people’s lives by providing better healthcare services and better education.
"What lifts a civilisation or society up is the soft infrastructure such as education and health. Health is a basic need for a human being and the second step in the hierarchy of human needs is education, because you are what you learn. And I believe that these industries are truly worth putting my soul into.”