Author: CHUNG Yoon Ngan
Date: 04-27-12 08:45
By Nicholas Yap
April 27, 2012 - 2:31pm http://www.chinadailyapac.com
Just the thought of the potential market size for his business brings a toothy smile to dental surgeon Ng Chin Siau’s face. He has been eying China since 2007 and now, he feels the conditions are about right.
The world’s biggest consumer market is increasingly affluent, and demand for dental care — not a priority for most people — will grow dramatically with a burgeoning upper-middle and high-income group. At the same time, his Q&M Dental Group, of which he is executive director and CEO, has established itself as the largest dental group in Singapore, and its Malaysian joint venture is making good progress.
Ng’s business instincts, honed over the last 15 years as he expanded the business in Singapore and Malaysia, tell him that China is no longer a pipe dream. He is quietly confident that if he gets his act right, China could well be the crown jewel of the Q&M empire in five to 10 years’ time. His pragmatism also alerts him to the fact that China could be the biggest challenge in his career.
But Ng, 44, is unfazed. He knows being numero uno in Singapore is no guarantee of success in China. At the same time, the enormous challenge has got his adrenalin pumping. His excitement about Q&M’s future plans in China is evident when he crunches the numbers.
“China has a ratio of one dentist to 22,000 people. Singapore has a ratio of 1:3,400 and Japan 1:900. There are lots of opportunities,” he beams.
The “gold standard” of dental care calls for a visit to the dentist at least once a year; in some countries, once in six months. This practice leads to healthy teeth and gums, saving costs by preventing more serious conditions that are considerably more expensive to manage later on.
“A more affluent China will need to bring the dentist-to-population ratio to 1:10,000. Even then it will mean that only 8 percent of its 1.3 billion people will pay the annual visit,” says Ng.
His optimism is high. In fact, he had taken a small step forward in 2010 and invested in joint ventures with 10 clinics in Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing. “We will continue to seek strategic joint ventures and acquisitions.”
The structure and scale of the China market is vastly different from that in Singapore and Malaysia which have similar culture and laws. There is practically no comparison, says Ng.
Shanghai alone has over 20 million people. So has Beijing. There are 100 cities of over a million population now, and soon there could be 200 cities. The Chinese visit dental hospitals, and often there are long queues. Some people still go to dentists who are self-taught. In Singapore and Malaysia many go to private clinics. So the dental business in China has huge opportunities as the economy grows and expands. Also, Singapore is a good brand.
“Q&M has its own institute offering training courses and programs to teach, train and upgrade dentists, nurses and other staff. We are teaming up with the University of Frankfurt to run implant training certification programs,” Ng says.
The institute will help upgrade Q&M’s staff in China as the company recruits dentists who have several years of practice and have passed board exams.
Ng says there are four major universities in China with good dental schools. There are very good, professionally qualified dentists in China with very high standards. Their high patient loads help sharpen their skills.
“In China, our plans are to own and operate 50 outlets and at least 20 laboratories, supported by an estimated 1,000 dentists, by 2015,” says Ng.
If all the pieces of the jigsaw in Ng’s strategy fit nicely, his expansion blueprint plans to invest 400 million yuan ($63.4 million) to build the business in China. The group has already attracted external investors: The International Finance Corporation, a World Bank unit, has already committed $15 million. There are other ready investors but the group wants to ensure that it partners with the most appropriate parties. The target is a combined profit base of 80 million yuan for its China operations and for a public listing within five years.
While Singapore-based Ng focuses on the big picture as Group CEO, he has a CEO in Shanghai with whom he works very closely. He has another CEO for Malaysia.
Ng’s flurry of business activities came about from an unexpected turn of events early in his dental career.
He was a young dental officer with Singapore’s Ministry of Health after graduating with a Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree from the National University of Singapore. He had a service bond of five years, but was given early release after two and a half years in line with the government policy then.
That turned out to be a blessing in disguise. After his release, he went to work with a clinic in suburban Singapore. He grew the business and two years later, bought over the practice. An earlier colleague joined him. Ng recalls how the two of them often worked from 9 am to 10 pm to keep up with the workload. By 2000, they had 10 shareholders and five clinics. By 2008, the group had 34 clinics.
Today, 15 years after it was founded in December 1996, the Q&M Dental Group has 46 dental clinics strategically located island-wide and four dental centers. It also owns two dental supplies and equipment distribution companies.
The group has a team of 150 experienced dentists of whom over 50 percent are locals with the rest from Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the United States and United Kingdom. Together with about 300 clinic support staff, Q&M caters to a patient pool of 400,000 in Singapore and offers a full range of dental care services.
The group listed on the main board of the Singapore Stock Exchange in November 2009. Seventy-two percent of its shares are held by a holding company, Quan Min, which is owned by Ng and 17 other shareholders, all dental surgeons. Ng owns 44 percent of Quan Min.
Since its listing, Q&M is becoming better known internationally as its recruitment efforts have raised its profile in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the US, UK, Malaysia and mainland China. Profits are healthy with an average growth of 20 percent every year since the company went IPO.
Fast forward to five years from 2012 and where does Ng see the group?
“We hope to have 60 dental clinics in Singapore. We currently see an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 new patients every month. Our 50 clinics (including the dental centers) form just 7 percent of the total 650 clinics in the republic. But we have 18.5 percent of the patients who see dentists at least once a year.
“For Malaysia we want to grow to 15 outlets, spread out in Johor, Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Currently we have a 70 percent stake in a dental practice with three clinics in Johor.
Ng says China is a “wild vision”: “The market is so large and the numbers are so big! It is where we want to build another company that can go IPO. It is difficult but achievable.”
To reach the projected profit of 80 million yuan, Ng says they need at least 50 dental clinics. In terms of scale, a clinic could be an entire building or 10-20 chair outlets compared to Singapore and Malaysia’s two-three chairs per outlet. One Chinese clinic alone may need over 100 dentists.
As Ng expounds on his vision, one can almost see the Q&M signage coming up one after another in key Chinese cities. But the question that inevitably arises is: Having come this far, with admirable achievements, will he cash out if offered an extremely tempting proposition?
His reply, though politely couched, is loud and clear: “A very good part of my life has been spent on this work. And I am still good for quite a few years more.”
Dr Ng Chin Siau
Founder and Group CEO
Q&M Dental Group, Singapore
November 1996: Founded Q&M Dental Group
November 1994-October 1996: Associate dental surgeon with a private dental clinic at Bukit Batok, Singapore
May 1992-November 1994: Dental officer, Institute of Dental Health, Ministry of Health
1992: Graduates from National University of Singapore with a Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree
2003: Obtains Certificate of Implantology from University of Frankfurt
2010: Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award (Healthcare Services)
2009: Winner of The Entrepreneur of the Year Award by Rotary Club-ASME EYA
2007: Best Entrepreneur Award in Dentistry from National University of Singapore’s Business Incubation of Global Organisations
If you were not a dentist, what would you do?
I would still be a businessman. I would think about having a very good product and market it.
What do you value most in your colleagues?
Loyalty. Because of their loyalty and support, I can focus on moving the company forward.
What is your family like?
Married with four children, three girls and a boy, between 16 and 5 years. I take my family out for dinner, skating, cycling and movies on weekends. But I still feel like I don’t have enough time with them. My wife is a pharmacist, works in Q&M as group general manager.
I am the CEO of the group, but she is my CEO!