The fate of those with renal insufficiency significantly changed when the first successful dialysis treatment was performed in 1945. Kidney failure no longer meant certain death and the impact of this procedure has been immeasurable.
Fresenius Medical Care (FME) is the world’s largest provider of products and services for individuals with renal diseases and has a robust network of 3,815 dialysis clinics. Since 1990, the company has been providing renal care in China – a country with more than 500,000 patients currently receiving dialysis, according to the Chinese Society of Nephrology.
In recent years FME has significantly expanded its product base in China, the second-largest market in the world after the US.
After a successful career spanning more than 20 years at General Electric Healthcare, DePuy Synthes and, later, Johnson & Johnson, Alan Chen joined FME China as China President and Executive Vice President for Asia–Pacific in 2014.
At the time, Alan saw room for improvement in the company, in terms of strategy and distribution. He seized the opportunity to develop, together with his management team, a growth strategy, which has become a long-term, three-pronged approach.
First, FME focuses on technology leadership. Introducing new care systems, technology, products and treatments in China is imperative for the company to lead the market.
“We are a leading company in an innovative industry both globally and in China. We need to find new ways to lead and develop the local market,” Alan says. Second, the company is helping and supporting education with local medical associations to provide care for more patients.
FME has also expanded the education capacity for healthcare professionals by establishing a training centre for nurses and doctors “We are excited to see the change FME is making, within the company and outside,” Alan beams. “We welcome feedback from the nurses, doctors, and general society. We view ourselves as responsible for people’s development, industry development, and patients’ education.”
The third strategy is talent development, and Alan pursues this through external recruitment and internal advancement. “I see a huge potential for talent and people development in the company,” he explains. “Without good talent, the company cannot survive or grow. We made an effort to hire experienced employees from top companies. Since they have joined the team, we have strengthened our goal to take the company to the next level.”
During the company’s early days in China, it focused on product sales including dialysis machines, dialysers, and other disposables. A few years ago, the government opened the doors for a dialysis centre set-up by private investment and, in 2017, FME introduced its first dialysis centre in China, which aims to provide high-quality and safe dialysis as well as other related medical services for patients with chronic kidney disease.
“We started from scratch, built up the teams, and learned from other FME country organisations,” Alan reflects. Alan encourages every member of his staff to perform like they ‘own’ the company.
“We started from scratch, built up the teams and learned from other companies in the global field.”
“It not only benefits FME, but it’s also good for the career of the individual,” he says. “If everyone behaves like they own the business, and takes responsibility, they will have a bright future in their career. This will also benefit the patients, which is most important for us.”
“We not only see ourselves as partners in the business world, but we are also a partner to society. We are a professional education partner, caregiving partner, and the patients’ partner. We are trying to make an impact and build a positive reputation in our society.”
During his second year with FME, Alan and his team developed a working foundation for the company’s sustainable growth. First, they started improving FME’s infrastructure, like new business operation data management.
Then, the Global Research and Development division began building its China product portfolio, which aims to provide products that will meet the increasing need in the China market. The third endeavour was to implement intensive training.
“Our vision for our employees is for them to become qualified consultants in the industry,” Alan responds. “From entry level to management, we provide thorough training. We have created a workforce that is strong at all different levels of the organisation.”
Alan takes pride in teamwork, and that his team consists of people from all backgrounds and cultures. He says, “FME is continually drawing talented people. As we have focused on working together and putting the patient first, we have seen significant growth for the entire company. I consider this growth a major achievement in my career.”
China is one of the largest dialysis markets worldwide and will become increasingly more critical in the future, but one of the challenges in running a business is adapting to the local environment, especially where rapid development is seen. “Policies can update very quickly, and we need to act quickly. Sometimes we need to try to predict new policies and regulations to prepare the company.”
Additionally, local players ramp up quickly. Though he believes it is good for the market and good for the development of local healthcare, Alan says they must be fully prepared for how to localise and step ahead of (other) local players and preserve relationships with suppliers to move the company forward.
Cooperating with suppliers requires a partnership that is founded on transparency and mutual benefit. Ningbo Tianyi Medical Appliance Co., Ltd, Jiangsu Petek Sheet Metal Industry Co., Ltd and Changzhou Hopefinder Polymer Sci. & Tech Co., Ltd, are just a few of the suppliers that contribute to FME’s vision. “It is important to be open with everyone we work with. We have a good relationship with our suppliers. We talk to each other,” Alan says.
FME’s success is apparent through its premium position in the market. It serves more locations each year, and more patients receive life-saving, innovative and cost-effective treatments. “We are confident that every year we can serve more kidney disease patients,” Alan says. “This is always the goal for us. What is most satisfying for my team is that we can serve patients directly.”
This direct relationship with patients is a strong motivator for Alan and one that is unusual for large companies such as FME. ”A lot of companies help patients indirectly, but my team and I appreciate the personal nature of our business.” Another motivator is seizing the market potential.
“In the renal market, there are millions of patients that need dialysis treatment. There is so much we can do to help people, and we are excited about our future development and reach.”
“There is so much we can do to help people, and we are excited about our future development and reach.”
Every action carried out by FME is done with their patients in mind. Alan believes this is the only way they can make a positive contribution to society. “We need to be open-minded and always thinking of what is good for our patients, good for the company and good for our employees,” he says.
“We must be open to criticism, always listen and be willing to change. Building a work environment that allows people to challenge current processes and practices provides a space for learning and creativity.”