scope – Saudi Arabia
might wonder whether Engineer Sobhi A Batterjee, the
President and CEO of the Saudi German Hospital Group,
can see into the future. To say his expansion plans
are big is an understatement. They are vast - 30 new
hospitals by 2015, one in every Arab country. The Editor,
Callan Emery, spoke to the man in the first hospital
he developed in Jeddah.
The quietly spoken, softly
smiling Mr Batterjee invites me into his busy office
and sits me down with a cup of Arabic tea.
Callan Emery: How and where
did the Saudi German Hospital Group begin?
Sobhi A Batterjee: In 1945
my grandfather, Ibrahim Batterjee, brought medicine
to the country. He established a business which grew
to become the largest distributor of pharmaceutical
products in the region.
CE: For how long did your
grandfather run this business?
SB: Until about
1975. At this stage the family had grown and my brothers
and I were sent to the United States for education and
the family business began to diversify.
returned as a [Electrical Engineer] contractor and I
developed this line of business. My brother, Khalid,
returned several years later after qualifying as a doctor.
My mother was fond of doctors. Actually we [all the
sons] were all named after doctors. Now that my brother
was a doctor my mother thought he should have his own
hospital. For the sake of my mother I decided to start
CE: In Jeddah?
SB: In Jeddah. There
were many factors: my mother wanted it, my brother did
too. He had just graduated. He had contact with a professor
of medicine in Germany. At the time there were a lot
of Saudi patients travelling to Germany.
So there many factors for building this hospital besides
my mother and brother’s wish. In 1983 things were
slowing down in Saudi Arabia. Oil was $8 a barrel after
being at around $45 in the 1970s. Contracting work was
drying up. Also the government was offering free loans
to hospital developers.
So I looked at my situation and asked ‘what is
an electrical, mechanical engineer good for now? There’s
no business’. I thought; let me continue the family
heritage of healthcare.
The German professors who were in contact with my brother
said they were receiving a lot of Saudi patients, but
there were difficulties such as translation. They said
‘why don’t you build a hospital in Saudi
and call it the Saudi German Hospital and we will come
and do treatments there!’
We made agreements with several German universities
to supervise the work and to regularly have visiting
professors who could also offer assistance and training
to our Arab doctors.
We are doing this in all our hospitals now. You know,
we are not only a hospital company, we are a hospital
developer. We do everything in-house - finance, design,
construction, recruitment, operations. We do all of
it. Now we are educating as well.
CE: How did it grow from
that first hospital?
SB: It was a large
investment and took a lot of hard work. We had to develop
our own systems and so on. Dr Batterjee [Sobhi’s
brother] and I were the only pair covering the hospital.
I ran the administration and my brother was the doctor.
We worked 20 hours a day in the beginning, running this
We were very successful and we beat the competition.
I knew very little about management and just did it
by intuition. And then I joined the Young Presidents
Organisation - an international group of the cream of
the cream of young leaders. One symposium I attended
changed my life. It was called ‘hyper competition’.
After-wards I could see things much more vividly and
make decisions much more quickly.
I realised it’s not big eats small anymore. It
is fast eats slow!
So in 1995 I told my brother we’ll have five hospitals
by 2005. He said: “Are you crazy? You cannot do
it.” I said, we can.
So in 2005 we’ll have our fifth hospital in Yemen.
Two years ago I said 30 hospitals by 2015. Now we are
advertising it, publicising it. We are going in that
direction. We are geared up for it. But, if we don’t
make it, if we only make 20, that’s fine.
CE: You have the know-how.
SB: Yes, we have
the knowledge. We also have the capital. Just last week
[first week of May] we got permission from the Ministry
of Health to build the largest public healthcare facility
in the region worth Saudi Rials 590 million.
I believe now we are breaking through. The Arab Development
Fund is coming to us. With the Yemen project people
will realise we are not just a Saudi company. We have
other projects lined up - one in Cairo, one in Dubai.
CE: What are these projects
in Cairo and Dubai?
SB: Hospitals. We have just
launched a company in Cairo. And just last week we received
permission from the Dubai municipality to go ahead with
our hospital there.
CE: Where will this hospital
SB: On Sheikh Zayed Road
opposite Internet City.
CE: How big will it be?
SB: Big. Three hundred beds.
CE: A general hospital?
SB: General, with
If you look at our business card, it’s there,
our vision. It says: ‘Our corporate vision is
to design, finance, construct and operate 30 world-class
hospitals and create 50,000 jobs by the year 2015.’
‘Our mission is to be the leader in the Middle
East and Africa and to deliver reliable, quality, medical
care to you.’
That’s where we are going.
CE: Where are you planning
to expand outside Saudi Arabia?
SB: We have a plan
... here. [Sobhi Batterjee unfurls a map on his desk
and points to proposed projects.] Five hospitals in
Egypt, three in Nigeria, one in Damascus, one in Istanbul,
one in Iran, three in Pakistan... another in Morocco,
one in each Arab country. If you go to our website you
will see it there - www.sghgroup.com
Our next project is the construction of medical colleges.
CE: Where will they be built?
SB: We have one
in Jeddah and one under construction in Riyadh. In fact,
wherever we have a hospital we plan to attach a medical
Mr Batterjee sits back in his plush leather seat and
smiles It’s as if his grand plan is already complete.
But Sobhi Batterjee is not just a businessman; he is
also a family man. His family comes first, and this
is evident in many areas. It shows in his home and the
way he conducts business, but perhaps most in his efforts
to keep his expanding family unified in the face of
increasing wealth. To do this he has called in an expert
in this field, a specialist from India who has drawn
up a family constitution to prevent any possible future
family feuds and protect the family’s hard-earned
A wise man!