The timing was perfect. After a stellar career with one of the world’s leading technology companies, Andy Ho was looking for a role that used his broad skills in management to reinvent a corporate entity – to encompass the aspirations of a young workforce in an innovative company that could make a genuine difference in one of the fastest-emerging markets in the world.
And then the ideal opportunity presented itself – in the role of President of Philips for Greater China, which includes China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. Andy holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
He joined IBM after graduation and worked in many positions for the company during a career lasting more than 30 years, filling roles in China, Canada, the US and Hong Kong.
He helped IBM build technology partnerships with both private companies and government institutions in China, and his years abroad for the company gave him the opportunity to work with people of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, for which he says he is very grateful.
This experience is pivotal in his approach to his present capacity as President of Philips Greater China. Andy joined Philips from IBM, succeeding Patrick Kung, who had spent seven years in the role.
He joined Philips at a key turning point in the company’s strategic transformation into what the firm itself calls a “focused health technology” company – it considers 2016 as the starting point of its metamorphosis to this new template.
Philips is perhaps unique for its business portfolio across a “health continuum” covering healthy living, disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment, and home care.
The company considers its primary markets to be both health professionals and individual consumers. This corporate philosophy of a “health continuum” aligns with the nation’s strategic program of Healthy China 2030 – the transformation of China’s somewhat piecemeal healthcare system into a value-based model.
The migration of the company to a new structure had enormous appeal for Andy, alongside the challenge of steering it into new waters. “Almost every family has a Philips product, including my family,” he points out.
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With COVID-19’s profound impact on the entire world, Philips has instigated a triple duty of care to combat the disease. It has ensured the health and safety of its employees and their families, as well as its business partners and customers. The company is also fulfilling critical customer needs in the professional health system so they can help patients. And in tandem with its business and ecommerce partners, it is meeting consumer needs for products and services. Andy has also had to consider business continuity for Philips. After the Chinese New Year holiday, the company initiated what he calls the “new normal way of working”, including working from home, with protocols to make sure that the company provides continuous services. “Our customer and partner engagement has actually been ramping up as we contact more businesses digitally, with online training and even announcements of new products,” Andy says. “Our overall employee morale actually is quite high, and everybody has accepted the new way of working here – our employee engagement score reached its highest level during the COVID-19 infection in Q1 this year.” The COVID-19 outbreak reaffirmed the value of Philips’ transformation and the total solution. Philips’ contribution to China in the battle against COVID-19, as a focused technology company, is playing an important role not only in supporting doctors in screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up, but in empowering consumers in their healthy lives.
“I used to work in an American company. I wanted to try something new, and I’d heard about European working culture. I think that’s a significant point because, be it right or wrong, I would position IBM as a platform company.
I went from working for a platform company to a company that has a direct impact on patients and consumers. I was impressed by the health technology strategy of Philips and the concept of a health continuun.
“At the end of the day, the exploration of Philips as a company is to improve people’s lives. That mission is something I like. When I was talking to Philips, it was going through a transformation from a product company to a solution company. That was also something I liked – the opportunity to take leadership of such a transformation in a great company.”
Steering the company on that journey required more than a change in its operations. Andy could see it also needed a complete change in the mindset of every employee – a monumental task to bring all 8,000 staff in Philips Greater China with him.
He tackled it by encouraging a primary focus on customers and consumer quality, and began to break down silos within the company to coordinate all divisions into a single ambition.
“How do we grow our core business? I call it ‘making the green greener’, and trying to fix some tough problems. We needed to scale solutions. The first priority was to change or update our employees’ mindset and behaviour, and remove silos so that everybody works together to pursue a common goal. I think that is so important,” he explains.
“My top priority was to integrate the company with one team and one goal. Everybody should be focused on the overall growth of Philips Greater China, rather than individual success or the success of a single department only. My priority was to cascade this message down the entire organisation.
“When I first started in Philips, there were several layers in the organisation. I found that when we tried to drive the company strategy down two or three levels, the message basically kept dissipating, so some employees didn’t get clarity in what we were trying to do to drive a high-performance culture – to stop debating and execute quickly. These were critical points when I started in Philips.”
Clarity is a subject Andy mentions several times in his interview with The CEO Magazine. To integrate a company, clarity is so important. “I needed to articulate what the strategy really means, the critical components, and the role played by every single employee in this company,” he stresses.
To succeed in this, management communicated the same message over and over to the entire organisation, and backed that up with role modelling. In Andy’s opinion, people may not follow what you say, but they will follow what you do. He applied that to himself and the whole management team around him.
“Every senior leader in this company has to be a role model, to let people see what they are doing, and then they will follow,” he points out.
“My challenge was to integrate the company, but then my accomplishment is also in the same area. Not perfectly, but I have succeeded in integrating the company, moving it from a holding company into an operating company. My other accomplishment is the high clarity in our strategy and everybody acting together for one goal. I talk about one team, one goal.”
He also lists success in getting the entire organisation to be much more customer focused as a major achievement. As an example, he points to the formation of an integrated accounts team, pulling different departments together with a more effective cross-team support structure for both the professional health division and the consumer side.
Global plus local
Initiating such a reformation demanded a coalescence of Philips’ global philosophy with the vagaries of the Chinese market and its unique business conditions.
Andy had to mould the two streams into a single Philips ambition. Philips is keenly focused on addressing key challenges of chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiac ailments such as stroke and respiratory diseases, as well as more prosaic ailments such as flu. “I keep looping back to ‘global plus local’,” he explains.
“Understanding our global strategy is important – that’s our starting point. But then, how do we get a deeper understanding of local requirements such as local government agendas? There is the Made in China 2025 agenda.
What does that really mean to Philips? We’ve heard about Healthy China 2030. What does that really mean to the business of Philips in China, with local regulations, compliance requirements, data privacy, and so on? And what exactly is the consumer demand in China?
“So understanding the global strategy and meeting local requirements would be key. But how to do that? I can think of two things. First, I will focus on local innovations, including products and solutions, as well as our capabilities.
“Second, we look at the local market, because when we take the global strategy and apply it to China, it’s not as simple as just selling a product or solution. We need to look at customer segments.
Taking the professional health system market as one example, how do we apply say a CT scanner to a level three multihospital, a level two hospital or a county level hospital? How do we differentiate between the private sector and public sector here?
“The same applies to the consumer, or B2C side. How do we apply the strategy to the online and offline landscape in China? How do we apply our ecommerce strategy to key ecommerce players like Alibaba, JD and so on? Last, but not least, it takes local partnerships to drive a China model here. How do we leverage local partnerships to manage sensitive patient data and the internet services in China? Indeed, how do we handle our own data?”
Every senior leader in this company has to be a role model, to let people see what they are doing, and then they will follow.
These questions led Andy to a digital answer. Digital technology is an irreversible trend in the healthcare industry and Philips, as a traditional medical equipment provider, is accelerating its transformation into an integrated solution provider by combining hardware, software and professional services using its expertise in data analysis, AI and the cloud.
Medical imaging and artificial intelligence technology are currently hot topics in China, says Andy, so Philips has built a medical AI laboratory to increase its capabilities for local radiology and imaging workflows that will fit the local health system.
Philips has developed an AI platform and sold it to more than 20 hospitals in China, with plans to reach over 50% of China’s major hospitals.
Partners in health
Philips relies heavily on its local and international suppliers, its support teams and partners to reach both the professional healthcare and consumer markets.
These relationships have been built over time, and the COVID-19 pandemic has been a test of strength for them. “Our relationships are built on the values of Philips,” Andy says.
“That is the cornerstone, and so fundamental. Philips is an innovative company. Our relationships rely on in-depth consumer and data insights from our partners. On the professional healthcare side, the government and industry associations can provide real value as partners with Philips to develop local standards. So if we combine the value of Philips and these partners, that is fundamental to keeping and enhancing our relationships.”
A culture to innovate
So too with Philips’ employees. The internal culture of its large team was a primary focus for Andy when he first took on his role as President, and he now describes the employee culture as very open.
“In my experience, they do not hesitate to communicate with each other,” he tells. “They have a high degree of freedom, they like to inspire or to be inspired, and also to improve. We are running a program called the Philips Excellence Competition among our employees to apply lean methodology and seek continuous improvement to handle problem-solving.
“We put a higher priority on customers, rather than on internal KPIs. For example, we insist on the highest quality or integrity standard before a new product launch schedule. Our entire employee community now has an innovation mindset – people try to create something new.”
While it’s one thing to develop a corporate strategy, it’s another to inculcate it through a company. For Andy, it means personalising it – making it relevant to every staff member so it resonates for them.
“What can I do? How can I engage? The staff engagement level is critical,” he points out. “The more employees engage, the more motivated they feel to make a personal contribution. At the end of the day, they want their individual contribution to change the world. I think I have a highly motivated group of employees in this company.”
In 2018, Andy was honoured with the Magnolia Award by the Shanghai Municipal Government to recognise his outstanding contribution to Shanghai’s economy, innovation and culture. It’s also recognition of the change he has implemented in the national health industry through his leadership.
“I love my job. I like the people, especially young people,” he says. “Philips has lots of young people who are very open-minded and energetic. I see an innovation mindset here. I think that goes back to the Philips culture. I also love this job because we’re dealing with the toughest issues – how to provide and maintain healthy lifestyles for people. Not many people have the opportunity to leverage the latest technology to deal with the most challenging medical problems. We have the opportunity to improve people’s lives. These are all key factors driving me in my job.”
Listening to advice
In his career, Andy has taken on board a range of advice from mentors who pointed him in the right direction, but he singles out Frans van Houten for special mention. “I learned a lot from other leaders and they had a profound impact on me and my leadership style,” he tells.
But it’s Frans van Houten who told me, ‘You don’t ask for permission or rules. Leverage your deep insight and experiences. You are empowered, and empowered by your credibility and track record. Do the right things for the customers, consumers and Philips, and also for yourself.’
When I practise what he advised me, I execute faster; I earn the respect; I contribute much more.” After five years at the helm of Philips Greater China, Andy can confidently nod that he has done just that.