When opportunity knocks at the door, you need to open it: Dr Azad Moopen on building Rs 10,000 Cr Aster DM Healthcare
In a conversation with Shradha Sharma, Founder and CEO, YourStory Media, for YourStory Gulf Edition, Dr Azad Moopen of Aster DM Healthcare decodes what it takes to build a successful global healthcare chain from the ground up.
Friday March 10, 2023,
6 min Read
If you visit Dubai, you will find Aster Pharmacy and Aster Hospitals in every locality. One cannot miss the bright green board with blue borders and its lettering from afar.
However, its founder had no intention of setting up this Rs 10,000 crore business in the Middle East. In the 80s, when Dr Azad Moopen landed in Dubai, he was here for a short period—to raise funds for a charity in India.
“When I arrived here, I saw a significant need for accessible healthcare in the region. This was 36 years back. I thought, maybe with my knowledge and experience, I could do something. A majority of people in the lower socio-economic strata were finding it hard to get access to quality healthcare,” Moopen tells Shradha Sharma, Founder and CEO of YourStory Media, for YourStory Gulf Edition, in a conversation.
In 1987, the NSE-listed company started its journey with a single-doctor clinic in Dubai. Today, the Founder-Chairman and Managing Director says Aster DM Healthcare provides medical care to millions of people across seven geographies, including India.
It is one of the few entities globally with a strong presence across primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary healthcare through its 30 hospitals, 125 clinics, 496 pharmacies, 20 diagnostic labs, and 157 patient experience centres. Besides, it offers direct employment to over 29,108 individuals, including 3,820 doctors and 8,299 nurses and counting.
Aster DM also includes 239 pharmacies in India operated by Alfaone Retail Pharmacies Pvt. Ltd. under the brand license from Aster. Established in 1989 under Aster DM Healthcare, Aster Pharmacy, a brand in itself, has over 200 stores in the UAE.
Moopen’s unexpected journey starts in Kerala. Born on June 28, 1953, he is the son of the late MA Moopen—a freedom fighter and social leader.
A gold medalist in MBBS, Moopen completed his post-graduate degree in general medicine from Calicut Government Medical College, Kerala, and holds a diploma in chest diseases from Delhi University, India.
“There was an appeal to go abroad in those days. But I think I also had a spark to do something. It was the reason that I could make Aster into a much larger establishment,” says Moopen, who started his career as a lecturer in medicine.
However, his journey wasn’t linear.
After two years in Dubai, when Moopen was gearing up to return to India, his friend suggested he start a clinic with him as an employee. “I was to join my friend and work for him; it wasn’t the other way around. I resisted and thought of rejoining the medical college, but my friend prevailed over me.”
He says, “There always is something in your destiny—even if you push it, it comes to you in some shape or form. When opportunity knocks at your doorstep, you need to have the courtesy to at least open the door.”
However, success does not come easy without one’s hard work. Moopen recollects the time when he would work 18 hours a day—see all patients and, in fact, do smaller surgeries.
“Money is essential up until a certain point. After some time, it is about the vision you are looking to fulfil. It gives me immense pleasure when I establish something. It could be a small pharmacy to a large hospital. But, when it is planned, established, and successful, it gives you a feeling of accomplishment. That is my kick,” Moopen adds.
Through its various services, Moopen proudly says, Aster DM Healthcare is touching the lives of millions of people. As for the next frontier, he believes there is a need to focus on holistic healthcare rather than sick care.
He explains, “People need to look at health more than treatment of an illness. Today, when someone falls ill, we have the science to treat them and prolong their life, but the quality of life drops significantly. Delaying ageing along with prolonging life is important. There needs to be healthy longevity in people. It isn’t about delaying death, but delaying ageing.”
Besides lifestyle changes like diet, exercise, etc., it also means taking care of inner mental health.
“You need to change at a cellular and molecular level,” he adds. So, what will aid this change?
Moopen says deep research on understanding the molecules that cause ageing and factors that can turn it around. Other factors like genetic modifications in the foetus and even when they are born. Today, newer technologies are working towards changing these genetic modifications. All these work towards a better quality of life.
“With all these changes, many believe that by 2050, death or dying will be an option,” says Moopen, adding that it will also work for geriatric care.
While this field—a huge area of focus for medical specialists—is not well developed yet, it needs more trained people. “Close to 80% of a person’s healthcare expenditure happens in the last 20 years of their lifetime. It is now a national priority to delay ageing,” he stresses.
From a doctor to a lecturer to again a doctor and a businessman—Moopen is now working towards succession planning.
“In the last 10 years, since I got my Padma Shri, I have been focusing more on philanthropy and how to give back to society. I have decided to give away 20% of my wealth to help people give back, which is happening now,” Moopen shares.
“We have invested half of it in a medical college. We reinvest the profits and focus on other schemes. There is support for people in healthcare, and in some cases, in construction, for those who lost their homes during Kerala floods,” he adds.
Moopen believes that by combining his knowledge of healthcare, business acumen, and contacts, he can give back to society, and intends to focus over 80% of his time towards this.
“God has been kind to me. So, it is my duty to help those in need and get them the benefits of our resources and intellect,” Moopen says.
(A video has been deleted as per a request by the company.)
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Edited by Suman Singh