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How a doctor built a Sh1 billion lab empire

By Ally Jamah | June 23rd 2015

Dr Ahmed Kalebi is the Pathologists Lancet Kenya Group Chief Executive Officer. Lancet has a turnover of close to Sh1 billion.

A subsidiary of Lancet Laboratories South Africa, the facility provides advanced and specialised laboratory testing services. He spoke to BUSINESS BEAT about his business odyssey so far.

How has been your professional and career journey?

I qualified as a medical doctor then specialised in pathology with training locally and abroad.

My medical education and training took me 15 years to the level of becoming a sub-specialist consultant pathologist.

I set-up Lancet locally as a managing partner and by default became the chief executive.

My career has thus developed into a mixture of providing laboratory diagnostic services as a doctor, running the business as a CEO and growing the practice as a medical-entrepreneur, which has been a learning curve to drive the establishment and oversee the growth of the practice from scratch.

How has Lancet performed in the last five years?

We started from absolute scratch in October 2009 and by December the same year, we were serving less than 10 patients a day at our main laboratory in Upper Hill, with a 25 staff complement and myself as the sole pathologist.

Today, we serve over 1,500 patients a day at over 40 branches and service points across East Africa, run by over 350 staff, including eight other pathologists in my team. We are also in the middle of an expansion programme to reach more people in Kenya with our services. For me as a doctor, it is the fact that we help so many people every day i.e. the patients and their caregivers, with quality diagnostic services that is really gratifying and keeps us motivated.

How do you account for Lancet’s rapid growth in size and reputation?

I attribute it to the quality and excellence - earning us the trust of doctors and clinicians, patients and service partners including clinics and hospitals that collaborate with us. Also, we have source intellectual and financial capital from our parent company in South Africa. We provide cost-effective services to meet the needs of our clientele.

Lancet is also known for being innovative. What initiatives have you introduced into the market so far?

We continuously explore new ideas and initiatives to provide what we do in a better and bigger way. Our initiatives, such as the auto-emailing of results to doctors have become a household expectation, which we’ve improved upon with the introduction of revolutionary mobile apps and an online portal to deliver results efficiently and seamlessly to patients.

We have an SMS notification to alert patients when their results are ready. Our professional couriers collect samples from clients’ doorsteps, and we are ramping up this service with branded eco-friendly scooters for urban areas. We have introduced an anonymous online platform for testing of sexually-transmitted diseases, which we’ll soon expand to wellness checks and occupational health.

We are also scaling up electronic integration of our lab information systems with hospitals, clinics and insurances to facilitate paperless and seamless test ordering, result delivery and billing, which increase efficiency, reduce errors and minimise fraud. With the recent outbreaks and demand for safe water, we have also ventured into water testing and are soon rolling out specialised veterinary testing to fill the gap in the market driven by demand to our laboratory for these services.

Last year you entered into a public-private-partnership (PPP) initiative. Is that working?

The laboratory PPP initiative in Voi  at the county referral hospital has proven a success in terms of viability and sustainability. We have extended it formally and I foresee it becoming a PPP model for labs in public hospitals.

Your next frontier?

We are commencing operations in Rwanda this July. We are also looking at other neighbouring countries in the horizon to establish our footprint in the coming years.

With your hectic schedule and frequent travel, how do you maintain a work-life balance?

Honestly, I really don’t know for sure. I guess there is never a dull moment in my work, which keeps me on my toes. I’m blessed with a very supportive family. My wife is my personal manager and best friend, while our four kids have been understanding if not tolerant.

Quality time with them is how I unwind. My team of colleagues at work has also been quite supportive. Ultimately, however, it is the challenge of doing more that keeps me going.

I believe the service we provide is a God-given privilege in a noble profession. Good karma and the quest to do more keeps me and my team going.

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