Armand Abdullah, Group CEO, Melorita Healthcare
Instead of staying small and profitable, Group CEO of Melorita Healthcare, Armand Abdullah chose to break out of the comfort zone and focus on growth in new market and new products.
Group CEO of Melorita Healthcare Sdn Bhd, Armand Abdullah recalls reading the book “The Breakthrough Company” by Keith McFarland, wanting to find out how SMEs could break through thier glass ceiling and grow bigger. This led him to search for peer groups to get external feedback and advice. He found Vistage and joined VEE-12 in 2009. Learning from mentors and peers, Armand says he has changed his management style and take Melorita, a healthcare recruitment specialist, to greater heights in the last three years.
“Coming from a corporate finance background, I used to focus 70% on knowledge and 30% on leadership. Now I am 70% focused on leadership and 30% on knowledge,” he expresses as to how Vistage has helped him to be a better CEO. Together with a finance background and entrepreneurial spirit, Armand instituted many changes to modernise and expand business at Melorita, the largest healthcare recruitment company in Malaysia. Revenue has doubled since he took over to around RM8 million.
Healthcare recruitment is a very niche business and not one that Armand had planned to be in. After graduating in accounting and getting an MBA, Armand worked in the corporate finance sector. The fitness enthusiast in him surfaced when he established the first indoor sports centre in the country called the Sports Barn in 2004. He left the sports business when he bought a major stake in Melorita in 2010 when the founder, his father-in-law, was lookingfor someone to take over.
Melorita started 35 years ago and had built a strong niche as a healthcare talent provider, notably in Saudi Arabia. While the company was profitable, Armand wanted to move out of the comfort zone and grow the company. He realised that there were weakness that had to be addressed to move forward. His focus was on growing new markets and new products, as well as transforming the company using information technology, systems and human capital.
Melorita recruits healthcare personnel across-the-board-nurses, doctors and allied health staff. As nurses form the bulk of hospital staff, this group is the most sought after by employers. For a long time, Melorita had relied on a single market, Saudi Arabia, which traditionally had a large percentage of foreign manpower. Malaysian nurses were well received in that country, commanding lucrative salaries in annual contracts. Together with his partner, Mary Elizabeth who had been in the company from day one, worked to widen their client base. Today, the company has expanded its business to Singapore, Bahrain, UAE and Brunei, on top of the local market. Clients include both Goverment and private hospitals.
For operational excellence, systems and information technology were introduced. Armand initiated the company’s ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems certification. The company also invested in thier own customized recruitment software and servers for easy access by staff in five branches in Malaysia. IT helped to modernise and cope with rising demand and changing demographics. In the past applicants were older, aged between 35 and 45, but the group now is younger at 25-30. As many as 80% of applicants arrive via the company’s website. “We used to have 800 applicants, now we have 2,000 applicants per year,” Armand adds. He support a hybrid system, using both online and offline procedures, to screen, interview and recommend applicants so as to maintain quality standards. The challenge for Melorita is not gauging the technical skills of the applicants but getting deeper into personality and attitude. “We want to know whether the person we pick can communicate well and has good personality,” Armand says.
The international recruitment process is a lengthy one from sourcing to pre-departure orientation and final relocation of the recruit abroad. Armand attracted new talent into Melorita to cope with the increased demand. He offered attractive incentives like flexible working hours, a credit of 14 hours ayear for “ time off”, training and incentive trips. As a result, workforce was strengthened from 25 in 2010 to 60 in 2014. Working on the company’s strengths, Armand saw opportunities for Melorita to start a training academy related to healthcare professionals. He set up Asia Pacific Healthcare Academy (APHA) in 2012, which offers various courses in technical and soft skills. APHA provides Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programmes that are accredited by the Ministry of Health. The bulk of professionals who come for training are nurses as the Malaysian Nursing Board requires them to accumulate CPD points in thier annual licence renewal.
in 2013, Melorita introduced a new product in home health services which provides nursing and rehabilitation services to patients in their homes in the Klang Valley. The company has its own pool of nurses, physiotherapist and occupational therapist who are trained in elderly care, post-surgical care, physiotherapy and other types of home care. This is a relatively new business segment in Malaysia. Armand notes that there are still issues on financing home care but there is demand for caregivers, not necessary nurses, who can help people with daily activities as well as companionship.
Looking ahead, Armand foresees promising growth potential for Melorita. In the global scenario, he believes that international healthcare recruitment will intensify as more cross-border movement of employees are expected arising from the growing number of new hospitals and shortage in healthcare professionals. On the local front, training of healthcare professional will continue to be in demand as 8,000 to 10,000 new nurses enter the market every year in Malaysia. In the home care business, Armand discloses that Melorita plans to offer a caregiver service and expand outside the Klang Valley, to places like Penang, Johor Baru, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching. Based on these positive prospects, Armand projects 20-25% growth in company turnover per annum between 2015 and 2018.
The 40-something CEO is optimistic that his Vistage Chair and Group will keep him focused as he seizes more growth opportunities for Melorita. Armand, however, is careful not to over-stretch the company and emphasizes work-life balance. “Big is not always better”, he says, “it’s about profitability and enjoying the journey.”