Wordsmith Casebook : Nursing Home, Cochin – Family Business Nightmare

Background and Timeline (1996 -2001)

I met Dr. J in Cochin while Internet just came in India, around 1996. He was one of the reputed doctors of the city, very friendly, very component and he liked his job. I had visited to his house to check his dial-up Internet account (at that time, there was no Wi-Fi, no cable, no broadband ) and it used to cost INR 15,000 per month (or 500 hours of usage) – monopoly pricing and I was working in that Government monopoly. It was almost lunchtime and Dr. J did not let me leave without lunch. We had discovered that we both shared two things in common – love of fish curries and work of Vaikom Mohammad Basheer, the great Malayalam writer. Dr. J, unlike many doctors loved his job more than money and many of his colleagues remarked that he could have earned a fortune had he started the nursing home business. Around 1998, when his son became a doctor (MBBS), I came to know that Dr. J had started a nursing home business. During the Onam of 1999, I was invited in his house for a traditional celebration lunch of 16 courses (my colleague Mohan asked me to do a fast the previous day !) and there I discovered a very different Dr. J. He was talking of money, of debt, of the daily headaches of running a business, regulatory compliance and instead of a jovial, happy go lucky and simple pleasure loving man, I discovered a typical small business owner with a list of problems touching water-logging of streets to Import policies of the Government.

First Investigative Measures and De-Briefing

  1. Dr. J made a change from a successful professional of a domain to a service industry small business owner in one of the most-regulated industries, i.e. healthcare. His motivation, the rumour goes, was to create a career for his young doctor son, which in turn was from his wife, who was not satisfied with doctors only but wanted doctor-entrepreneurs. This itself indicated that he was forced into it and his heart was not into it.
  2. His patients, at the start became the customers of the nursing home but instead of Dr. J’s personalized services, they got a low-class, inefficient business services. Many did not like it and did not return. His son had only a certificate but not living experience and he considered the degree as a license to start a nursing home. His daughter, who was married and resided in Germany was vehemently opposed in mortgaging the family home to secure loan for the business. The family was not united and it was tearing up Dr. J.
  3. The Nursing home did not do well. The young son was more focused on a vanity drive (a doctor-owner of nursing home) and customers felt it. He adopted systems and processes of large hospital chains and this did not work. People instinctively dislike counterfeit and imitation and even if they are dazzled for the moment, this cannot go on for a long run. Debt mounted, cutting corners started, many old patients discovered that their disease was becoming the bedrock of a young doctor to build his fortune, and fast.
  4. I advised Dr. J to leave this business – he should do what he liked most – healing people – not dealing with systems, processes, tax, regulation, authorities etc. He should make arrangements for his son to be owner and make elaborate family peace with his daughter and son in law taken in confidence. He should go back to his old days and tell everyone. This may eventually need a father-son break up but the alternative is a slow death through gangrene of relationship. He might talk with chain hospitals or diagnostic clinics to take over the facility and run that.
  5. In 2001, I was again invited for Onam feast (my last Onam in Malabar as a resident) and I found the old Dr. J. He made arrangements for his living and chamber in a self-contained area of the premise, the other half was the nursing home run by his son, a much smaller version of the original and a vacant plot was surrounded by walls and I was told that this was his daughter’s share.

Afterthought

Dr. J made certain decisions and the situation did not go worse. But he was not alone in this misplaced decision. Many top professionals believe that they would make a successful business owner in the domain where they are top professional. Many top film actors became bankrupt while becoming a producer. Many cricket players lost their place in the side after a stint of captaincy. Many freelancers – top in their game, lost both while they wanted to become business owners. And many happy men and women brought with astronomical prices – headache, trouble and devastation, while trying to own businesses, pumped up by “Great Idea” or “The next level” or “Be your own boss.”

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