UAE-based Thumbay Group on the verge of global expansion

Thumbay Group founder and President Dr. Thumbay Moideen is on the verge of a massive expansion that will see the company be present from Accra to India and from Belgrade to Egypt
UAE-based Thumbay Group on the verge of global expansion
The Thumbay Group story began in 1997 with a chance meeting between Dr. Thumbay and Ajman’s Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi
By Bernd Debusmann Jr
Fri 07 Dec 2018 02:12 PM

In the UAE, Thumbay Group founder and president Thumbay Moideen is already well known as one of the country’s success stories, having turned a chance meeting decades ago into a huge and diversified – and expanding – business conglomerate.

But rather than rest on his laurels, Thumbay is ready to embark on a new journey that will see the company spread as far afield as West Africa and the Balkans.

The Thumbay Group story began in earnest in 1997, when Thumbay – a third generation businessman from India – happened, by chance, to meet Ajman ruler Sheikh Humaid Bin Rashid Al Nuaimi while traveling through the UAE while on his way to Africa.

The initial meeting ended with an invitation from Sheikh Humaid to establish a medical university in the emirate. The end result, Gulf Medical University (GMU), became the first private medical university in the UAE and possibly the entire Middle East, in 1998, and the Thumbay network of hospitals became the first private teaching hospital network.

Since that time, the company has expanded enormously, with Thumbay Group now being involved in businesses ranging from hospitals and clinics across the UAE to real estate and construction, pharmacies, labs, a floral shop and even a chain of coffeehouses as well as health clubs and spas.

The first business, GMU, now trains nearly 20 percent of the doctors and 60 percent of the healthcare professionals in the UAE with the Thumbay Hospital network.

We want to dream big, we want to think big and we want to become global palyers

Speaking to Arabian Business, Thumbay proudly explains that he’s “nowhere near” done with Thumbay Group, which he says is currently in the midst of changes in both organisational and mindset terms.

By 2023, he says, the company has plans to expand ten-fold and increase its employee strength to 25,000 around the globe.

“Many people have said it’s time to grow. We want to dream big, we want to think big, and we want to become global players,” he says.

An international expansion

At the heart of Thumbay Group’s global expansion and 2023 plans will be three new university campuses in three countries, as well as a hospital network with a total of 1,000 beds in the UAE, 1,500 in India and 750 in the Gulf and Africa.

“Opportunities have been coming for a long time. People call us to invite us to set up campuses and hospitals. Governments call us. For us it’s an opportunity,” he explains. “We have the structure and the people to do it.”

Among the plans that have been announced recently was an agreement between Thumbay Group and the government of Serbia to establish Gulf Medical University and a Thumbay Hospital in Belgrade. The facilities – which will be built in phases – are expected to be fully operational as soon as 2020.

Already, Thumbay says, the agreement is on the verge of being replicated nearly 8,000 kilometres away, in Ghana, following a visit to the UAE by the Ghanaian president Nana Akufo-Addo and First Lady Rebecca Akufo-addo.

“They came here and invited us to come to Ghana and help set up a medical school. We get a lot of students from the African continent here [in Ajman]. We accepted and they gave us all kinds of support. We signed an agreement and we’re now starting there,” he notes. “It’s a long procedure getting accreditation, but that’s being done. We’re hoping it will be operational by 2020.”

Gulf Medical University is the medical university of the future and we are building similar models in other countries

Closer to home, Thumbay added that Thumbay Group has long-term plans for a much larger set of facilities in Egypt expected by 2021.

“The Egyptian government invited us to come. We’re calling it a Thumbay Medicity, with a university, hospital and everything we have here in Ajman, with health clubs, housing, everything,” he says. 

The company, however, is being very selective about where it expands internationally. In Malaysia and Sri Lanka for example, Thumbay says that the group looked at possibilities but found that the country was already oversaturated. “But, we’re looking for opportunities everywhere. It just has to make business sense.”

A search for global partners

As Thumbay Group embarks on its expansion abroad, Thumbay says that the company has also embarked on a “mindset change” and is also currently searching for equity partners for its international projects and may even go public by listing its IPO in London by 2023.

As with the group’s international expansion, however, Thumbay says that he and the company must be very selective when it comes to choosing the right partners. “They have to be in our line of business to be able to help us, and they have to be substantial players, like sovereign wealth funds,” he notes. “I will not go with small equity funds.”

Plenty of ‘raw material’

When it comes to its hospitals in the UAE and the future of GMU, Thumbay says, the group hopes to take advantage of the hundreds of thousands of medical tourists that are expected to come to the UAE over the course of the next several years. Although the bulk will go to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, he believes that Thumbay’s reputation and efforts abroad – as exemplified by 40 representative offices from around the world –make it well placed to benefit in the future.

They have to be in our line of business to be able to help us and they have to be substantial players

“Medical tourism is the next big thing [in the UAE]. But for us at Thumbay, it’s compulsory. We have to do it. The main reason is that the UAE is not very thickly populated,” he explains.

“If I build a hospital in India and I say it’s free, it would be full in two days’ time. The same would be true in Egypt, because there’s a big population. But the UAE is a rich country and thinly populated. For our students who are training, the raw material is patients.”

Thumbay adds that the company hopes to bring in “large numbers” of medical tourists, drawn by what he considers one of Thumbay Group’s most important strengths: trust.

“We’re going to cover every department for medical tourists, from cardiology to cosmetics and paediatrics,” he says. “Being a medical university, people trust us. All our doctors wear two hats. They are doctors who treat patients and also professors who teach. Patients trust them and that gives us a lot of credibility.”

As the pioneers of medical tourism in the country, Thumbay Hospitals already has what it has termed a ‘medical tourism advantage’.

Mr. Akbar Moideen Thumbay, Vice President of Thumbay Group’s Healthcare Division says, “Considering the current and future trends in Medical Tourism, Thumbay Hospitals have developed enhanced facilities, maintaining the highest standards of quality and offering packages with a wide range of personalisation options. Our aim is to have about 1,000 medical tourists daily at our hospitals, in the next hree to four years.”

The manpower challenge

As part of Thumbay Group’s expansion, the company plans to increase its employee strength to 25,000 by 2023, up from approximately 5,000 today. While Thumbay acknowledges that the figures may sound daunting, he certainly isn’t worried.

“Our kind of business requires a lot of manpower. Especially in hospitals. The hospital in Ajman, for example, requires about 1,300 people on its own,” he says. “But we have very strict policies to make sure we get the right people.”

The UAE is undoubtedly the best country in the world to live in and to do business

An important aspect of the company’s HR strategy going forward, Thumbay says, is diversity. The staff, he explains, should be a reflection of the patients and students which the company serves. “We have students from more than 80 countries and patients from around 175 countries. We want our workforce to emulate this diversity.”

Trust in the UAE

Looking to the future, Thumbay says that the changing face of the UAE’s medical sector mean that Thumbay Group must rely on the trust it has built with the local community  and with the UAE’s government and leaders.

“There is saturation in the market.  It’s become competitive. Everyone feels healthcare and education are good business. But we’ve been lucky. We have a track record of 20 years. Our patients, students and parents have been loyal to us,” he explains.

The most important partner in the past has been the government of the UAE, Thumbay adds. “The UAE is a fantastic country. I love this country. As an Indian, and as a Muslim, it’s the best country in the world. There is no doubt about that, in terms of quality of life and doing business,” he says.

“I trust the government. They’ll do good and make things easier for people like us.”

Thumbay Foundation

As part of its CSR activities, Thumbay Group has set up a foundation – the Thumbay Foundation – which has provided funds and support through the provision of scholarships, grants, bursaries, awards, donations and other types of financial assistance to students. Additionally, the foundation provides free medical and dental camps and has a “sponsor a student” which sponsors more than 20 percent of each year’s intake of students for various medical courses in GMU. Additionally, more than 1,200 children in need have benefited from the foundation’s assistance for school education.

“Our dream is to extend the ‘sponsor a student’ programme to include 50 percent of the GMU students under sponsorship,” Dr. Thumbay Moideen says. The CSR Committee is headed by Mr. Akram Moideen Thumbay, who holds several positions within the company.

Strategic Plan 2023 in numbers

In addition to the three new medical universities to be established in three different countries, Thumbay Group’s 2023 plan calls for housing projects to be set up at GMU in Ajman, a medical library and museum, 25 Thumbay Labs, 100 pharmacy outlets, 40 Z0&Mo opticals, 100 Blends and Brews coffee shops, 25 Body and Soul Health Clubs, 50 Nutri Plus Vita Stores and 25,000 team members.

Growing UAE medical sector

According to statistics, the UAE’s healthcare sector is on the verge of significant growth over the next several years. A 2017 study from MENA Research Partners (MRP), for example, estimated that the country’s medical sector will row as much as 60 percent, from $17 billion in 2017 to $28 billion in 2021. Another MRP report found that, across the GCC, the entire private healthcare sector – which was valued at $62 billion in 2016 – is expected to grow 8.7 percent annually to reach $94 billion in 2021. Notably, Saudi Arabia and the UAE account for two-thirds of the market, with the UAE being the fastest growing market in the region.

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