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BW Businessworld

Operation Apollo

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In April, a Businessworld cover story focused on how India is becoming a booming centre for healthcare travellers. The two biggest players emerging in the country were Apollo and Fortis.

The entire healthcare traveller/ medical tourism business in India would probably not have existed if a cardiologist named Prathap C. Reddy hadn't decided to set up corporate hospitals in India almost 27 years ago. Before Reddy decided to set up Apollo Chennai, hospitals in India were either government-run or run by trusts. For-profit hospitals offering treatment in multiple specialties did not exist. There were the odd for-profit clinics here and there, but these were small operations.

The indefatigable doctor has created a formidable empire of corporate hospitals over the past 27 years. And at 78, he still boasts of energy levels that would be enviable in men half his age. As senior assistant editor P.B. Jayakumar says, he gets up at 4 a.m. most mornings and is ready to see patients by 9 a.m. And he works full days and takes no leave. His four daughters are also in the Apollo organisation and each of them has distinct responsibilities in the group.

Till about three or four years ago, the Apollo empire towered over everyone else in the healthcare business in the country. The next biggest player — Fortis — was just about half its size. And then, Fortis decided to chart out an aggressive growth path. Over the next few years, a combination of new greenfield projects and smart acquisitions has seen Fortis catch up with the leader. And Malvinder and Shivinder Singh, who run Fortis, are as different from Prathap Reddy and his daughters as chalk from cheese.

Now Reddy has drawn up an ambitious plan — the good doctor calls it Rocket 14 — to speed up his group's growth. He says that his group has been moving at moped speed till now and all that is set to change.

Will he be able to retain his top dog status? Apart from Fortis, there are other, smaller rivals snapping at its heels. Our cover story this issue looks at how the Reddys operate, their future plans, as well as how they differ from their biggest rivals. It also provides an insight into the economics of beds that determine the profitability of any hospital.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 13-06-2011)