IntlSOS 30 Years - From East to West - Page 45

03 Beijing and Beyond | First Steps
First Steps
China is another good example of how the company
has grown by responding to client needs, through
building local knowledge and understanding, and
being in the right place at the right time. It is also an
example of the importance of learning how to adapt
to different cultures and regimes and how to work
with governments to create a mutual benefit.
Arnaud and Pascal at
The Great Wall of China, 1996.
Our growing infrastructure in China
Beijing office and Assistance
Centre opens.
1995 Beijing International SOS clinic
(BIC) opens.
1997 Shanghai office and Assistance
Centre opens.
1999 Larger clinic in Beijing opens.
2000 Clinics in Nanjing and Tianjin open.
2008 Even larger Beijing premises to
house expanded clinic, Assistance
Centre and regional office open.
2011 TEDA clinic opens.
2012 Shenzhen clinic opens.
2013 Chengdu office opens.
We began by providing assistance services within
China from Hong Kong, helped by a local network
inside China. We then looked for ways of being
based in China while keeping full control of our
operations. After many failures we finally convinced
the Beijing Red Cross to be our partner. We had just
finalised our licences when the political situation
deteriorated, culminating in the events in Tiananmen
Square in June 1989. Whilst many companies left
China we decided to stay and go ahead with our
partnership with the Beijing Red Cross. On 26 July
1989 we were given the go ahead to open an office
and Assistance Centre with a view to opening a
clinic with the Beijing Red Cross later on.
Sandy Johnson, who played a big part in developing
the early business, explains that China was a
complex environment. Whilst the central
government saw the advantage of having better
standards of care to attract foreigners, the local
health bureaux tended to be more resistant to our
presence as they were reluctant to receive outside
help. It required a delicate approach:
“We emphasised that we were there to create a
bridge, to help foreign nationals navigate the
system. We weren’t telling them how to treat their
citizens, or competing with the local hospitals. It
was all about working with people and creating
partnerships. That’s the approach we took in all
places and it’s an important part of our company
culture. It’s something Arnaud and Pascal have
always been very good at.”
Medical transports were a good example of how
we learned to build these constructive relationships.
In the late 1980s we were receiving a number of
requests to evacuate patients from China to Hong
Kong. However, it was extremely difficult to gain
authorisation for foreign aircraft to enter China, and
most Chinese aircraft were not authorised to land in
Hong Kong. We reached an agreement with a
branch of the Chinese Army whereby we could
charter the aircraft they used to transport officials,
which we equipped with our own stretcher and
medical team. These military aircraft could reach
most ‘controlled areas’ in China but could not land
in Hong Kong; so we landed in Shenzen and the
patient then went by Chinese road ambulance to
the Hong Kong border for transfer to a Hong Kong
ambulance. Such complex operations not only
benefitted the patient, they provided a platform
on which to build better services in the future.
We gradually began to support corporate clients as
they built their operations in China, especially our
colleagues in the oil and gas industry. From this
base we moved on to support manufacturing
companies. We helped them take care of their
travellers as they set up and planned their
operations, enabled them to identify and manage
health risks in the construction phase, and provided
ongoing support once they were up and running.
As with our work in remote locations, we were
helping companies meet their obligations to their
staff, and showing them how on-the-spot care
could save lost time and costs.
Sandy further recalls that we were early adopters of
delivering corporate wellness programmes: “We paid
great attention to detail. We even adapted western
healthy eating guidelines to accommodate typical
local diets, including tofu and other local foods.”


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