SME1 Asia Awards 2011 Top Distinguished Award
October 30, 2011
New Awards Honor Socially Responsible SMEs
November 2, 2011
Reaching Out to the Poor

His struggles to make MHC Asia Group a success prompt Dr Low Lee Yong to do his share for the needy, reports Lynn Seah

P BT Pg 6 - 1 Nov 2011 - Reaching out to help the poorMany bosses leave website development and search engine optimization to experts. But not Dr Low Lee Yong, chief executive officer of MHC Asia Group.

The medical doctor by training believes in being hands-on in the technology department as a means of keeping up with the many new developments in the field.

The group’s core business, MHC Medical Network, involves linking stakeholders in the healthcare delivery chains-general practitioners, employers and insurance companies-via technology enabling cashless payments and eliminating tedious reimbursement procedures.

“Technology is changing very fast. You’ve got to watch out for what’s coming out next. So you always have to be in touch.” Say Dr Low.

Dr Low did not set out to be a technology entrepreneur. In 1994, when he founded MHC, which stands for Make Health Connect, his motivation was to help level the playing field for solo clinics by getting them to band together in a network so that they could compete with the big medical groups in getting corporate contracts and cheaper bulk rates for drugs.

The Internet explosion had not happened yet, so the network was linked by other means- first fax, then paging technology, and wide area network.

After getting a government-linked company on board as a partner in 1996, Dr Low left the running of the company to a CEO whom he felt was more charismatic and better front man for the company than himself. It was a move that he would later regret.

The self-professed serial entrepreneur had other preoccupations then. At one point, he owned a chain of clinics which he has since given up due to a conflict of interest with MHC’s business. He also started a dot-com and dabbled in speech-recognition technology.

By 2000, however MHC was in trouble, owing almost $2million to its partner and months of payments to the 150 doctors on its network. The dot com crash also occurred, almost sending his dot-com company belly-up.

Dr Low was then asked by MHC’s investors to return to head the company. As the dot com still had half a million dollars left in its coffers, Dr Low persuaded the stakeholders of MHC and the dot-com to merge the two companies. He then used the money to build a web-based system linking MHC’s network.

With this fledgling system, MHC found its feet again, paying off its debts and earning back its credibility.

Now, the company has 1,000 clinics in its network in Singapore and 500 in Malaysia, processing over one million claims a year. MHC recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Siloam Hospitals chain, part of Indonesia’s Lippo Group, to set up a network in Indonesia. It has also received requests to go into Abu Dhabi and India.

In addition to its web-based network, the company is now also building phone apps and creating educational YouTube videos to help people take care of their health, and help companies manage the healthcare of their employees.

Having gone through what he calls “fire and brimstone”, survived and thrived, Dr Low did some soul searching on what he had been fighting for.

He then decided to embrace a non-profit organization called Goducate- and amalgamation of the words ‘Go’ and ‘Educate”.

“Business must touch lives and enhance society. If you have a gift for business and do well, you should give back and help the needy”, says the father of a 21 year-old daughter and a 19-year old son.

Goducate is founded by Dr Paul Choo, former CEO of the Shenton Medical Group. It aims to provide the poor with the education and training to earn a livelihood. When Dr Low visited a village school in Sabah where the organization was providing free education for children, he was moved by what he saw. He liked the idea of giving the gift of education: “Giving a person a fishing rod instead of a fish.”

“Business must touch lives and enhance society. If you have a gift for business and do well, you should give back and help the needy.” – Dr Low Lee Yong, CEO of MHC Asia Group

So, he plans to give up to 10 percent of MHC’s net profit to Goducate.

The desire to have a free hand in devoting MHC’s resources to corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects is one reason Dr Low is not hankering for an IPO, because then he would have to keep his eye on the bottom line and answer to shareholders.

“Going for an IPO is not the most important thing. If it comes naturally at the right time, so be it. But I’m not aiming for it,” he explains. “I don’t want to short change my dream of helping the needy when I can.”

He hopes that MHC’s win of the SME1 Awards 2011 in the Distinguished SMEs category would inspire more SMEs to take on CSR projects. “You don’t have to be a big boy to do something like this,” he says

Source The Business Times (Tuesday November 1 2011 Page 6 SME1 Asia Awards 2011)