ALEXANDRIA: “GE Healthcare is focusing on emerging markets to cope with the global financial crisis, Hamid Khoudli, general manager of Africa at GE Healthcare, said Wednesday.
In an interview with Daily News Egypt, Khoudli said the company has been pouring more investments in emerging markets over the past two years, making conscious strides towards expansion into Russia, the Middle East, south and central Asia as well as Africa.
In mid-April, GE Healthcare posted a 22 percent drop in first quarter 2009 operating profit, which contributed to the 35 percent drop in the net income of parent company General Electric Co.
While the news is disconcerting, it is not surprising in the context of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.
“We are affected by the crisis like every other industry and we are more affected in some parts of the world than others. In emerging markets, we didn’t really see the impact – we expect it is going to come, but at a slower rate compared to other markets, such as the USA. Europe too is so slowing down, he said.
The company’s strategy to deal with the slowdown is to expand in markets where they currently don’t have a presence.
GE Healthcare, a $17 billion unit of General Electric Company, is headquartered in the UK and ranked number one in market share. The company provides technologies and services in medical imaging and information technologies, medical diagnostics, patient monitoring systems, performance improvement, drug research, and biopharmaceutical manufacturing technologies.
GE Healthcare has shifted its strategy to focus on Africa. “We invested a lot last year, hired more than 50 people in Africa’s offices, and entered countries where we didn’t have a presence, for example, Nigeria and Kenya, said Khoudli.
Their investments in Algeria have already paid off, he added, and last year the country produced the highest volume in Africa.
Khoudli took his post as the general manager of Africa just eight months ago, but has been with GE for the last 12 years.
“Talking numbers, we are looking forward to at least doubling the size of our operations within the next few years. That is the main target and we are doing that by continuing to invest in our local presence [in Africa]. focusing mainly in north and east Africa. We already have stable operations mainly driven by Egypt and South Africa.
At the same time, GE Healthcare is eyeing places like Nigeria, “which is a fast growing region, with more than 147 million inhabitants. With all the resources . this is a very promising country, said Khoudli.
GE Healthcare chose Egypt to house its regional head office because “it is the biggest operation in Africa. The second reason is that the level of education is one of the highest in Africa, so it’s easy to hire good people and easier to [travel] to and from Egypt.
GE also chose Egypt because it was one of the first countries in the region to “successfully launch a breast cancer-screening program. Using GE’s digital mammography mobile solution, local healthcare professionals travel from city to city, to reach more women for breast cancer detection. The imaging data is transferred via satellite to a specialist center for analysis and diagnosis, with GE healthcare technologies.
For corporations looking to expand in emerging markets, corporate social responsibility (CSR) becomes a top priority. In Ghana, the company launched a program to enhance healthcare services as well as water supply and even power generation. “The idea was to go to the remote area and create a package of solutions to meet [people’s] basic needs, he said. The company invested around $40 million and is set to launch phase two of the program.
Pointing out the lack of health insurance as a major obstacle to healthcare in the region, Khoudli said: “Healthcare coverage in Africa is very low, even when you take the largest economy in the content, South Africa. The good news is that most governments are working on programs to increase [insurance] coverage.
“We see significant things happening in north Africa, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt – so the trend is positive, but we are far from [a region like] Europe, he said, where people are covered by some sort of insurance. “Even if they can’t afford it, governments subsidize it.