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HBS 2: From Social Innovation to Corporate Entrepreneurship: The story of International SOS

09-06-2014
HBS 2: From Social Innovation to Corporate Entrepreneurship: The story of International SOS

On 4th June 2014, the Health Business and Society Public Talk No. 2: “From Social Innovation to Corporate Entrepreneurship: The story of International SOS” was successfully held at ESSEC Asia-Pacific. Mr. Arnaud Vaissié was the keynote speaker for the session, with Dr. Jeremy Lim and Dr. Cedomir Nestorovic as the panelists for the panel discussion. The session was moderated by Dr. Allen Lai, Director of the Institute for Health Economics and Management, Asia-Pacific.

The session was opened by Dr. Allen Lai, who provided an introduction to International SOS. Mr. Arnaud Vaissié spoke about the 3 key elements for successful entrepreneurship, namely: having an idea, taking the first step to make it real, as well as having a favourable business environment.

Providing an introduction to International SOS, Mr. Vaissié elaborated on the context in which International SOS was created. International SOS is an international organisation dedicated to providing medical services to people living outside their home country. To Mr. Vaissié, International SOS can be considered “the child of the globalisation of business”. As globalisation sped up, there was an increasing need to support the internationalisation of corporations. Today, the needs of corporations have evolved to the concept of the duty of care. 

Duty of care refers to having programmes and solutions which are available as and when they are needed, with the purpose of allowing medical risks and crises to be managed. This concept first spread in the Western world, but has gradually become increasingly important in Asia. Mr. Vaissié elaborated that International SOS helps provide solutions for corporations to fulfil their duty of care, but also played a part in developing the very concept of “duty of care”. 

To Mr. Vaissié, “The story of International SOS revolves around innovation”. There is a pressing need to have the following 3 factors: competency, adaptation and continuous evolution for the organisation to succeed. Speaking about the importance of adaptation, Mr. Vaissié shared that the organisation first entered Indonesia with the house call model, which was a more widely adopted concept in the West. After observing the different needs in the market, the organisation changed from the house call model to an emergency room setting, as in Jakarta, there was no strong culture of calling doctors for home visits. Mr. Vaissié added that “On the services front, you adapt and follow your customers”. 

He shared the challenges faced by the organisation in carrying out geographical expansions, given the difference in cultures. Mr. Vaissié emphasised that evolution is critical if you want to grow. Without creating new products and solutions, existing offerings quickly become commoditised and it becomes difficult to stay ahead of competition.

The last aspect which Mr. Vaissié touched on was the topic of cross-cultural management. He shared the importance of Emotional Intelligence in developing an organisation, as this is integral to convincing the various stakeholders such as customers, regulators, and potential employees of the values of the organisation. The situation was especially complex for International SOS, given that they were operating in Asia but not Asian.

Mr. Vaissié also spoke about being able to balance the needs of executives and physicians. He elaborated that the priority for physicians is to do what is the best for patients, while executives might have another set of priorities such as business processes, meeting customer expectations, or working within the budget. Due to the difference in priorities for the two groups, tension exists between executives and physicians. Mr. Vaissié said that the key to success and being able to balance the needs of these two groups is communicating a clear message of the corporation’s values to all employees, allowing them to understand that the corporation’s values are what matter at the end of the day, to always put the corporation first. 

Following Mr. Vaissié’s presentation, a panel discussion with Mr. Vaissié, Dr. Jeremy Lim and Dr. Cedomir Nestorovic was held. Dr. Jeremy Lim shared his views from the viewpoint of an experienced physician, concurring with Mr. Vaissié that given the uncertainty which exists in entrepreneurship, it is very important to have common values and alignment as we often know the final destination but do not know how long this process will take. With common values and alignment, stakeholders of the organisation would be motivated to work towards a common goal. 

To Dr. Lim, “Healthcare is one of the sectors where you can do good and do well while doing good”. Given this nature of the industry, it is easier to attract talented and passionate people. He encouraged budding entrepreneurs to try to take the first step. He urged entrepreneurs to change the environment to make it favourable if there are pressing needs to be met. 

Dr. Cedomir Nestorovic then spoke about the topic of entrepreneurship, raising the oft-asked question of whether entrepreneurship is something which can be taught, or if it is something which needs to be learnt through experience. He also asked Mr. Vaissié if “chance” played an important role in the success of International SOS. Mr. Vaissié replied that the “chance” for International SOS was starting in Southeast Asia, and in Singapore. Singapore’s strong economic growth provided an especially favorable business environment for the organisation. However, Mr. Vaissié also added that it is actually a combination of chance and a good view of the situation, and that entrepreneurship involves a lot of hard work. Topics such as the difference between employees across countries as well as how corruption should be handled were also discussed. 

During the Q&A session, a question regarding how the organisation handled competition was asked. To Mr. Vaissié, “It is critical to think about competitors, but it is even more important to stay your own course, to not be distracted by competition and always ensure that you stay one step ahead of the competition.” He added that in today’s market, being first to market is the most important for the organisation. 

A question regarding disruptive innovation and how they ensured they had a continued advantage over competitors was asked. Mr. Vaissié explained that given that disruptive innovations are often of a revolutionary nature, it is hard to anticipate disruptive innovations. 

The audience was also curious to understand Mr. Vaissié’s thoughts about legacy and continuity of the organisation, and how they would ensure that the concept is viable beyond the founders. Mr. Vaissié replied that he does not believe in complacency, and it is especially important to constantly remain credible and relevant. Given that customer expectations are always going higher and customer loyalty cannot be taken for granted in today’s world, it has become especially crucial for organisations to value every customer and constantly innovate to stay relevant. 

The Public Talk allowed participants to view International SOS in a new light, seeing the organisation from the viewpoint of ‘entrepreneurship’ as opposed to what it is normally viewed, a Multinational Corporation. Participants gleaned a refreshing view of the organisation, seeing how entrepreneurial spirit played such a key role in the development of the organisation. Mr. Vaissié emphasised that no matter how big the organisation grows, it is always important to keep in mind the entrepreneurial spirit.

The next Public Talk in the Health, Business and Society series on "Using predictive analytics to reinvent Healthy Cities? New Business Models in Consumer Health" with Mr. Callum Bir, Health Industry Lead APAC PS, Microsoft and Prof. Ashwin Malshe, Marketing Professor at ESSEC, moderated by Dr. Allen Lai, will be held on 16th July, 6:15pm to 9:00pm. 

Click here to learn more about the MSc in Management of Health Industries.

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