This month, we’re celebrating the successes of savvy expatriates and Singaporeans, as well as the setbacks they overcame, to make life better in Singapore in our Expatpreneur Awards 2017.
After opening a first dental clinic in Singapore in 1997, Aussie native Dr. Marcus Cooney’s business doubled.
So, in 2001 he opened Smilefocus, which doubled again in 2004 with an additional office in the Camden Medical Centre. It has expanded four more times since 2007, and currently employs 15 dentists and 40 support staff.
In fact, during Smilefocus’s early years, and “living and breathing” the business with his now-retired wife, Angela, Dr. Marcus says, “We reached a point where the business was too big. Subsequently, we downsized a little.”
More on The Finder:
Expatpreneur Awards 2017: This Expat Couple Moved To Singapore As An “Adventure Together”
Expatpreneur Awards 2017: How Passion Inspired This Expat To Move To Singapore To Build His Business
Read his story and the ups and downs of his business below (and find out how we picked the awardees here)!
Singapore wasn’t Dr. Marcus’s first rodeo, as the saying goes.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Dental Surgery from the University of Adelaide, he set up his first practice in a nearby country town of Balhannah, South Australia. He opened an additional practice in Uraidla, SA, and finally went into partnership in Adelaide in 1987.”
By 1993, he had sold all practices.
The idea of establishing his own dental practice in Singapore began as a result of “lots of conversations at bus stops,” recounts Dr. Marcus, who moved here from Australia with his family in 1994.
“My wife, Angela, was a marketing consultant and felt that Singapore was a golden opportunity to set up an expat-targeted clinic,” he says.
“She was absolutely right: We offered premium dentistry in an environment that was familiar and comforting to expats, and business grew year to year.”
That said, they faced their fair share of setbacks and struggles as well.
For one, getting a loan was challenging. “It took me three years to save enough capital to put into our first office,” Dr. Marcus shares. The high cost of living in Singapore was also a challenge for his family.
Fortunately, it didn’t take too long for the business to turn a profit, largely due to Dr. Marcus’s understanding that expats often look for dialogue and trust in a situation where they might feel vunerable. He also believes that the expat community, as a whole, has high standards. Over the years, both expats and Singaporeans have been attracted by his practices’ modern equipment and top-notch care and attention. “If you can deliver,” he says, “success is guaranteed.”
“Our biggest setback was when I decided to get an external business consultant to advise on new strategies and further growth,” Dr. Marcus reveals.
“We engaged in changes that were more corporate and less personal than our core philosophy had been. The negative effect to staff and clientele took many months to rectify.”
Smilefocus will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year.
A decade ago, before being named one of The Finder’s first-ever Expatpreneur Awardees this year, he won an Austcham Singapore Entrepreneur Award in 2007.
“I had never regarded myself as entrepreneurial. Only in hindsight did I realise that my restlessness and ambition were the symptoms of a curious affliction,” he chuckles.
The good doctor, who admits he is looking forward to retiring soon, fondly muses that moving to Singapore was one of the most rewarding risks he’s ever taken.
“Our time here has been filled with memorable people and experiences, and our children look at life from a global perspective.”
By Sara Lyle Bow, The Finder (Issue 280), March 2017
Like this? Read more expatpreneur stories here,