To set up a company, one needs multiple skills, but to make it an institution there is one additional, essential, foundational extra- “VALUES”.
As Mahatma Gandhi said
“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny”
The institution in many ways is a reflection of the leader, and its value system is built on the edifice of the leader’s own. For 15 years, that leadership in Fortis was provided by Mr. Shivinder Mohan Singh- simply SMS Sir for me (for some reason, which I never had the temerity to question, I was KW for him instead of the more understandable KJ or KS!), shaping it into a brand that symbolized the best of Private Healthcare in India. At the core of this system stood the pillars of SMS Sir’s personal values, and it is one of these I pick to write about today.
I pondered whether to call it People Centricity or Compassion, Mentorship or Empathy… finally settling for the warmer, more personal, yet all-encompassing appellation “CARE”. When you call a Fortis phone, the Welcome tune says “Fortis, your caring hospital”. The “caring” part comes from SMS Sir himself, and has manifested it to all of us in so many ways and at so many times. I hope my anecdotes will, in some small way, flesh out this basic, intensely personal value of Sir’s life.
I wasn’t among the lucky “originals” who were part of Sir’s team that set up Fortis Mohali, but my wife was among those privileged few, and I often used to hang around in the hospital when I came to pick her up. It was a family, those originals, and as Gagan’s husband, I was accepted as a relative (? in law!) by association; a well-meaning, friendly interloper. On one of those occasions, as I ambled around the hospital, SMS Sir espied me from his office and motioned for me to enter. He held up two sarees, explaining that these were the choices he had shortlisted for the Front Office and asked “which one would look better on your wife?” He could have ignored me- there were enough important things for him to do- yet he chose to make a warmly welcoming gesture to make me feel involved in that “originals” family. The fact that he finally selected the print that I had rejected is a different story!
Almost 10 years later I joined Fortis myself and, in Fortis Vasant Kunj where he retained a Delhi office, had far more interaction with SMS Sir. I was new in Hospital Administration, and unsure about my capabilities, a little lost and trying too hard to focus on everything. He asked me about a patient’s medical status, and I quickly replied that I would ask the MS. “Why?” he said “aren’t you a doctor too?” I replied truthfully, that I hadn’t practised medicine for some time now, and my job role was in General Administration. That was when he gave me a rollicking that remains fresh in my mind, ten years later. “You are a doctor, and always will be”, he said, “That’s you biggest strength when you are working in a hospital. Don’t let your role define you, instead let yourself define your role. Use your strengths- Doctors are more comfortable with other medicos than pure Administrators, patients are more comfortable with doctors. You can explain the things that Consultants don’t have time for, in a language that patients can understand. You can understand what a non-medico never will, and react better to any situation. Never ignore your core”. That pep talk(!) changed my professional life, and helped me grow to a different level. He would sometimes personally meet patients who were admitted, taking me along. His understanding of the concepts of Medicine was (and is) profound, he would quickly grasp the patient’s situation from a short briefing interspersed with incisive questions (to which you had better know the answers!), and then explain things clearly and succinctly to the relatives. For me, and for those admitted in his hospital- he cared.
In review meetings, we seldom focussed only on Financials. SMS Sir built a system where FOS, a series of metrices for measuring delivery of services to patients across Departments, became a bedrock. Patient complaints and feedback was always taken seriously and corrective action initiated, even if it meant changing established processes. For the quality of care Fortis delivered- he cared
By this time, Fortis had more than 40 hospitals, and 10,000 employees, yet he would greet each staff member as if they were special to him (which they were). He would enquire about family (often by the spouse and children’s names), remember if someone had a problem and ask about it. He would pounce on any mistake, but seldom leave without an encouraging word. For those who worked in Fortis- he cared.
And then, at the peak of his professional career, with Fortis the top Hospital name in India, the Monk sold his Ferrari, left Fortis and went to serve in an Institution that provides spiritual guidance, charity and care to millions. For those who were in need- he cared.
There are so many times that I have asked him for personal help in different situations, and even during his most “testing times”, even when I was no longer part of the Fortis group, he has always been there to help. HE CARES.
And today, from all of us, who’s lives he has touched and brightened in innumerable ways, I want to tell him- Sir, you are not alone…WE CARE.
Aaron Lauristen, in his iconic book 100 Days Drive: The Great North American Road Trip” has put into words two messages I wish to deliver to Sir.
“Life’s trials will test you, and shape you, but don’t let them change who you are”
“There is a strange comfort in knowing that no matter what happens today, the Sun will rise again tomorrow”
Sir, we are looking forward to being part of that journey into the brightness of tomorrow