June 22, 2016

Entrepreneurial medico thinks outside convention to stitch up lucrative new markets

Dr Ben Chan is part of a growing tribe of doctors who have started complementary side-businesses.

Dr Ben Chan is part of a growing tribe of doctors who have started complementary side businesses. As well as his two medical centres in Dandenong and Box Hill, he’s launched the Skintech Cosmetic Skin and Laser Clinic, which specialises in non-invasive treatments for conditions such as pigmentation and acne.

Dr Ben Chan’s combination of clinical skills and business savvy has seen him grow his GP practice in the outer Melbourne suburb of Dandenong into a clutch of medical centres and skin treatment clinics employing 40 doctors and 60 nurses and support staff.

One of a large clan of entrepreneurial medicos, Chan graduated from Melbourne University in 1982 and moved into private practice after completing his hospital training.

“My father was a Chinese medical doctor and a very successful businessman,” Chan says. “Of his six children, four are doctors and most of us have ventured into business; some are high profile businesspeople. When we get together, that’s what we talk about – never medicine.”

Chan has plenty of business to talk about – his Dandenong Superclinic sees around 3000 patients a week. He’s also a partner in a similar long hours clinic in the Melbourne suburb of Box Hill, which opened earlier this year.

Venturing into laser clinics

His spin-off venture, Skintech Cosmetic Skin and Laser Clinic, specialises in non-invasive treatments for conditions such as pigmentation and acne. It operates out of the two Superclinics and a third facility at Mt Waverley.

Chan is also the founder of Cosmetic Institute of Australia, a private college established in 2015 to provide cosmetic medicine training to doctors and beauty therapists, and advice on product and equipment acquisition.

A long-standing interest in conditions of the skin led to Chan’s branching into the cosmetic therapy arena two decades ago.

“I went into it without expectations – lasers were new on the scene, and it was a fun thing to do,” he says. “As a business, it has succeeded beyond my expectations. I made the original decision to expand because I came across people who I wanted to hire. They had so much passion and talent – I couldn’t help but absorb them into my team.”

There’s little crossover of clientele between Chan’s medical and cosmetic ventures, although Skintech clients benefit from the fact that the clinic has doctors, as well as trained technicians, on staff.

“Being doctors and nurses, we can do a lot more than what salons can do regarding achieving results,” Chan says.

Learning to be an entrepreneur

Chan started upping his commercial acumen in the early nineties, by studying technical analysis of the stock and futures markets.

He began giving lectures to others on the discipline and to fellow medicos on real estate and sharemarket investment.

This exercise brought him into contact with a slew of sophisticated investors, including real estate pundit Robert Kiyosaki, author of the best-selling financial self- help book Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

“I learned a lot from them about being an entrepreneur,” Chan says.

He believes doctors already possess some of the skills required to run successful commercial enterprises, courtesy of the rigorous training regimen associated with earning the right to put the letters MBBS after one’s name.

“In our professional lives we need to factualise, obtaining facts by taking a medical history,” Chan says. “We analyse these facts after we’ve carried out investigations and we strategise to create a patient management plan that leads to the best possible outcome for the patient given their circumstances. My business plan works in the same way.”

As with medicine, one can learn much by studying and as much again by doing – particularly when dragged out of the comfort zone.

“Business skills can be learned, but you must first change your mindset to become a businessperson,” Chan says

“In medicine you do as you’re taught, so in a sense, it’s easy as long as you follow the rules and don’t venture too far beyond accepted clinical wisdom and practice.

“In business, however, the landscape is forever changing, and you need to take risks by venturing into unknown territory. This isn’t something doctors are necessarily accustomed to, but doctors are intelligent, and they can learn anything if they wish to.”

The personal touch

Chan is an NAB Business Banking client of more than two decades standing.

Chan says its personalised service has been a boon on many occasions, as his business has grown from small suburban practice into a sizeable suite of standalone enterprises.

“Having a business banker who understands my vision saves me a lot of time.”