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Sparring partner and entrepreneur

With Mike’s departure, the position of CEO became vacant. This responsible task is meanwhile being fulfilled by Marcel Claessen. Tried and tested as operational director at the flower and plant cooperative Royal Flora Holland, Marcel’s knowledge of the world of international wholesale and logistics is unsurpassed. The management team has also been reinforced by CFO Filip Dusée and COO Sandra van Rijswijk.

‘Staying flexible is harder the bigger you get’

In addition to advising the management, Mike likes to keep an eye on the culture and the way in which the MEG approaches the market. Those are characteristics that distinguish the MEG from its competitors, he believes. “Quality, speed and problem-solving ability, the DNA of our organization, must never go lost. And if flexibility is appreciated by customers, then you have to keep it. But that’s difficult when you’re constantly growing. It gets more bureaucratic, because communication occupies more disks. So the point is to find the right balance between growth and flexibility. That’s what I keep thinking about.”

The circle is complete

Now that Mike is starting to do more again, the circle is complete. The craving for entrepreneurship brought him to the MEG in 1988, which at the time was an export syndicate of medical SMEs. Brought in as export manager, he saw, just like the then director Hans de Rooij, huge opportunities for the MEG in developing countries. “The MEG was already doing business with the WHO, but there were more UN organizations such as UNICEF, UNFPA and other NGOs with the need for a medical wholesaler.” With De Rooij, he bought out the then shareholders and together they directed the focus of the MEG fully onto this market.

The change of course turned out well. Because the MEG also actively focused on the trend-setting organizations, these suddenly had a lot to choose from in the market. “Until then, they specifically did business with a foundation,” explains Mike. “There was a need for an alternative and, in the eyes of a number of large buyers, the foundation also did not excel in service.” So there was a huge chance that Mike grabbed with both hands. “We were liked because of our personal customer approach. We really put the customer at the center and built the organization around that. The nucleus was to deliver on promises and constantly strive to exceed expectations. Bit by bit, customers began to increasingly appreciate our flexibility and the ability to respond quickly to changing needs.” Now, 30 years later, the MEG has grown into a renowned international medical wholesaler with about 50 customers from all over the world. From aid organizations, to NGOs to local authorities.

Milestones: pharmaceutical and medical kits

When asked about milestones that mark the history of the MEG, Mike mentions two things: expanding the range with medicines and offering medical kits. “On the advice of the WHO, we started supplying medicines in the early nineties,” Mike recalls. “It turned us into the total supplier that we still are today.” Though the introduction did not go without a hitch. Mike still remembers how he was called on the carpet by the Netherlands Healthcare Inspectorate because the MEG did not have a license for the sale of medicines. “Fortunately, the inspectorate were very helpful to us in still obtaining the license. They also realized that healthcare in developing countries would benefit from that.”

“Kits are the ideal solution for emergency situations”

Mike and his team saw a new market in the supply of emergency medical kits. In the nineties, the MEG responded to the demand for kits due to the Balkan crisis. And winning the WHO tender for interagency emergency health kits (IEHK) in 2003 decisively put the MEG on the map as a leading player. “Customers like the kits. They are the ideal solution in emergency situations, when there is hardly any time for sourcing and quality control of products.” At the same time, the kits, which are available as standard and made-to-measure, are a way to distinguish oneself from manufacturers. “When selling individual products, we experience increasing competition from manufacturers who do business directly with buyers. When it comes to the kits, we add value that a manufacturer cannot deliver. A kit can be a small box with medicines and disposables such as surgical gloves. But also a number of pallets including basic medicines, disposables, instruments and blood pressure monitors.”

Fighting infectious diseases

At the end of the last century, our Western world increasingly took care of developing countries. “The US PEPFAR initiative in 2003, which launched the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic, is an example of that,” says Mike. “More funds became available and the donors placed more emphasis on professionalization of the supply chain, among other things. In that sense, the MEG was on the crest of a wave, because this led to a rapidly growing demand for our form of service provision.”

Mike still sometimes gets the blame for profiting from the suffering of others. A comment that he always refutes with a question: ‘If your dentist helps you get rid of your toothache, are you then going to be angry when he sends a bill?’ ‘No,’ is his reply, ‘because it is a fact of life that medical care costs money.’ “I do think it is our job and responsibility to keep the balance between profitability and good healthcare. One of them may not be at the expense of the other, and vice versa. We have guaranteed that with our Ethical Code.”

He is filled with pride when he considers all the changes and milestones of the past 40 years. The ‘salesman’ in Mike can also still take pleasure from having dragged in a long-term agreement for UNICEF, fifteen years ago. He is happy to think back to the weeks of hard work until late at night, how an employee personally delivered the quotation to the head office in Copenhagen. And the relief of the message and the party that followed. “The great thing is that we are still working with UNICEF now.”

‘We are going to be present much more in the countries themselves. Opening offices, collaborating with local suppliers and building up a market there’

Changing market

Out of that collaboration with UNICEF, the NICU project in Ethiopia was born: the delivery of neonatal intensive care units for (premature) babies to 80 hospitals. This project is one of the results of the new course that has been charted. This strategy is a response to the ever more rapidly changing market conditions. For example, the flow of money and decision-making are moving more from the ‘West’, where the NGOs operate, to the countries themselves. The entrepreneur Mike sees opportunities in that change. “I would like to see an MEG that is much more present in the countries themselves. That opens offices, collaborates with local partners and builds up a market there. That builds a bridge between our suppliers and local buyers. This does require a transformation of our company.”

But is at the top of the list of objectives and ambitions as far as Mike is concerned is reliability of supply. “That is ultimately what counts for our customers. For me it’s not about our being the biggest, but the best. Making sure that the right things arrive at the right place on time. Unfortunately, due to the fierce growth of recent years, this doesn’t always go well. But we’re doing everything we can to get that back. I know for sure that this is going to work.”

Questions? Please ask them

Medical Export Group