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Business briefs: Belfast bizman has a healthy approach to China challenge

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Stephen McKinley

A Belfast businessman is about to make a foray into the world of Chinese health care.

Brian O’Connor, chairman of Hong Kong-based Quality Health Care Asia Ltd., hopes to set up a chain of private medical clinics aimed at wealthy Chinese and corporate types.

Since the British left Hong Kong in 1997, O’Connor’s business has bucked the trend and expanded. It is now Hong Kong’s biggest private health care provider, and the territory’s first listed health care company, with 1,000 staff, including 450 doctors, and has 150,000 patient consultations a month.

“We cover all of the territory of Hong Kong. Eighty percent of our business comes from corporate clients,” O’Connor said.

“We are looking for growth outside of Hong Kong and China is an obvious target for us,” he said during an interview in his Hong Kong office.

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“We hope to finish the deliberation stage of the move in the next six weeks, and to announce our first move one month after that.”

O’Connor began his business career in 1961 at the age of 16 with Williams Travel. He later founded a travel agency and tour operating business on the Isle of Man, and in 1987 established CrestaCare plc., now one of the largest private healthcare providers in Britain.

Irish market slumps

The world’s stock markets started to do better in the last few weeks — apart from Ireland’s ISEQ, which remained in the doldrums.

The index was down 9.1 percent as the accounting issues of pharmaceutical firm Elan, and AIB’s fraud losses weighed the market down.

British and U.S. stocks both performed well in the last week.

“Sentiment is becoming marginally more positive, people are becoming more confident on the outlook for external demand, and that’s helping lift the market,” said UBS Warburg UK strategist Darren Winder.

“I think there will be continued evidence of economic recovery coming through, the key thing to watch for is how soon this translates into more positive statements and profits upgrades from the corporate sector,” said John Hatherly, head of global analysis at M&G Asset Management.

Thinking immigration

The Open Republic, Ireland’s free market think tank, offers its opinion on the immigration issue this month.

“Immigrant labor is a solution to the labour shortages that threaten . . . economic stability,” the think tank’s members said.

“At present Irish migration policy is not, however, aimed to encourage

foreign workers, and like many other European countries; Ireland’s borders are tightening.”

“It is inevitable that foreigners, from tourists and laborers, to students and asylum seekers, will continue to migrate throughout the 21st century. Ethnic diversification is not a Western European problem, but a global reality.”

Non-nationals will not make the Irish less Irish. More in-depth qualitative analysis will help to explain if it is only a coincidence that current discretion against immigrants is a haunting reminder of how many Irish emigrants were treated in the past.”

Airtel losing air

Airtel ATN, provider of software to the aviation industry, suffered a double blow this week.

Reports the Irish Examiner, revenue fell from euro 732,029 to euro 477,395.

And chairperson Dick Spring, former leader of the Labor Party and tanaiste, also had to cope with the loss of chief executive Kevin Jones, who resigned.

“Having reviewed the company’s performance for the past three years and the current state of the market in which it operates, we recognize that the market is not developing as quickly as was originally expected,” Jones said. “Therefore, the firm’s primary challenge for the foreseeable future will be to acquire sufficient new business to cover ongoing costs.

“With this news as a backdrop, the Board has moved immediately to take the necessary corrective action to bring projected costs in line with this new business paradigm.”

Robinson on the attack

Stormont Regional Development Minister and DUP deputy Peter Robinson went on the attack last week — but refreshingly his target was not a traditional one. Instead he lashed out at the state of Northern Ireland’s public transport.

Visiting Rouen in France, Robinson saw a 21st century railway in operation, on the first leg of a trip to see light railroads and bus systems in three European cities.

Robinson will then report back to Stormont for the Northern Ireland Assembly report on a new transit system for Belfast and the province at large.

“Let’s be honest,” he said, “they haven’t had a very attractive system. What we want is to give people a public transport system that is faster, more comfortable and more reliable.”

In Rouen, he met transport chiefs in charge of moving 400,000 people in the major population centre north-west of Paris.

“Light rail is attractive but more expensive and also less flexible,” mused Robinson.

“I’m impressed by this system which gives the feel of a train but gives the flexibility of a bus.

“If we can have roads which are reserved for its use, and priority given where it has to share road space with other traffic, then it would be a very attractive proposition for people looking to get to their business and leisure activities with greater speed, comfort and reliability.”

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