Born as the seconded eldest of eight children, for Dennis, competition and the drive for success was an important factor in his upbringing. Early on Dennis learned “to start with a goal and put together a prepared plan to accomplish that goal” and “that a lot can be accomplished just by working hard.” He has stuck by these lessons throughout his career and used them in his management of Bumrungrad Hospital, earning him CEO of the year.
Established in 1980, Bumrungrad Hospital Public Company Limited is a leading health care provider in Thailand and Southeast Asia. With 580 beds, it offers services to both international and domestic customers. Currently, almost 50% of all patients it caters to come from abroad, making it a very popular medical tourism destination.
Company DNA: Bumrungrad Hospital
The focus of this interview was to try to understand the company’s DNA. Now that we had a little bit of a background on the company, we want to drill down to find the unique essence of what differentiates Bumrungrad.
Please take a moment to explain Bumrungrad Hospital’s DNA.
DB: DNA is made up of three components. There is the nitrogen component, which is the nuclear base, and you also have a sugar and a phosphate component. We have a similar three-legged stool situation with our business.
The skill level of the doctor—the highly trained, highly skilled doctor—is the base of who and what we are. Having a fairly large base of highly skilled doctors helps define us. Now, to that, we add trained caring and skilled support staff—our nurses, our technicians, and our customer service people. Lastly, we have to have efficient operating systems that are able to meet the expectations of the patient.
Our patients basically say, “I want the top doctor; I want to be in a caring and friendly environment; I don’t want to wait, and I don’t want any errors.” We strive to meet those expectations. Our patients are from around the world, so we compete globally, and must deliver on a global level.
So let’s dig into the part—the global part—because a lot of people would look at a hospital sitting in a city like Bangkok and say, “How can you say you compete globally?” What’s the Business DNA aspect or the history or the story of why or how you think of yourself as competing globally?
DB: Back when I started in health management in Asia, Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore was one of the few hospitals that was actually looking at cross-border services, and we mostly had patients from Indonesia and Malaysia. That was the beginning of the development of medical tourism or international health care in ASEAN.
I worked for an American company at that time, and that company also owned 40% of Bumrungrad Hospital. In 1995, the American company decided to leave the international market segment. At that time, a number of managers from Mount Elizabeth moved up to Bumrungrad. Then, the ‘97 Asian crisis happened and the market softened and debt doubled overnight, so management started looking at providing services to patients outside of Thailand, and that got Bumrungrad into the medical tourism market.
It started nearby with Bangladesh, Vietnam, and to a lesser extent Cambodia. Eventually, others were added. And then, 9/11 happened. At that time the Middle East went predominantly into Europe and North America for health care, but immigration became a little bit tighter, so we began to see a rotation of the Middle East to Asia. A large number came to Thailand, and that continued to cycle for about 10 years. It’s matured for the most part now.
In the meantime, we continued to refine how we entered new markets and grew existing markets. Eventually, we got to where we’re at now.
Leader DNA: Dennis Brown
Let’s talk about some stories, because stories are always fun! We’ve got some background on you and the business. Can you share with us what motivates you and gives you inspiration during difficult times? And tell us about a time that you had to reach deep for inspiration to get through a difficult time.
DB: As I’ve indicated earlier, family is an important inspiration for me. I never want to disappoint them. Everyone makes mistakes—you live and learn by them. Early on, when I was in graduate school, I was able to pass out of a number of introductory courses, which put me slightly ahead of my peers and my class. There are some benefits to being a first mover, but there are also some risks.
This gave me an experience that came with some risks. Part of the master’s program was a comprehensive exam and a thesis. I was told that the comprehensive exam would just be general questions, and that I should read through all my notes. But the most important thing was to get a good night’s sleep beforehand.
I went into the exam with that in mind, and when I read the questions, they were all very detailed questions. I immediately panicked because I knew I couldn’t answer the questions. So I failed on this first attempt. This taught me that, no matter what, you should always be over-prepared rather than under-prepared. Don’t trust rumors. Get the facts.
What was the biggest mistake or challenge that you faced during your career? How did you deal with it and what have you learned from it?
DB: It was actually a very similar situation where there was an issue within the company that I was working for, on the domestic side. I was overseas at that time and I was getting inquiries from the press and others. I asked for information from the head office and they sent me a prepared press release, which I unfortunately released under my name without examining the facts.
And some of what was written was not accurate. So I took the brunt of the fallout from those inaccuracies because my name was attached. I took ownership and, again, it was another lesson. You can make mistakes, but your bosses can also make mistakes. Make sure that, if you’re going to own something, you are ready to stand by what’s on paper and what you’re owning. So signing could mean you own it.
How about a story about your proudest moment in your career, a time that you felt like “I made it” or “This is a good moment?”
DB: I was working for an American health care company and they asked me to sit in as temporary CEO in a hospital where the CEO had suddenly left (so there was a gap). I would drive down Sunday evening to a city (about a five-hour drive) and I’d work Monday through Thursday, then drive back on Thursday night to my official position and work Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and then drive back down.
I did that for about three months. At the end of those three months, my boss’s boss told me I wasn’t promotable. Having put in that huge effort, I said to myself, “Okay, if something else comes along, I’ll look at it.” Literally one week later, I got a call (that was on a Friday). I interviewed on Saturday. I went to the hospital and looked at it on Sunday, and on Monday I took the job.
About a year later, I was fortunate to win CEO of the Year for the company. I felt revalidated after going through the previous experience, and it gave me some reassurance that I actually knew what I was doing (whereas previously I had felt “maybe I’m not cut out for this”). It was a point in life where I thought I had turned a corner.
- Everyone makes mistakes… It’s an unavoidable fact of business and life: mistakes are inevitable. Don’t waste time beating yourself up or looking in the rearview mirror. Learn from them and endeavor not to repeat them.
- …but avoid them when you can – Be overprepared. Arm yourself with more knowledge than you need to know just to get by, and you’ll be ready to shine when the opportunity presents itself.
- Word is bond – Remember that by signing a document you haven’t thoroughly reviewed, you’re vouching for something you don’t know, and you may have to own the mistakes of others.
- Be open to unexpected opportunity – When the phone rings, it could be just another call or it could be the job offer that changes your life forever. Be open to opportunity that comes in an unexpected form or at an unexpected time.
Learn more about how Dennis and the single most powerful habit that has contributed to his success (and that you can adopt now), in the full interview.
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