Thumbay Moideen, Founder President of Thumbay Group, shares his life’s experiences, challenges and inspirations, at the Emirates NBD Global Business Series.
MC: What shaped your early days of life?
TM: I feel elated while viewing pictures from my childhood. I grew up in a joint family, hence had several role models in my family itself. My maternal grandfather, ran a timber business, whereas my paternal grandfather owned a shipping business. The elders in the family were successful in their field of business. Eventually, they culminated into my inspiration. I exchanged notes and learnt the ropes of trade from them. I was 8-years old when I gave my first public speech at the inauguration of a factory in Mangalore, India. I was 29-years old when I signed my first contract worth $10 million with the forest minister in Papua, New Guinea. Also in Africa, there were no proper roads connecting towns and cities. We had to resort to aerial transport. In order to keep a check on my business I had to learn how to
fly a helicopter.
MC: Did the people who inspired you lay the foundation of your values or was it your parents and education?
TM: Well, my family and friends were known for their ethics in business. So everyone who I looked up to have to be credited.
MC: You had a full-fledged family business. Nevertheless, you came here and re-invented yourself. Give us a rundown of that journey.
TM: When I retrospect it dawns on me that God had plans for me. I was 21 when I joined my family business. As I travelled the world to expand my business, my mind grasped unmeasurable knowledge. Different cultures, behavioural etiquettes, people management etc. was learnt on my travels. Intrinsically, I’m passionate about work, and working weekends are a part of my life.
MC: You had an affluent background, so what drove you to achieve these goals?
TM: During my childhood I always saw my grandfather strive to thrive his business. These episodes enthused me and I nurtured a go-getter attitude. Somehow, I needed to succeed. My father questioned my rigorous working schedule but I was adamant to bring my ideas and plans to fruition.
MC: Behind every great man, there is a greater woman. Is that true?
TM: My wife is an artist by profession. She was brought up in a business environment, hence knew the challenges that riddled the path. Although, she accepts she is a home maker, she has stood by me in thick and thin. My wife has been the pillar of support and travelled with me for business purposes whenever the need arose.
MC: Your life took an unexpected turn when you came to Ajman. Shed some light on this interesting turn of events?
TM: On my way to Africa I had to transit through Dubai. During this course of time, I met a member of the ruling family of Ajman. We discussed about the economy of Ajman and ways to develop and boost it full-throttle. It is during this discussion, I told him the story of Manipal, a town in India, which was transformed into a medical hub by a visionary. I casually stated that establishing a medical school can generate countless opportunities for the economy of Ajman. Few days later, he invited me to meet His Highness in Ajman. His Highness enquired about my background and asked me whether I had experience in running a medical school. I denied however I did mention that my family owned a hospital back home. I told him my experience lies in the business of timber and in real estate. He asked me whether I could build a medical school for him. I reasoned citing my lack of expertise in the field. However, after a while I gave him a nod and asked for his permission to get few consultants from India before proceeding with the project. I recruited few consultants from top-notch universities and we unanimously concluded that there is huge scope for a medical university in Ajman. I required support in three fundamental areas and the same was conveyed to His Highness. Firstly, Ministry of Higher Education doesn’t allow expats to own a license for institutions catering to higher education. Secondly, I needed approximately 25 acres of land to build the college. Thirdly, I required a hospital to train our students. The Ajman Government catered to my first requirement by awarding me a royal decree for the formation of the Gulf Medical College. The process of accreditation was prolonged to 7 years. His Highness resolved my second obstacle by gifting me 22 acres (1 million sq. ft.) of land. When I approached the bank to mortgage the land, they refused to do so as it was gifted. They suggested I buy it from the government. I did the same. We were targeting Asian students but we got students from 30 different countries. As soon as the students graduated and had to practice at Khalifa hospital, the authorities objected saying the hospital couldn’t accommodate so many students. I had no other option but to build a hospital. In the early 2000s, we build a 200-bed hospital which was a huge accomplishment in itself. We marketed it through innovative methods.
MC: People say you need to learn the ropes of trade before taking the plunge into business, but you are an exceptional example. How did you re-define this thought?
TM: I’m neither a doctor nor an academician by profession. I have no medical knowledge, so much so, that I cannot differentiate between a cardiologist and a gynaecologist. During the formative years of the college, the Ministry of Higher Education lacked means of accreditation. I feel proud to say we ushered in the trend of accrediting educational institutions in the region. We created a governing council that consisted of prolific medical officials from the US, Malaysia, India and Middle Eastern universities, in order create transparency in our operations and audit our progress. Every two years we hold a conference, wherein the selected medical officials are invited and discuss our progress. My job is of an administrator and a facilitator. I’ve always maintained that I’m not the dean of the college. I believe in supporting the professors at the university and the directors at the hospital to succeed.
MC: Elaborate on the business model you implement in your operations.
TM: I believe we need money to survive and grow, simultaneously I’m not ambitious. So being ruthless or resorting to unethical practices to mint money isn’t my intention. I have faced challenges throughout the ordeal of establishing the medical college and university. There was a phase in my life wherein I couldn’t afford to pay remuneration to my staff. I felt utterly guilty and have termed it as the worst chapter in my career. During my struggles when I was told that spreading knowledge and providing good health care is the best way to serve Allah, is when I found peace.
MC: Have your efforts created an impact in this region or is this
an impending objectives?
TM: It was by accident that I stumbled upon this opportunity. Since I managed to survive in this field, we created various subsidiaries such as pharmacies, health clubs, coffee shops, restaurants, optical outlets etc. All are a brand in their own class and can be scaled to greater heights. We have opted the direction to do so. We have narrowed down countries from where we get ample number of applications and are planning to build our campuses there.
MC: How does your business support and strengthen an SME?
TM: I am unaware if I’m supporting an SME through my services. I’d like to know if I am and in which way is my business creating the ripple effect in accelerating and strengthening SME enterprises across the region.
MC: Your team is said to be one of your core strengths. I want them to tell me their experiences while working
Geetha Ashok Raj: I’m a Pathologist and have trained at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India. I joined the university as a professor and head of the Department of Pathology. I became the dean of the medical college and now serve as the provost of the university. The President (Mr. Thumbay Moideen) made me realize that there is a second aspect to education, which is maintaining the viability of the institution. The culture fostered by the university enabled me to look at the big picture and then etch out the best alternatives to grow. We have a great leader, hence we get inspired and appreciated.
Akbar Moideen: I was a child when my father decided to build the university and the hospital. He had to face the grave challenge of completing the construction of the hospital within six months and inability to do so would lead to the closing of the university and the students would be forced to return home. Even today, I ask him as to how he managed to build the hospital within a span of six months. Although, we have resources and experts at our disposal, I’m sure nobody could achieve the same.
TM: There are two reasons behind the success of Thumbay Group. We are committed to our goal and we stick to our guns until we achieve the set goal. Secondly, my team has stood by me during the test of time. The Ministry of Higher Education had given an ultimatum and we decided overnight to build a hospital. Consultants flew in from India and the whole project was operational before the deadline.
MC: Mr. Sunny Varky is the owner of GEMS education which demands extravagantly for education. On the other hand, you attest to have known the formula. How do you differ
from Mr. Varky?
TM: Quality is of great importance to us. We make sure our students are provided with high-quality education so that they are able to pursue their post-graduation in any part of the world. Our university is accredited and accepted at the highest level across the globe. Our hospitals abides by the JCI accreditation standards. Also, we have created a program called ‘Care and Share’ in the university wherein approximately 30% of the students are sponsored by various organizations. Students with merit have monetary exemptions and the provost has powers to grant discounts to help the students who are economically weak. In the hospital, no patient is sent back due to lack of financial aid. We are busiest hospital in the region and the fact that 30% of the children in this country are born at our hospitals says it all.
MC: You mentioned innovation has led you to success. Elaborate on the innovative ideas and insights you introduced during the course of time.
TM: Innovation has fuelled our marketing tactics full-throttle. We never opted for commercialized marketing tactics but strategically joined hands with the biggest names in healthcare and secured a leadership position. We conducted workshops, conferences and seminars in collaboration with institutes like Harvard etc. that boosted our marketing objectives. Now, the competition is fierce, therefore we had to adopt commercialized marketing strategies to have an upper-hand in the market.
MC: Any regrets in your career
TM: What had to happen has happened. It is impossible to re-live the whole story. We have a strategic plan in place and my team is closely following it to bring it to fruition. I’m doing my part of the job by supporting them. The new generation will have another
story to tell.
MC: How did you stick to the core of ethicality whilst establishing your business? Also, what keeps you awake at night?
TM: My dreams for a fulfilled future keep me awake at night. In context to ethicality, we deal with over 40 insurance companies from across the region, who have sent mystery shoppers to our hospitals. Last year, some insurance companies stated that there was no need to send mystery shoppers to our hospitals anymore. I think this says it all. We have incurred losses but we never manipulated anything or anybody nor resorted to unethical practices.
MC: Many say that staying ethical is difficult. What advice will you give small business owners who face the dilemma of ethicality?
TM: The easiest way leading to success is straight not crooked. If you follow all the legal guidelines, no businessman will fail.
MC: Why do you think people still prefer other countries for health care services as compared and not UAE? Is cost an influential factor
in this scenario?
TM: I don’t believe other countries provide cheap medical facilities as compared to UAE. You should pay a visit to our hospitals and check the prices. Most of the services provided are affordable. We have a medical tourism division and have catered to patients from over 20 countries. UAE is apt medical tourism and it can drive it to its peak. From past 6 years, we have been providing medical tourism packages to families who choose our hospital for treatment.
MC: Financial problems were a part and parcel of your ordeal to build your business. How did you ensure your business was financially stable and the operations were well-funded?
TM: In those days banks were sceptical to support me. However, we tried to convince the banks by channelling our best and eventually they agreed. When our loans were passed, I paid the employees their salaries
well in advance.
MC: Why did you choose to diversify your business instead of succeeding in your field of expertise?
TM: Most of my subsidiaries are directly related to my parent business – education and health care. Pharmacies, nutrient outlets, health clubs, trading division etc. are related to my core business.
MC: Did you have a mentor in
TM: I had role models within the family who were successful, generous and god-fearing people.
I have learnt a lot from them.
MC: Imagine we are gathered to celebrate your 90th birthday. Which achievements make you feel that you have lived a fulfilled life?
TM: As you grow older, one realizes it’s not about professional satisfaction that provides solace to your heart but good deeds. I’m here to touch lives. My family, friends and team members should genuinely say that I was a good man with a kind heart for others. I’d be happy if this were to happen.