Dubai: From Travelling By Boat To Treat Patients To Building A Business Empire


(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Published: Thu 30 Nov 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 30 Nov 2023, 7:32 AM

It would be hard to visualise a business magnate whose enterprise is valued at around $2 billion, travelling from one boat to another to treat his patients, all the while attributing his empire's boom to an“accidental success.”

Recently, Aster DM Healthcare grabbed attention by splitting its India and GCC businesses . A consortium led by Fajr Capital, a UAE-based sovereign-owned private equity firm, acquired a 65 per cent stake in the GCC business with the promoters, Moopen family retaining 35 per cent ownership in the GCC business.

The healthcare entrepreneur, Dr Azad Moopen revealed his humble beginnings in 1987, following the announcement of this noteworthy transaction. He also discussed his future-oriented plans while divesting a majority stake in the Gulf business.

In an interview with Khaleej Times on Wednesday, he said:“Back in the day we were very close to the Rashid Port which used to be the main port back then. I used to go in a boat to the ship which was anchored outside in the sea to treat patients. There would be seamen who were unable to come onto the shore. We used to give them immunisations and do various other treatments. Those were days when it was all a one-man show.”

Dr Azad with Sheikh Hamdan and Sheikh Maktoum during the inauguration of Medcare in 2006. Photos: Supplied Humble beginning

From the humble beginning of one clinic at Al Rafa, Dubai, started on December 11, 1987, Aster DM Healthcare has grown to 918 facilities in 36 years, to become one of the largest healthcare providers in GCC countries and India.

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“I am a physician by training and I was teaching at the Calicut Medical College in Kerala (India). I used to juggle being a general practitioner, doing obstetrics, gynaecology, surgery, everything, other than delivery.”

Dr Azad with Shaikha Lubna AL Qassimi and M Jamal Majed Khalfan Bin Thenya - Aster Hospital Mankhool inauguration

Reminiscing on a different era in the UAE, Moopen expressed that life was challenging back then, where every aspect seemed like a hurdle. At every turn, there were obstacles, especially when it came to recruiting qualified professionals.

“One significant hurdle was assembling a team of doctors. My relative, a pediatrician, who joined then, was the second doctor onboard. The recruitment of not just doctors but also nurses and paramedics proved to be a substantial challenge. Additionally, obtaining permissions was another obstacle. Today, everything seems to occur effortlessly at our fingertips, thanks, to Dubai's digitalisation drive. However, back then, I distinctly recall visiting the labour department, immigration office, and other places, queuing up to procure visas for our colleagues.”

Came to UAE to join friend's clinic

He recalls how his acquaintance was establishing a clinic in Ajman and extended an invitation to him to join as a physician, as the emirate lacked post-graduate doctors in practice.

“I came to the UAE to take up a job with one of my friends who were a doctor couple based in Ajman. I took a sabbatical from my teaching career back home. But once I came here, my friend actually pushed me to stay in Dubai and said that someone with a postgraduate degree and additional qualifications should be in a place like this. He actually supported me to start the first clinic. So, this was an 'accidental success'.”

Moopen, who possesses a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBBS), a Doctor of Medicine degree, and a Diploma in Treating Tuberculosis and Chest Diseases (DTCD), said that his nascent clinic had a single doctor before other medics started to join.“After some time, we started a pharmacy.”

Dr Azad Moopen receiving the Padma Sri Award from President of India

“At that time, the doctor who encouraged me to go to Dubai also provided support without any request. We were a well-to-do family in our hometown, and some relatives even offered financial assistance to help us gather the initial funds. So, funding wasn't a significant problem; there was ample support. Most importantly, there were a lot of people from my native place, helping me at that point.”

'God pushes you in a direction, which you can't anticipate'

However, after five years Moopen wanted to go back to the medical college because of his love for the teaching profession.

But fate had different intentions for him. Reflecting on it now, Moopen mentioned that it might have been this noble aspiration that laid the groundwork for a significant event in his life.

Aster DM Healthcare staff in 2002

“At that point if I had worked for two years with my friend in Ajman and returned it would have been a different story altogether. God pushes you in a direction, which you can't anticipate. There are people who come in and do that for you. The only advice that I have is there'll be opportunities knocking at your door. You have to open it. Don't complain of noise pollution because of that knocking.”

When asked whether, after all these years, there are still any employees from the earlier days, he mentioned:“My friend, who is a doctor, remains part of our team. He currently serves as the Medical Director of the clinics. Additionally, a few other staff members from that era are still here.”

'Extra parent' to look after the baby

Meanwhile, responding to the current developments of the transaction, the Moopen family expresses their desire to remain involved in the GCC business.

“For me and Alisha, there is no issue here because we still have a baby intact with us and we have an extra parent who has come to look after this (baby). So, we are still the parents of that child, and that somebody who has come in is the support. That's the way in which I look at it.”

Alisha Moopen.

Dr Azad Moopen will continue in his role as the founder and chairman and will oversee both India and GCC businesses while Alisha Moopen will be promoted to the position of Managing Director and Group CEO of the GCC business.

“One important thing was that we wanted to make sure is that we get a partner who allows us to run the business ourselves. This is the way in which we have kept this partnership. While they have invested more than us, we have requested this, and they have kindly allowed us to have operational control because they know that we are better at running the business whereas they are extremely good at managing finance.”

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