IntlSOS 30 Years - From East to West - Page 11

01 Early Days in Asia | A Great Idea
A Great Idea
Many CEOs say the success of their company is
about being in the right place at the right time, plus
a portion of luck. International SOS is no different.
In the early 1980s military service was compulsory in
France for 18 year olds, but medical students could
defer their service until qualified, then serve two
years working for the government instead. One such
young doctor, Pascal Rey-Herme, decided to do just
that and asked to be sent to Quebec. But it was not
to be. The French President was due to visit Jakarta,
Indonesia and the French Embassy needed to put a
Medical Attaché in place for the visit. So Pascal was
posted to Jakarta instead – he had no idea where
Jakarta was, but he agreed to go. As it happened
the Presidential visit did not happen but Pascal’s
appointment went ahead. And so our story begins.
to calling for assistance in Asia they often did not
know which doctor to call. Furthermore, both
medically and geographically, it was not practical to
transport patients directly back to Europe or the US.
Pascal arrived at the French Embassy in Jakarta on
13 December, 1981. As Medical Attaché he was
responsible for the medical care of the Embassy staff
and he quickly saw that medical facilities in this
developing region were inadequate. He persuaded
the Consul to let him build a clinic within the
Embassy compound for French people in Jakarta.
Pascal decided to discuss his idea with the ideal
person: His childhood friend Arnaud Vaissié. Pascal
shared his concept with Arnaud who visited him in
Jakarta in 1982. Arnaud liked the idea and was keen
to help Pascal develop it further, although he had no
plans to be a part of the business.
Pascal also began to advise French expatriates and
companies on health issues. Once a month, he travelled
to French company sites, often in remote places, to
review their health facilities. He made sure procedures
were in place to evacuate and transport any patients to
the nearest centre of medical excellence, if needed.
The poor quality of medical services was a problem
for western companies operating in Indonesia and
other developing countries in Asia. An increasing
number of expats and business travellers working for
these companies wanted international standards of
healthcare. The companies had insurance cover but
in reality they were not getting the assistance they
needed. European assistance companies gave a
great service in Europe and Africa, but when it came
Pascal saw the opportunity: A local service, delivering
medical and other assistance, to expats and foreign
travellers of international companies operating in
Asia. He was keen to follow the French approach to
assistance: Specialists go to the scene of an accident,
a patient’s home or place of work, to stabilise the
patient; if needed they then send the patient to
hospital. It was about providing local knowledge and
assistance with the ability to transport patients to
centres of medical excellence; in South East Asia the
centre of medical excellence was Singapore.
Pascal finished his government service in 1983
and returned to France. He tried to get a French
assistance company to set up in Singapore and
take his idea forward, but they rejected the plan.
On one occasion Arnaud and Pascal met a fellow
French expatriate, who was a very prominent CEO of
a company in Singapore, and explained their vision.
Having heard their presentation the CEO pronounced
that the idea was a very bad one and would never
succeed. On leaving the CEO’s office Arnaud turned
to Pascal and told him he was now utterly determined
to make it work.
Pascal, meanwhile, was busy finding local doctors
to help deliver his concept, beginning in Jakarta.
In July 1984 a foundation, SOS Medika, was created,
made up of national doctors, led by Dr Inggriani
Gandha (Dr Inge). SOS Medika was to provide the
assistance service in Jakarta, supported by Pascal
as foreign advisor. Dr Inge had studied abroad and
understood the concept of emergency assistance
so she was the ideal partner.
In September 1984, Pascal and Arnaud registered a
Singapore company, Asia Emergency Assistance Pte.
(AEA) fully owned by the two of them. This was to
be the company headquarters and key Alarm Centre
(now called an Assistance Centre). Not only was
Singapore a centre of medical excellence in South
East Asia, it was also a hub for local airlines, making it
the ideal destination for medical evacuations.
That Christmas Pascal went travelling again. In the
US he met up with Arnaud who, seeing Pascal’s
enthusiasm, suggested he return to Asia to see if it
was possible to proceed without partnering an
existing business.
Arnaud moved out to Jakarta in October; his wife
Claire arrived in December, having temporarily given
up her job with the French Treasury. They planned to
stay for just a few months in Jakarta to support the
development of SOS Medika and then move to
Singapore where they had established the AEA
headquarters. As Claire says:
Pascal reported back, positively, to Arnaud. Arnaud
then began visiting Singapore and Jakarta for long
weekends, spending time talking to potential
customers and associates and working on a detailed
business plan with Pascal.
“We were both quite young, just married and had
great jobs. It meant a huge cultural change, but we
just said, ‘why not?’ and did it.”


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