How do you see the economic situation of the company?
Wastler: Vamed is a growth emperor, we have now increased our sales for the 13th year in a row. However, 2018 marks a milestone in our corporate development. Last year we recorded the greatest growth in sales in the company's history, namely by 38 percent to 1,7 billion euros. A great acquisition with 38 post-acute care facilities in Germany also plays a role, with which we have become one of the leading rehabilitation providers in Europe. With a record order backlog of 2,4 billion euros, we are also extremely well positioned in the project business. Worldwide. We have projects on all continents and can fall back on project experience in 88 countries. And even if the economic forecasts for the economy as a whole are no longer as positive as in the past: The strong order situation in the project business, the growing importance of our service business and our unique value-added situation make me absolutely confident that we will continue our success story.
"We allow 2.000 Austrian SMEs access to the world market."
What makes your business model unique?
Wastler: Vamed has built up a great deal of expertise in health care in Austria. When I think back to our first project, the Vienna General Hospital: Vamed has been a close partner of the Vienna General Hospital as a technical operator for more than 30 years. Together we run one of the largest university clinics in Europe. This attracts worldwide attention. We have made this know-how available internationally. In three and a half decades, we have implemented more than 900 health projects in around 90 countries on five continents and, with around 10.000 medical employees, we are now the global leader among health care providers. The unique combination of project activities and follow-up services in the Vamed value chain enables us to offer everything for a healthcare facility from a single source. Another thing that is often overlooked is that we also enable around 2.000 Austrian SMEs to access the world market.
Where are the growth markets of Vamed?
Wastler: We see growth potential in both developed and emerging countries. The need is different, however: In the developed countries structural improvements and re-engineering are required. Vamed has long been a sought-after service partner here - for long-term outsourcing of services in the medical, technical and management sectors, for medical technology management and modernization of medical technology equipment, right through to comprehensive public-private partnership models. In emerging countries, it is primarily about building infrastructure. Our service portfolio includes the complete project development, conception, construction and project management of health facilities up to tailor-made financing models. here, too, long-term service partnerships are becoming more and more important.
In the health sector is often not the demand, but money is the limiting factor. How do you deal with that?
Wastler: When it comes to supporting healthcare facilities from project development to operation, structured financing - so-called financial engineering - often plays a decisive role. Vamed has many years of experience in the design of project financing as well as an international network of financing partners, which is the basis for offering our customers complex, structured financing and realizing health projects worldwide. In both developed and emerging health markets, we often make the development of new health offers possible in the first place.
How is your business doing in these emerging markets?
Wastler: We are on the move globally - and not just since 2018, but for more than 30 years. The main thing that has changed is the quantity: we used to be active in 40 markets, and today there are almost 90. However, the attribute “global” has to be put into perspective: global also means keeping a close eye on regional characteristics. You can't compare Singapore to Ghana. This not only affects the culture, but also the climate. If you have two rainy seasons in one location, you have to plan, build and operate your hospital differently than if you are working on the Arabian Peninsula. The decisive factor, why Vamed can even cover this range, lies in the credo: "Think globally, act locally."
How do you put the motto into practice?
Wastler: Quite simply through 36 years of continuous learning. I would like to remind you once again of our unique value chain: We not only plan, develop and build, but also train staff and operate facilities ourselves at the customer's request. It is crucial to adapt solutions to local conditions in order to ultimately achieve sustainability. In many West African countries, for example, dehydration is an important issue in first aid. Hospital pharmacies should therefore not buy the simple infusion solutions at great expense, but learn to produce them on site. If it works, you win. We have had this way of thinking for 20 years.
Our approach has also evolved over the years. Today, for example, we pay particular attention to knowledge transfer in all of our projects. In emerging countries in particular, on-site training and continuing education play a crucial role and is the key to a functioning health care system. Let me give you an example from Laos: In order to ensure the sustainable operation of the hospital in Vientane, we started the medical, technical and administrative training of the staff on site before the hospital was completed. In general, however, one can observe that the level of qualification has developed immensely over the past 30 years.
"To ultimately achieve sustainability, it is crucial to adapt solutions to local conditions."
Do you also cooperate with Austrian development cooperation?
Wastler: Yes, we traditionally work well with local development actors. Right now, for example, in Chittagong in Bangladesh. Although qualified health and nursing staff are trained there, they are unfortunately very theory-heavy. In a project with the Austrian Development Agency, we have developed a practice-oriented advanced training program for medical professionals at the Imperial Hospital Chittagong based on Western standards. We want to achieve a sustainable improvement in medical care. I consider such cooperation with development cooperation to be very effective. You help the country and the local population. And they help us as Vamed, because we and our customers also need well-trained local workers to provide health services.
What do the Global Sustainable Development Goals SDG mean for the Vamed?
Wastler: The SDGs are very comprehensive, and I see Vamed as a showcase candidate in many areas. It starts with our business area: Our exclusive focus - health and well-being - corresponds to SDG 3: Ensuring a healthy life for all people of all ages and promoting their well-being. But we also set benchmarks in day-to-day business, for example in the energy efficiency of health facilities: As far as I know, we were the first to convert a hospital as large as Vienna General Hospital to district heating and district cooling. There are also other facilities in Austria that serve as a reference worldwide, such as the new state hospital in Neunkirchen or the rehabilitation clinic in St. Veit im Pongau. The buildings here not only meet the highest ecological criteria, they also meet the highest economic and social requirements. We also have a regulatory attitude towards sustainable development in general. As Vamed, we have strict guidelines on compliance and corporate responsibility. We also take ecological and social aspects into account in all of our projects. We never had access to an emerging market in order to earn a lot of money there at any cost.
"The SDGs are very comprehensive, and I see Vamed as a showcase candidate in many areas."
What trends are affecting your sector as well?
Wastler: Digitization plays an essential role - our area is about operational management or Building Information Modeling, BIM. By using the latest technologies, we ensure that healthcare facilities can be optimally managed and managed. And that over the entire life cycle from construction to the end of primary use. Vamed has a pioneering role here. Digitization is playing an increasingly important role in the health sector, especially in developing countries. Because while there is comprehensive coverage in Europe, there is still a long way to go in most African countries. Digitization is therefore an opportunity for Africa to enable access to medical services with cell phones and smartphones in the first place in many cases. This will play a very important role in the health system in the future.
What is your job as manager?
Wastler: Work should be fun and meet high professional standards. Success can only be achieved together, there is no other way. And if you - like me - also work in an industry where you create something with high social added value every day, then that is a strong motivation.
Many thanks for the interview!
Ernst Wastler has been CEO of the health service provider Vamed AG since 2001, and has also been a member of the board of the parent company Fresenius Management SE since 2008. Before that, the native of Linz held various management positions in internationally active companies of the Vamed Group. The doctor of trade science began his professional career in 1981 in international consulting, engineering and project management at Austroplan GmbH, Vienna.
TO THE COMPANY
The VAMED AG was founded in 1982 as Voest-Alpine Medizintechnik GmbH to complete the construction of the Vienna General Hospital. Since then, the former project company has developed into one of the world's leading providers of hospitals and other healthcare facilities, with more than 88 projects implemented in 900 countries. Recent contracts include hospital projects in Angola, China, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Oman and Trinidad-Tobago. The portfolio includes project development and planning, turnkey construction, maintenance, technical, commercial and infrastructural services as well as operational management. Including all areas for which Vamed has management responsibility, the business volume in 2018 amounted to 2,2 billion euros. With 67 post-acute care facilities, the company is one of the leading rehabilitation providers in Europe and employs more than 27.000 people, including around 6.300 in Austria. The majority owner is the German health care group Fresenius SE, further investments are held by the Republic of Austria and B&C Holding.