HCM has been specialising in the outsourcing of medical representatives since 1998. HCM’s consultants work as ‘medical liaisons’ for pharmaceutical companies and other life sciences companies. They advise doctors, pharmacists, hospitals and other healthcare institutions on the effects and benefits of registered medicines and other products. The HCM team currently numbers 25 highly trained employees with medical and commercial backgrounds.
“HCM is a financially healthy and profitable company with experienced employees”, says Robert Huybrechts, founder and manager of HCM. “To ensure the continuity of my business after my retirement, I was looking for a reliable acquirer with the necessary knowledge and experience who shared my philosophy and passion. I immediately clicked with Bert Pauwels and I’m looking forward to working with his team. HCM was a small family, but from now on we’re part of a large family.”
“HCM represents a part of the life sciences market where we weren’t active”, continues Bert Pauwels. “We were already providing our life sciences customers with support in almost all preproduction, production and postproduction phases. The acquisition of HCM means we now have an experienced team on board that can advise doctors, hospitals and other healthcare institutions on the effects and benefits of our customers’ products. This acquisition broadens our services for our life sciences customers significantly.”
Pauwels Consulting is acquiring all HCM’s services and employees. Founder Robert Huybrechts will remain on board even after the transition process to further expand the services under the Pauwels Consulting flag. After this acquisition, the Pauwels Consulting team will have a total of more than 600 experts in the fields of life sciences, engineering and IT.
Gentlemen, congratulations on this agreement! Robert, can you introduce yourself briefly?
Robert: I’m Robert Huybrechts, 64 years old, married and (grand)father of three sons and three grandchildren. I started my career as a medical representative in the health industry, where I advised doctors on the effects and benefits, in a first phase, of existing medicines and, in a second phase, of experimental medicines. It meant I was the ‘medical liaison’ between doctors and the pharmaceutical manufacturer I was working for. An exciting job! In just over twenty years, I had five jobs at various international companies in the pharmaceutical and dental sector. For example, I was a product manager and a sales and marketing director.
I learned important things at every ‘foreign’ company. At my Japanese employer, I learned to compromise, I learned scientific rigor from my Swiss colleagues, I learned to speak to an audience at a French company and in America I learned some important financial lessons. I’ve travelled a lot, which has been hard but instructive!
How and when did you start Health Care Management?
Robert: In 1998, I was at a crossroads in my life. My employer at the time was restructuring and my position as European sales and marketing director was decentralised. I had to decide between looking for a new job in the health sector or starting my own business. It didn’t take me long to realise that starting my own business was the next step I wanted to risk.
Just before the end of my first year, I signed my first customer. The second customer followed quickly and that’s how HCM was born. In the beginning, HCM mainly provided medical representatives to pharmaceutical companies. Later, we also specialised in bespoke projects.
How does HCM position itself in this competitive market?
Robert: There are two major international outsourcing specialists for medical representatives in the life sciences industry. These companies dominate approximately 70 % of the market. There are also local players, such as HCM. We support life sciences companies with the promotion of new products, products that are not part of their core business or products for which there are (as yet) no internal advisors. Each of our consultants is responsible for commercialising up to three products of one manufacturer or three non-conflicting products of different manufacturers. Our work is very personal. We really know our customers and their products.
We never intended to make HCM one of the larger players, but we did want to be a qualitative and serious player that was taken into account. We got to where we are by working hard, acting proactively and being honest and passionate.
I’m proud that our transparency and honest approach have made HCM one of the most profitable companies in the sector. Our team now numbers 25 people and we operate in Belgium and Luxembourg. In Belgium, we’re also the ‘oldest’ company that has never undergone substantial changes, such as an acquisition or joint venture.
Bert, I see that you agree with Robert?
Bert: Indeed, that’s what I call entrepreneurship. Initially, those were the cultural characteristics that I noticed most about Robert and his company. They played a decisive role in the acquisition. HCM matches the values and vision of Pauwels Consulting perfectly. At Pauwels Consulting, we also work hard for and alongside our customers and consultants, day in day out. That can only be maintained with passion.
How does this acquisition fit in with your plans?
Robert: There’s still a lot of potential in the health market, so I hope this acquisition represents the start of a second period of rapid growth for HCM.
Bert: HCM represents a part of the life sciences market where we weren’t active. We were already providing our life sciences customers with support in almost all preproduction, production and postproduction phases. The acquisition of HCM means we now have an experienced team on board that can advise doctors, hospitals and other healthcare institutions on the effects and benefits of unknown or little-known registered medicines. This cooperation therefore broadens our services significantly. From now on, we can also help our life sciences customers to marketing their medicines.
Robert: All our employees have (para)medical or scientific training, alongside relevant commercial skills. They’re flexible, enthusiastic and hypermotivated and therefore a great asset to life sciences companies that have too few people to promote their entire product portfolio. I still anticipate lots of growth in the world of medical consultancy.
Looking at consultancy services in other European countries, I notice that Belgium is lagging behind to some extent. The employees at European organisations tend to be 80 % permanent staff and 20 % freelancers or consultants. In Belgium, only 10 % are consultants. That’s why I believe the market for consultancy services in Belgium will continue to grow.
In that case, why did you decide to leave HCM?
Robert: Although I’m only 64 years old, I want to enjoy life more with my wife, children and grandchildren. Before I could take this step, I wanted to leave HCM in good hands. Since my children are incredibly busy with their own careers and businesses, I decided to look for a suitable acquirer. An acquirer with the same philosophy and drive and with which I could continue to cooperate well.
How did you come into contact with Bert and Pauwels Consulting?
Robert: I had a good friend and advisor with whom I’d been working for a while. He knew that I was looking for someone to take over HCM and take good care of it. It had to be someone with knowledge and experience and, preferably, someone with whom I clicked immediately. In addition, I followed the acquisition of Vandycke & Partners and Mediconsult from the sidelines. Businessman Michel Vandycke, an acquaintance of mine, successfully left these companies to Pauwels Consulting. Everything was pointing to Bert Pauwels and Pauwels Consulting, so here we are! I’m very satisfied with the entire process. I’m also very grateful that my oldest son has been at my side giving support the whole time.
Bert: The transaction was conducted in a very friendly manner, right from the first meeting to the signature! Robert and I clicked right away. During such conversations, I always try to see things from the other person’s perspective. I always wonder how I would feel if I was sitting on the other side of the table. That’s the only attitude that allows you to complete a positive and, above all, balanced transaction. That’s exactly what happened.
Charles Antoine, Robert’s son, did indeed play a special role in all this. He’s very positive. That certainly had a good impact on the negotiations. While it was an emotional process for Robert, Charles Antoine played the part of the rational voice perfectly.
You seem to have become friends!
Bert: Yes, you could put it that way! We’ve now known each other for a little over two years and as an entrepreneur, I always enjoy meeting like-minded people. I’ve noticed that Robert has the same philosophy and approach as me. A problem is therefore not a problem for us: it’s the sum of a number of smaller challenges that you have to face! I’m pleased that Robert and I can now take on those challenges together.
Do you have any concrete plans for the future, Robert?
Robert: During the transition period, I will ensure that everything runs smoothly. However, I don’t want to stop there. Afterwards, I will also continue to work for the expansion of our services under the Pauwels Consulting flag, so I’m not planning on leaving quite yet.
It’s reassuring to know that my life’s work is in good hands and that I can continue to work on a common vision, without having to worry about my succession. And, of course, I’m going to enjoy life together with my family more from time to time.
Bert: Rightly so. You should definitely do that, Robert. You’ve more than earned it!
Thank you very much for this conversation, gentlemen, and good luck with this new cooperation.