- Dr. Azad Moopen came to the UAE in February 1987 to raise money for the renovation of a mosque in his hometown, Kalpakancheri in Malappuram district, Kerala.
- Dr. Moopen leased a two-bedroom apartment in Bur Dubai to start a clinic
- In 2008, Dr. Moopen invited a private equity firm to invest in the company and they valued Aster DM Healthcare at $100 million
- In 2010 and 2011, Dr. Moopen was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman and Padma Shri by the Government of India, respectively
- Aster DM is listed at NSE and BSE
Dubai: Azad Moopen came to Dubai 31 years ago to raise money for the renovation of a mosque in his hometown, Kalpakancheri, in Malappuram district, Kerala.
He needed 10 lakhs then, or Dh250,000 as per the currency exchange in 1987. The plan was just to collect the funds and return home. The intention was never to settle in the UAE.
The universe, however, had other plans for Moopen - a gold medalist in general medicine - and a lecturer at the Calicut Medical College at the time.
Looking back, Moopen said it was this noble intention that perhaps set the background for something big to come.
Fast forward to today, he is now a household name in the UAE. Everybody in the region knows him well as the multi-billion dollar businessman and developer of healthcare facilities in UAE and Asia-Pacific region.
He is the chairman and managing director of Aster DM Healthcare, a conglomerate in the Middle East and India which Moopen founded in December 1987, just ten months after arriving in the UAE to collect funds for the mosque.
According to a tally done in September 2018, he owns and manages 21 hospitals, 113 clinics, 216 pharmacies. The healthcare company serves 50,000 patients a day in nine countries. In 2018, Aster treated 17 million patients across its facilities. Of this number, 15 million patients were from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), while two million were from India. There are five hospitals in the pipeline.
In 2017, Forbes ranked him sixth ‘Top 100 Indian Leaders in UAE’ and his total wealth was estimated at approximately $5.9 billion.
How it all started
“When I finished collecting money for the mosque reconstruction, my job was over in the UAE. It was time to return home. But when I went home I was not happy. There was something pulling me back to this country as there was magic here,” said Moopen.
“In June (1987) I came back on visit to the UAE. I stayed with a friend in Ajman who was a doctor as well. There were plenty of opportunities for a doctor like me and I was raring to tap into some of them.”
Moopen’s friend was setting up a clinic in Ajman and he invited him to join there as a physician. Back in the day, there were no post-graduate doctors practising in Ajman and Moopen who who is a graduate of Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBBS) and Doctor of Medicine, and has a Diploma in Tuberculosis and Chest Diseases (DTCD), was highly qualified.
In fact, his varied degrees made him quite a sought-after doctor in Ajman.
“But my friend threw me googly, as we say in cricketing terms. He turned around one day and told me to start a clinic in Dubai. To be honest, I thought he did not like me and that he was pushing me away to Dubai. But I took his advice and today, I believe he is my guardian angel. That moment, when I heeded his advice and came to Dubai, was the turning point in my life. I know now he was a friend, he was God sent and he is ‘the person’ in my life.”
In December 1987, Moopen leased a two-bedroom apartment in Bur Dubai close to the Port Rashid area. “Port Rashid was one of the main areas in Dubai where there were many ongoing activities. A lot of people worked here and I wanted to serve them.”
He said the consultation charges were between Dh10 and 15. Some people got reimbursement from their companies while others paid the bills from their pocket.
“The challenge, however, was collecting money from some blue collared workers who could not afford to pay even this amount. So every Tuesday we started offering free consultations for half a day. We also kept sample medicines which we gave to these workers.”
Within a year, the clinic started receiving 100 patients a day. There were just two doctors – Moopen and a gynaecologist.
“I personally worked from 8 in the morning until mid-night. But it was becoming very congested and we needed to move to a bigger place,” he said.
“I found a three-bedroom apartment in Al Rafa and we shifted there. We hired two more doctors – both paediatricians. We were able to see more patients as a result.”
By this time in 1988, Moopen was getting a hang of the ‘business’ of running a healthcare facility. “One of the things we discovered early on was that people came to us for consultation but were picking up medicines from another pharmacy. So, we thought why not make this in-house? And that is how Al Rafa Pharmacy was born.”
Moopen said that in 2008 he came face to face with the reality of his success.
“Until then I was just doing my job of opening clinics, hospitals and pharmacies. I was not really counting or sitting down to see and evaluate the success of my business."
"In 2008, as part of our expansion plans, we invited a private equity firm to invest with us. They valued our company at $100 million and the reality hit me hard. We had grown and how! It was an emotional moment for me reading the valuation report and made me think of how hard the company staff and me had worked to bring it this far,” he said.
In 2012 a second private equity firm came on board and they valued Aster DM Healthcare at $400 million. “This means we had grown four times in four years. It was massive.”
Today, Aster DM is listed at the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) and the company’s share price as of January 15, 2019 is Rs162 per share, while the company’s total revenue is fixed at a massive $1.4 billion.
Reason for this massive success
“Without batting an eyelid I will say it is my staff, my people, my doctors who have made a success of this company. I am blessed and lucky to have these people working for me for decades. Our doctor turnover at the consultant level is as low as five per cent. This means our doctors practically never leave us. And, because of this, our patients never leave us.”
“No matter how successful you become in life, you never forget the people who helped you along the way. And this, to me, has been the biggest reason for my success. To give you an example, the other day, one of my CEOs brought me a staff member’s performance report. He wanted me to fire him as he was not performing well. When I saw the report I realised he was an old friend’s son. This friend, I remember, loaned me Dh500 when I had come to the UAE for the first time."
"As the memories flooded me, I simply refused to sign the sack letter. Instead I called this young boy and his father and told them about the report. From my part, I have given this boy a second chance, I pray he will make use of this opportunity given to him.”
“There are always challenges in business. If you want a peaceful ride to your career graph, then don’t pick business as your profession. Success in business lies in finding your challenges and meeting them head on,” said Moopen.
“For example, the UAE’s mandatory insurance has proved to be beneficial for the consumer, but for healthcare providers like us, it is challenging. People would come to us because of the credibility of our name. Now, it has to do with the kind of insurance coverage they have. Insurance companies are calling the shots, dictating terms to healthcare providers. Of course, as a big player in the market, we are able to meet the challenge and deal with these insurance companies. But the smaller players, however, are crying.”
Philanthropy the way to life
Moopen has pledged to give 20 per cent of his wealth to charity.
An off-shoot of this has been the setup of ‘Aster Volunteers’ programme to help patients with free consultations, treatment and surgeries. Over 900,000 people’s lives have been touched by the programme.
In 2010 and 2011, he was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman and Padma Shri by the Government of India, respectively.
“By God’s grace I have everything in life. Name, fame, wealth, great family. It is my duty and responsibility now to help others. When I started out, I was in the right place at the right time with the right people.
"I want others to be in my shoes. I am nearing retirement and my only dream now is to hand over my business to my team of professionals who, I believe, will do a better job than me."