Few doctors have put their amateur-dramatics skills to such profitable use as Dr Harry Brnjes. As a teenager he balanced his studies with a budding career as a redcoat at Butlins.
Later, while he studied medicine at Guy's Hospital, he spent his spare time playing small roles in TV shows and musicals. But aged 25 he packed in his part-time acting, for the time being, and devoted his time to his medical career.
After a few years working as a GP, by 1993 Brnjes had spotted a business opportunity. "I noticed that patients were increasingly willing to pay for private healthcare." Usually that was because they were covered by insurance, or needed a specific check-up for legal reasons. Brnjes realised the NHS was set up as the perfect springboard for a would-be entrepreneur.
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"You could scale down your NHS hours to three-quarters or half-time, which allowed you to try other things." So he decided to take the plunge and rent rooms in London's Harley Street. That immediately opened up a large market of insurance companies and legal firms for his new firm, Premier Medical Group.
"I tried all of the marketing tricks in the book. But building a good reputation was one of the most important." Brnjes also employed his secret weapon those rusty showbiz skills. "I would perform at clients' charity auctions and speak after dinners." Brnjes soon became very well known in legal medical circles.
By 1996 he had decided to recruit some doctor friends into the business. "I would find the work, rent offices around the country and handle the administration, while they would take care of some of the medical duties."
As sales grew, Brnjes began to invest in new, larger offices, administration staff and marketing. "It was a stretch financially. I took out loans with the banks and had my house on the line."
Then, in 2003, he persuaded Bupa's head of innovation, Jason Powell, to quit the healthcare giant and join Premier Medical Group. Powell received a chunk of equity in the business and immediate promotion to CEO.
"I didn't mind sharing my business and handing over some power. The biggest mistake proprietary entrepreneurs make is that they don't want to share." Together the duo drew up plans to take the firm to the next stage. "So far I'd grown the business organically, but now it was time to go down the acquisition path."
They began buying up smaller competitors and merging them with Premier Medical Group. Most of the purchases were funded by Premier's cash flow, but for really big buys, such as the 2007 £30m deal for Medico-Legal Reporting, a large competitor, he partnered with private-equity firms. Even when the crisis hit, Premier Medical Group, now in solid shape, continued to grow. Indeed, in 2010 Capita made a £60m offer, which Brnjes accepted.
With cash in his pocket Brnjes began looking for new business opportunities. Last year, he founded the Woodsta Investment Fund to invest in pioneering healthcare companies.
To date, its main purchase is Dr Newman's Clinic, a firm that uses proprietary microwave technology to remove thread veins. Having attracted investment from some of his former doctors Brnjes is now expanding Newman's nationwide and expects sales to hit £20m next year.
He's also keenly looking for investments in obesity or elderly care, two rising challenges that he expects to create "massive investment opportunities" in the coming years.
James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a NCTJ certificate in journalism.
After working as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries, and a spell at ITV, James wrote for Television Business International and covered the European equity markets for the Forbes.com London bureau.
James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report.
He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.
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