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Bridging the gap: Mark Middleton

Every morning, Mark Middleton walks through the first level of his workplace, followed by the second, and greets employees by name. “Leaders need to remember the names of their staff,” Mark says.


“It shows that you value their story and contribution.” Upon accepting the role in 2015 of CEO at Australia’s largest private provider of cancer care, Icon Group, Mark told the team that this ritual would never change. He has stayed true to his word.

“It’s about the connection with people,” Mark explains. “Leadership is about relationships with people. They need to understand what you stand for, what your values are, and how you live those values every day. Connection is what brings people on the journey.”

And what a journey it has been. In 2016, Mark began plans to export Icon’s renowned Australian cancer care capability into Asia.

“Four years ago we made a promise to bring cancer care closer to people’s homes, not only in Australia but also Asia,” he says. “Since then we have grown a significant national cancer care footprint, established ourselves in Singapore and Hong Kong via acquisition and growth, entered partnerships to upskill cancer care practices in Vietnam, and opened the doors to our first cancer centre in China.”

With sights firmly set on mainland China, where need is exponential, Icon is committed to bringing the necessary expertise and resources to meet the cancer burden.

“We have four sites under development in China now. For an Australian business to take cancer care to Asia and particularly to mainland China is an enormous undertaking. It shows the significant commitment of our people to help those who really need it.”

In China, there are four million new cancer diagnoses a year, and their five-year survival rate is around 30% – a staggering decrease when compared with Australia, where it is over 70%. “Australia now has the highest five-year survival rate for cancer patients in the world.”

With the statistics in mind, Icon Group felt confident entering the Chinese market. It is the first Australian healthcare company to export Australian cancer services into China, where cancer is expected to increase by 70% in the next two decades.

In late 2019, it opened its first cancer centre in Jiangxian, after penning an agreement with China’s Sanbo Brain Hospital Group to deliver radiation oncology services in 2020. Other partnerships Icon Group has solidified include providing care at United Family Hospital in Qingdao, and more recently the group also signed an agreement with Sinohydro Bureau 11 Co Ltd Huanghe Sanmenxia Hospital in Henan, China’s most populous province.

When it comes to the challenges of entering international markets, Mark says cultural differences are the most difficult. “But we all like to keep things simple. Ultimately, honesty is universal. Integrity is universal.
The language of care is universal,” he says.

“We have the opportunity to take all of our learnings and all of the things that we’ve proven we can do in Australia and help others.”

As a trained radiation therapist, Mark gained experience and insight while working in North America and the UK. During this time, he absorbed how cancer care could be improved globally. “I think it’s meaningful that I’ve got a clinical background as it allows me to connect with our teams in the field,” he explains.

“I know the challenges that they face. I know what it means to be dealing with patients and their families who are going through incredible, challenging times. And I’ve never forgotten that.”

Mark’s primary motivation, and something he often repeats to his team, is that “where you live should not determine if you live”. “We have the opportunity to take all of our lessons and the things that we’ve proven we can do in Australia and help others. It was never a question of should we do it; it was how do we do it.”

“I want to think that in time we will emerge as a truly global cancer care provider. I have a big vision for Icon.”

A longstanding partnership for Icon Group, and Mark in particular, is with Varian Medical Systems. The relationship between Varian and Mark, which has spanned about 20 years, is built on collaboration and commitment to cancer care.

“I can’t speak highly enough of them and the work we have done together across Australia and now Asia. I am always impressed by their commitment to continually advancing technology for cancer care. It’s a relationship that goes beyond just a vendor and a customer.”

The future is promising for Icon Group. “The focus moving forward is to take all of our knowledge to parts of the world that need us,” Mark confirms. “We will continue to be leaders. Not only in treatment delivery but also research and clinical trials. I want to think that in time we will emerge as a truly global cancer care provider. I have a big vision for Icon.”

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