Craig McLaren is a well-versed businessman who possesses an array of knowledge in healthcare infrastructure – logistics, supply chain – and business practice within Africa. Born in Scotland, raised in Zambia, and having lived for many years in the Middle-East, Craig has always valued and respected the diversity in peoples’ cultures and livelihoods. This understanding of these differences from a young age equipped him with the necessary skills to become Area Managing Director for Johnson and Johnson (J&J), encompassing Africa and the Middle-East. Craig has been influential in developing healthcare businesses in Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
His extensive and expansive network across Africa, developed over his many years spent on the continent – stronger in some versus others – means that he is probably a phone call away from a network connection who can link him with relevant people – commercially and at government level.
His key commercial networks exist through local distributors, J&J management in the countries mentioned above, industry trade associations he was instrumental in developing and at government level through their Ministries of Health.
Keynote achievements of his successful career include the collaboration with East & West Africa Colleges of Surgery for the establishment of dry skills labs for surgical skills training, a wet lab in Sharjah in UAE consisting of three-way cooperation between the UAE Ministry of Health, Sharjah University and J&J and the overall development of healthcare infrastructure across the Middle East and Africa. In addition, Craig prides himself in overcoming the grand challenge of bringing sense to the development of regulations across the region for medical devices but also to introduce a code of conduct to the industry and in particular to their distributor partners — ‘healthcare compliance.” This is now a set of standards aimed at stamping out unfair and corrupt practices and is a key requirement for Mecomed membership; a trade association Craig aided in developing during his tenure.
His 30+ year career is admirable not only in respect of the positive business impact he contributed to but also with regard to the promotion of successful corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives in many of these markets during his postings.
What did your work with J&J consist of?
His first posting with the company led him to manage a small office responsible for coordinating business opportunities between gulf countries. In 1997, Craig was promoted to become the Managing Director for the Middle East for J&J which was responsible for the medical device and diagnostic business units.
Recognising his potential, Craig was then posted in Europe as a Vice president, where he was responsible for supporting 6 European Heads of business providing value propositions for e-business as well as spearheading the quality institute in EMEA. During this time Craig enhanced his skills in communication, strategic planning and quality/business process improvement. His successes in this role equipped him to become an Area Managing Director responsible for the Middle-East and part of Southern Europe. Craig moved back to Dubai in 2010 and took on the responsibility of expanding J&J’s reach in African countries, together with expanding the business hub to manage Turkey, Middle East and Pakistan. He was tasked to devise a regional structure for the 6 operating companies under his wing. With this monumental task, Craig was sure to take divergent approaches between the Middle-East, Africa, Europe and Asia as they require “completely different market strategies due to the massive difference in healthcare spending between the regions.” Under J&J, Craig swiftly moved on to maintain numerous senior-level positions in emerging markets as well as in Europe. In total, Craig managed 14 business units for J&J across 80 different countries in his role as Area Managing Director with responsibility for Turkey, Middle East and Africa.
What was your biggest challenge in operating businesses in Africa and the Middle-east?
When doing business across regions, Craig finds it pertinent to understand local cultural nuances. “You cannot lump all of Francophone Africa into one. The Maghreb region, for example, has several cultural challenges between themselves which are important to address in a market appropriate way. You’re working environment and your team will not succeed and get along if you are unaware of how these cultures interact with one another.” To address these differences, Craig shifted his strategy in Africa to segment it not simply by country but further through distinguishing between rural and urban areas.
Additionally, culture can also be seen as the behavioural style of companies in the region. This can be influenced and shaped by a focused recruitment strategy so that the right profile of individuals joining will positively impact the local company cultures. Approaching his business strategies this way allowed Craig to successfully impact J&J’s presence in 80 countries between the continents.
How would you describe your engagement with the government? What were your challenges in this regard? Do you have any best practices advice?
Engaging with as many governments and key stakeholders as possible is crucial to the success of your businesses in Africa, but the key is deciphering who holds influence and the power of decision making in each market/country. One of the challenges becomes being able to understand and address the needs of the country and government you are doing business with so you can match your value proposition accordingly.
“From a J&J perspective we divided Africa into the relevance of size, opportunity and market need which allowed us to make meaningful contributions in the major focus markets we worked in; these consisted of Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa”. One of the challenges with government whilst working in the healthcare sector is making it clear that you are a business and not a charity, however with the narrative and intention of doing business within a country for a long period time, corporate social responsibility kicks in and addresses some of the major concerns and needs a nation would face such as healthcare professional’s training and other infrastructure requirements.
Craig engaged with various senior healthcare stakeholders and heads of peer healthcare organisations to better recognise the gaps in the market and the major issues of concern for the industry. In the process of doing this Craig helped to establish Mecomed, a healthcare technology trade association covering the MENA (Middle-East and North Africa) region. Mecomedhas now become the primary communication conduit for multinationals in dealing with government stakeholders, such as regulators.
What was your greatest challenge working with healthcare in Africa?
“Policy and healthcare compliance.” Working in Africa has its challenges and at J&J, the company prides itself in the responsibility it takes over its business partners and distributors. “In my early years the markets in Africa were only accessed via local distributors and so the real intimacy with customers was very remote. Additionally, there was no real control over the distributor, the quality of their reps etc.”
J&J have high compliance standards, meaning every employee and engagement is considered to be an extension of the company itself; thus, there is no room for leniency with regard to ethics and standards of behaviour when dealing with the local business challenges. “When I left, we had a clear set of values and vision for the businesses, for our customers and the communities we serviced locally through locally based partners as distributors.” Craig also paired these local distributors together with locally-based J&J managers in Africa to bring extra support to the distributors but also to manage key relationships with healthcare professionals, institutions and other key stakeholders.
The key was aligning all intermediaries to the same goals, as they were in effect an extension of our brand on the ground. The biggest impacts were in Egypt and East Africa. In addition, all markets are at a different place in their evolution and the set of challenges are often different. South Africa, for example, has a very developed and sophisticated private healthcare market where skill and capacity is good but access is limited. The accessible market in South Africa — the public sector — is underdeveloped and underfunded and therefore the relative difference in the quality of life and care varies dramatically between private and public.
The other common challenge across the continent is access to health in rural versus urban areas ( e.g. primary care for basic needs such as inoculations). The overwhelming need across the continent is for resources, but the resource most needed and often underserved is in the number of and the capability of healthcare professionals. So, training and numbers are the real issues, with infrastructure needs coming next.
What do you say to the narrative that working in Africa is more effort than it is worth?
“This is a terrible preconception, and those that believe it simply do not understand Africa and the opportunity it presents.” Craig finds that investing in Africa is a long-term plan and opportunity. The West sees the continent as having a slow return on investment and lose patience, however, China sees it otherwise and have gained a foothold on the continent. “You can create real sustainable value in Africa and SABA sees this opportunity.” Craig also personally believes that the world has benefited from taking the most precious of resources from Africa and they should ‘wake up’ to their responsibility to invest in and aid in the continent to a more sustainable progression of economic development.
What community impact did you have on the regions you work with? A community can be defined as both government and people.
When doing business in Africa, it is crucial to know your intentions; are your interests long term or short-term? Where your intentions are long-term, a good CSR strategy for local communities is crucial to the success of your business because not only does this gain goodwill with authorities but the impact on the community and your brand is unmeasurable.
J&J’s CSR work contributed to the development of the healthcare sector in terms of healthcare capacity and capability, which in turn comes full circle in aiding the success of the company in the long run. Craig lobbied for the establishment of several partnerships between J&J and local teaching hospitals. As mentioned previously, this consists of the creation of ‘dry labs’ for on-site simulation training of medical professionals’ skills in Kenya, Ghana and South Africa. “We also opened a wet lab facility in Sharjah, UAE with a faculty that also involved surgeons from Africa, so that the more advanced surgical techniques could be taught.” At its core, reinvesting in the community, especially in the healthcare sector benefits the progression and expansion of the sector as a whole.
In terms of ‘government/trade-specific community,’ the biggest was Mecomed which was a concept to bring the benefits of an industry voice for medical technology manufacturers to the emerging markets of the Middle East and Africa, and in particular with their regulators (the model for us was Eucomed, the trade association in Europe for medical technology). This now saves every company from the duplication of effort and it means that the same messages are received by all at the same time.
Initially, Mecomed was founded by 6 regional business heads and it now represents over 35 organisations — approximately 80% of the industry. The early focus was on the Middle East and North Africa, but now their reach extends to Sub Sharan Africa.
What do you do now?
Craig is a Non-Executive Director, Trustee, Business Advisor and Executive Coach. He is now responsible for assessing, managing and developing business strategy, strategic thinking, employee engagement and the effectiveness of teams for small and medium-sized businesses in his capacity as a business advisor. Craig is passionate about teams and culture development in organisations. “Where there is a good business culture in a team or organisation, you can execute strategy much more effectively.”
How and why are you involved with SABA? What is your hope for SABA?
Craig was approached by the Chairman, John Paterson to join the board of SABA during its conception. Getting involved with an organisation like SABA wasn’t ever a question as it combines his two geographic passions — Scotland and Africa under one roof. He also knew John from many moons ago when they were both residents in Dubai and had often discussed the challenges facing Africa. “I hope SABA grows into the African market and becomes a trusted partner to connect needs and opportunities with services and solutions between Africa and Scotland. SABA’s potential to be a major connector in the investment facilitation process is vast.” Craig’s expertise in healthcare and regional management makes him a valued board member, this Global Scot is a major asset to SABA and its network.