One of the most fascinating career progressions one could ever come across, Ramesh Rajentheran, has experienced some of the most coveted professional roles across various industries. Join us in conversation with Ramesh as we dive deep into his journey from an ASEAN scholar at Raffles Junior College to a Surgeon, Investment Banker, C-Suite at a large Healthcare group and now a start-up founder.
What were you like as a student at RJC?
At that point, I was unsure of my career path and ambition. This naturally led me to end up with the commonly chosen three-science or triple science combination during my A-levels at Raffles. I was also spending a lot of time playing for the school’s Hockey team, which we had a lot of success with.
What did you take away from your time in junior college?
Long-lasting friendships were the most important, especially those from my hockey team. We still keep in touch with one another, reminiscing the glory days. Our hockey coach instilled great discipline in the group. There used to be a rule that before we were even allowed to pick up hockey sticks in training, we had to run a 2.4km in under 10 minutes.
Such regimented routines set the bar high for us, as we had to be disciplined to maintain our fitness before working on our in-game skills. Facing these challenges regularly honed our unwavering mentality, to which I attribute my confidence and discipline to my time on the Raffles Hockey team.
What were some highlights from your day at University?
I was fortunate to receive the Commonwealth Scholarship. It offered me the opportunity to study in any course without a bond. As I was looking for a more hands-on experience, Newcastle University presented itself as a great option. They allowed undergraduates to work hands-on with patients from our first year instead of our third year.
Despite not being my top choice initially, I was blown away by the generosity and hospitality of the people on a trip to Newcastle, which convinced me to stay for my entire medical undergraduate years. The highlights were undoubtedly the kind people and friends I made. I learned to be open-minded and try new things, even if it meant stepping out of my comfort zone.
My professor at Newcastle was also very supportive. Working with him on a research piece, I was able to publish a research paper before graduation - a distinctive accomplishment for an undergraduate back in the day.
After graduating from university, what stood out to you about being a surgeon?
I was in general surgery for about three and a half years. The gruelling environment taught me to become strong and take responsibility. Dealing with pressure was an important lesson since you are always just one irreversible mistake away from a disaster. I was in charge of making decisions in life and death situations. I even led my first team of doctors on a cardiac arrest case a month into my career.
Back in the 1990s, the “dead” shift still existed. The “dead” shift was a 72-hour, consecutive shift that often left surgeons on the brink of exhaustion. While such practices have since been made illegal, it was expected of us when I first started my career. I was thrown into the deep end with my first “dead” shift in my first week. Crying from exhaustion, I recalled going through 6 cardiac arrest cases in two days while having one meal a day with two hours of sleep. I can still envision the vivid image of human organ fluids on my scrubs as I rushed to my next patient whilst battling hunger and sleep deprivation.
Pressure aside, the tremendous sense of pride in helping patients is unmatched. I had the fortune to pioneer treatment for a rare type of breast cancer, which is still relevant today.
Investment Banking days
From a Surgeon to Investment Banking, what was your thought process when making the career switch?
As the protege of one of the best surgeons globally, he showed me my career trajectory for the next twenty years. Having everything mapped out may seem perfect looking in from the outside. However, that was not what I wanted.
I had a deep reflection on what I truly wanted to do. While I wanted my work to intertwine with the happenings worldwide, my profession did not allow that. Regardless of what the world has to deal with, a surgeon’s work remains the same. Furthermore, the pace of the industry was slower than what I wanted since it takes roughly a decade for any meaningful research to be published and put into practice. I figured having my career planned out added to the monotony — the lack of excitement in not knowing what to expect prompted me to look for a change.
Why business school specifically?
I have always preferred the healthcare business more than the provision of healthcare. I also love learning about the stock market and reading the Financial Times. Hence, without knowing what I would do, I sent applications to a list of reputable business schools.
How was it like adapting to life in Business School?
Year 1 in business school was an arduous journey. Having no background in financial modelling, figuring out even the basics of Excel was a nightmare. Fortunately, with the help of my friends, the transition from being a doctor was made smoother.
Was there any self-doubt transitioning from a stable job to a new and equally competitive industry?
Absolutely no. I viewed failure in the banking industry as nothing major compared to a “failure” in the world of surgery. Even a significant mistake in the financial world could hardly compare with making a mistake in the surgical room.
What was it like in your first role in investment banking?
I was on the trading floor doing equity research at UBS. The experience was good as they allowed fresh graduates to take on more responsibility and risks from day one. After six months, I was given the opportunity to cover my own stocks after several departures from the team.
How did your experience at Fullerton Health help in founding Miya Healthcare?
Being in an operational role for the first time as the CFO and COO at Fullerton Health helped tremendously. It is always easier to look in from the outside, and I only truly appreciate the difficulty of these top operational roles once I was in the hot seat. We managed to scale the business to new heights with 22 acquisitions and rapid expansion in headcount from 800 and 5000, all within 2.5 years.
What was the motivation behind Miya Healthcare?
Someone close to me endured a series of mistakes when treated for a relatively simple symptom. They were sent, admitted to the wrong doctor at the wrong time, received the wrong diagnosis, and administered improper treatment. As a result, they sadly passed away. The blow was devastating. It took a few months before I was ready to move on. Once prepared, my heart pointed me to solve this problem, preventing such mishaps from happening again by building a new product. One thing led to another; my circle of friends supported my decision through financial and emotional means. I turned down a lucrative job offer to build Miya with my conviction.
Your early days at Miya Health coincided with COVID-19; how was it coping with the pandemic?
It was challenging. We had yet to finish our first fundraising round when the pandemic hit, and so there were months when we worried about making payroll. On top of that, a startup must have a cohesive and robust culture to set standards, but we never had time to instil that. Challenging as it was, we found a way through one obstacle at a time.
You mentioned the need to establish a startup culture; what is the culture like at Miya?
We are mission-driven, fueled by our desire to reduce the inefficiency of the healthcare systems. Since day one, we are lucky to have our team buying into the vision since most of us have experienced similar challenges within the healthcare space.
What are some highlights and challenges of being a founder?
A significant challenge I face is managing people remotely. I prefer to do so physically and believe there are no proper substitutes. For me, the highlight of being a founder is when we finish our fund-raising rounds. On a day to day basis, witnessing the product taking shape from an idea is satisfying. Seeing newly implemented features work gives me a buzz, and we make sure to celebrate any small win whenever possible.
Looking back at your career till this point, what have been your highlights and lowlights?
I like to think all lowlights are essential to shaping my journey to the many notable milestones. The people that followed me throughout the years are a highlight.
Would you have done anything differently?
Honestly, there were times when I wished I did. However, I believe my past decisions allow me to be where I am today. No experience is useless, whether they are good or bad. Sometimes people could let you down, but you would learn and move on.
Reflecting on past decisions is undoubtedly essential, but I would advise not to dwell on them too much. Instead, I would try to accumulate more experiences as I could manage. Say yes to the next big adventure.