A Successful Career requires Planning Ahead
Having spoken to Mr. Arnaud Vaissié, the Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO of International SOS, you will certainly lose the stereotypical French nature of carefree and idealistic romance. Throughout the interview, he constantly mentions that “successful career is the result of forward planning” and requires his subordinates “to be self-disciplined and efficient in their work”. Diving deeper into his billion dollar organisation, you will understand why he places such emphasis on this set of rules.
International SOS is the world’s leading international medical and travel security assistance company. The group currently operates in 94 countries, with more than 11,000 employees, including 1,400 full-time medical staff and 200 security specialists. Over the past 30 years, International SOS has been offering global services, including medical and security assistance, domestic expert advice on vaccination, and emergency assistance for travellers, sojourners and their families.
In 1985, Arnaud Vaissié and his partner, Doctor Pascal Rey-Herme, saw an emerging opportunity in Indonesia with the lack of professional medical services and a large influx of foreign companies and expatriates. Having discovered a centre of medical excellence in Singapore, they immediately connected the dots and started linking emerging countries with international standards of medical practice, thereby setting up their global headquarters in Singapore.
The business of medical assistance is a complex one which requires considerable expertise. 30 years ago, there was no other company who provided emergency rescue services or anything remotely similar in Southeast Asia. From the establishment of the business, Arnaud and Pascal had to bring in advanced rescue knowledge from abroad and professional medical personnel from the United States and France. There was a lot of coordination needed in the setting up of transport routes, such as opening up exclusive fast-track access for the injured, finding suitable air transport, shipping medical equipment to aircraft and re-engineering planes for emergency evacuations. On top of that, they had to seek permissions from the government agencies to get their work done. “Emergency assistance consists of a lot of work and each step of coordination is very complex, making the whole process very complicated.” Arnaud Vaissié added.
In 2008, a Taiwanese client of International SOS, had to return to his homeland in China to receive treatment for his illness. Prior to that, there were no direct flights between Taiwan and mainland China. In anticipation of this, International SOS had made preparations for an entire year. Following that incident, they also successfully evacuated 20 casualties from Shenzhen to Taipei for treatment. These inaugural flights marked the start of international air travel and direct flights between the two countries.
Another case that Arnaud Vaissié is proud of was the one during the SARS period. At that time, no one had the courage to transport SARS patients due to its highly contagious nature. After nearly a month of coordination, International SOS finally managed to be the first company to transport SARS patients through their outstanding team of medical professionals. “It really was a dream-like victory, but it also proves that if you really set your heart to it, you can go ahead and make it happen.” Arnaud Vaissié said.
To focus on this market, International SOS established Aspire Lifestyles as a leading provider of Concierge services around the world. Today, Aspire Lifestyles has a total of 25 Concierge Centres and more than 1,200 Lifestyle Concierges in 20 countries. Customers need only to make a phone call for all their needs, and the rest would be fulfilled by the Aspire Lifestyles global team.
A client’s customer had missed her chance to buy a pair of limited edition Dior shoes when travelling in London. When she returned to her home country, she was desperate to lay her hands on them and decided to contact her Concierge, requesting that they help her locate those shoes no matter what. The Lifestyle Concierge immediately contacted all the boutiques across Europe to find her those shoes, arranged for global payment, delivery and met her demand. “In fact, most of the Concierge requests that come in require considerable research and investigation. We have a global network, and that’s our key advantage” Arnaud Vaissié said. In addition, they also handled many interesting cases, such as helping a seven-year-old child to get an autographed copy of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” personalised with the child’s name and get last minute tickets for the New York fashion show or Oscar Awards in Hollywood.
“The challenge for us is that the requirements of the Chinese consumers are diverse. Contrary to their western counterparts, they are always looking for exclusivity and unique experiences, which makes it a complex and time-consuming business.” Arnaud Vaissié said.
With the rapid growth of high net-worth individuals in China, Aspire Lifestyles wants to seize this opportunity. According to recent reports, the number of high net-worth individuals in China increased 11% in 2015. The increase of outbound Chinese tourists also means they require more travel services, which spells of abundant opportunities for Concierge services.
The company also places great emphasis in advancing digital technology. International SOS delivery centres worldwide have all adopted the same operations system, which enables seamless communication and convenience for customers around the world. The company is also dedicating 6% of its total revenue to invest in their digital solutions for both medical and Concierge services. This is so the company can meet their customers’ needs in the long term and stay current in today’s fast moving world.
As Arnaud Vaissié firmly believes, forward planning is the basis of success. Besides the continual expansion of the business, International SOS also wants to leverage existing resources to increase the synergies between businesses for the greater good of clients. “Our promise to clients is that we are here for them, 24/7, 365 days a year. Many things may seem difficult at first, but nothing is impossible as long as we do our best to achieve it,” Arnaud Vaissié concludes with a light-hearted laugh.