With nearly 17 years of experience in GE Healthcare and GE Industrial Solutions businesses, Francis Van Parys is an experienced global executive who has served in a number of general management roles at GE Healthcare's Life Sciences business before joining GE Healthcare Korea as President and CEO.
Francis started his career at GE in 2001, having early-career assignments in Belgium and Germany in GE Industrial Solutions. From 2005 onwards, he held positions such as Sales Manager, EMEA Marketing Director, GM for Commercial Operations and was later appointed as Global Product GM, Research and Applied Markets, responsible for GE Life Sciences’ consumables and hardware portfolio. He then became Global Commercial GM for Cell Culture in 2016.
Now, as President and CEO of GE Healthcare Korea, Francis is responsible for helping provide transformational medical technologies and solutions to Korea’s healthcare industry, ranging from diagnostic imaging, monitoring and digital solutions to molecular diagnostics and life sciences.
We sat down with Francis to hear more about the company’s operations in Korea as well as the country’s medical technology and healthcare sector.
Please tell us about GE Healthcare and its history. What kinds of services does the company offer to its customers?
GE Healthcare is a division of the GE company. We’re about 19 billion segments in terms of revenues with close to 55,000 employees. We provide imaging technologies—we’re the industry leader in imaging technologies, monitoring solutions, bio-manufacturing equipment and solutions, as well as novel therapies like cell and gene therapy.
The way we see these different solutions connect with each other is through our vision of precision health. It starts with precision diagnostics—combining data to develop the most accurate and precise diagnostics that we can—then we work with our pharmaceutical partners and researchers to develop more precise therapeutics, and then we can develop precise monitoring solutions that monitor proactively, rather than reactively, to patient conditions.
What made GE Healthcare establish a branch in Korea? What are the advantages of doing business here?
Well, Korea’s a very advanced healthcare market. It has a certainly regional, if not global, status and reach. There’s a very high standard of the quality of care. For us, it means we have access to probably some of the most advanced research globally. We work with medical professionals here and collaborate and partner with them. As an example, in the field of radiology, the world’s biggest congress in radiology is in Chicago every year—it’s called RSNA (Radiological Society of North America). The publications that are published for that purpose, for the amount of publications, Korea is probably number three or four globally. So that sort of gives you some flavor for the quality and standards of research in clinical care.
For us, it’s important to be where that standard is on the one hand, and on the other hand, it’s also a very important biotech market. The government is stimulating investments into the developments of bio-manufacturing, both from an R&D standpoint as well as from a manufacturing standpoint. It’s a very important market for the development of biosimilars as an example. We have some strong competitive customers here, such as Samsung Biologics and Celltrion.
How is Korea’s medical technology and healthcare industry different from other parts of the world?
I think I’d say again, it’s very advanced, it’s well developed, it has a very advanced infrastructure, access to quality of talent and education. The medical facilities are some of the best in Asia and the world. If you take an example, the biggest cancer center in Asia is in Korea, with Asan Medical Center. Some of the thought leaders, if you think about the federations of medical practices such as ultrasound or radiology, the biggest key opinion leaders in those societies are actually Korean doctors.
What were some marketing/product development strategies that GE Healthcare carried out to target Korean customers?
I’d answer that in two ways. One is we partner with medical professionals as well as researchers to develop new technologies globally with the input from Korean medical doctors, so that we ensure that the solutions we develop are actually relevant for this market as well.
Secondly, we have a significant presence in Seongnam, where we have the GE Ultrasound Korea manufacturing facility. There, we manufacture ultrasound equipment for purposes like general imaging or women’s health. It’s one of our four manufacturing facilities globally, and produces approximately 25 percent of our global revenue of ultrasounds. While those products are developed not just for Korean customers, they are also developed for Korean customers, then exported to the globe. So it benefits the local economy, of course. It makes GE one of the biggest exporters in ultrasound equipment for Korea. I think around 95 percent of ultrasound in Korea is exported by GE.
We employ probably about 200 people there, and at the same time, we are highly integrated with the local manufacturing base and partners. We have about 90 suppliers in a radius of 40 miles outside of Seongnam. So I think it’s a big focus for us, and a big advantage both for the local economy as well as for us to be able to develop here in a qualitative, highly efficient and productive manner in Korea.
Were there any challenges your company faced while doing business in Korea?
I wouldn’t necessarily say so. I think we are working with multiple stakeholders—that’s important to us. We continue to have open communication with governments, industry associations, medical professionals, institutions, healthcare providers, bio-pharmaceutical thought leaders, and private companies. We try to establish, as much as we can, a platform across all those stakeholders to ensure we optimize the outcome for all the parties involved.
How can Korea become a more ideal business environment for foreign companies like GE Healthcare?
I think Korea is already very advanced and access to talent is amazing. I am very impressed—I’ve been here now for a year. I’m impressed at the environment that we can operate in. And if you look at the business we do both locally as well as where we export, we feel it’s a great place to be for us and to continue to be.
In terms of what else we can do, I think maybe taking a look at the regulatory environment, which I think is very advanced already. Let’s continue to communicate and look at ways to improve, and make Korean-developed technologies accessible for Korea as well as for other countries.
What Korean companies are you currently working with (if any) to strengthen your business partnerships?
As I mentioned, we have about 90 suppliers in the vicinity of our ultrasound facility. We’re are highly integrated with those companies and they’re very strong partners for us to ensure the quality and productivity we need—this boosts our competitiveness. We also partner with local biotech companies. We support and process developments, manufacturing capability, to ensure they can bring their products to markets quicker.
There’s also a very dynamic startup environment in Korea. Things like the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I see lots of advancement around artificial intelligence, digital capability, technologies that we are keen and eager to partner on because it’s a capability that we can integrate in our devices, in our solutions, and make accessible to a wider audience.
What are some future plans that GE Healthcare has when it comes to doing business in Korea and in Asia?
First of all, our vision is precision health. How do we make that happen? So we want to differentiate ourselves by connecting diagnostic monitoring and therapeutic solutions in a more precise manner and I think we’re quite unique in that capability. So what we are looking to do in Korea is find partners that can work with us on achieving that vision.
We’re also looking at localizing solutions that medical institutions are looking for to improve their productivity. We have solutions like what we call Command Center. It’s a solution technology, digital technology that we use to optimize the efficiency of our hospital operation. We’re looking to see how this can improve the efficiency as well as the clinical decision-making within already heavily utilized Korean hospitals, and truly drive operational, economical and clinical benefits.
So if we can partner on that front, I think it really changes the game both for us as a provider as for the medical institution itself. One of the key things they are looking for is how can we become more productive, because the demand for the healthcare system is only increasing with the aging population. They’re facing more and more demand for their services. At the same time, they cannot hire medical professionals fast enough, so how do we make them more productive, precise in their diagnosis and therefore, make their task overall easier.
What is GE Healthcare doing to rise above the competition in the Korean healthcare and medical technologies market?
I’d say various things. One of the things we feel that differentiates us today already is the breadth of our portfolio. We have imaging technologies across the whole platform. From MRI, CT to X-ray, ultrasounds and our monitoring solutions, there’s few or if not one company that actually has the same level of breadth. We can actually present ourselves as a solution provider. But that’s what differentiates us today, and I don’t think it’s going to be enough to differentiate us tomorrow.
We also want to add digital and service capability to that which really thinks about the solution provider to improve outcomes for medical institutions. Again, I’d refer back to our precision health vision. If we can use our strength in diagnostic precision to develop novel and more precise therapies for our patients working with our partners in this field, we actually work across the healthcare spectrum from diagnosis to monitoring. We’re actually also the only company who can claim to work across that whole spectrum, which we feel is going to clearly be a differentiating factor. We’ll need big data capabilities, AI capabilities and work with other parts in the industry to achieve it, but I feel we have a great chance in doing so.
By Grace Park (firstname.lastname@example.org)
English Editor / Invest Korea