'The business plan was made with the best intentions but was overly optimistic': KIMS Hospital boss Simon James on the institution's turnaround


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KIMS Hospital, the private hospital launched in 2014, was haemorrhaging cash before Simon James became its chief executive nearly two years ago.

Immediately after taking over, he went cap in hand to investors for a £20 million injection to stabilise the company’s finances.

Its latest financial results show the hospital is still losing a lot of money, increasing losses by 4% to £15.9 million last year, but its boss gives a smile when asked about the figures.

KIMS Hospital chief executive Simon James in one of the operating rooms
KIMS Hospital chief executive Simon James in one of the operating rooms

“We are in our investment and growth phase,” he said, pointing out that revenues grew 86% to £16.4 million, while underlying losses improved 23% to £7.2 million.

“We are in excess of what we were predicting to do. In the next financial year we want turnover to get to the early £20 millions and we are on target to do that.

“We have managed to grow the hospital quite considerably and that comes through treating more patients.

"People are voting with their feet. We just want to provide choice for the people of Kent.”

It is going to take between five and seven years to get the hospital into a sustainable financial position, according to Mr James, whose recently shaved off sideburns were the remants of a movember attempt.

“We had to speak to a lot of people who had signed deals with the hospital which were based on a previous business plan...” - Simon James, KIMS Hospital

A former steel trader, he is matter of fact about the problems the hospital faced before he took over – and the changes he had to make to put it on a solid footing.

“We had to speak to a lot of people who had signed deals with the hospital which were based on a previous business plan,” he said.

“It was made with the best of intentions but was overly optimistic and people signed supply deals with us on that basis.”

An adventurer in his spare time, Mr James lives in Maidstone during the week, going home to his family in Hampshire at weekends, where his wife is a full-time carer.

KIMS Hospital chief executive Simon James
KIMS Hospital chief executive Simon James

He aims to be approachable and visible as a manager, eating in the staff canteen three or four times a week as it is “a great place to find out what’s going on”.

Given the hospital’s difficult start to life, Mr James rolled his eyes when asked about the North Kent Enterprise Zone.

The status means companies moving to the Kent Medical Campus, on which KIMS sits, receive discounted business rates. However, the hospital is located just outside the boundary.

“The only bit that sits in the zone is the car park,” said Mr James.

“I don’t know how it happened. We will make the best out of what we’ve got.

“I didn’t come here until 2015. If you wanted to be part of that, you had to be [part of it] a long way before that. It never came up on my agenda.”

What is your management style?

“I like to be decisive, direct and results orientated. I believe strongly in clarity of message and I really care about the people I work with. I care about the company. People often forget the company in itself is an entity. We are all here to protect the company.”

Why do you like working in health, where you’ve gained a reputation as a turnaround specialist?

“I love healthcare. It’s a fantastic space because, although I’m a capitalist at heart, I enjoy caring for people. It is great to find somewhere where you can combine that. I work with businesses in a more challenging position than others and I enjoy that. It’s what I’m good at.”

What lessons do you use from your previous job as a steel trader?

“I enjoyed trading. In a sense what I do today is no different. A lot of businesses are about managing risk which is what trading is all about. It is about making things happen. I also lived and worked abroad. There is something to be said for having lived in a different country and working in different cultures.”

How do you deal with the mountain of emails?

“It’s about a mixed economy. Email is not the only form of communication. I believe greatly in face-to-face and telephone conversations. If you’re trying to convey a simple message it is better to do that.”

CV

Born: 9/3/1967 in Germany. “My parents were in the forces.”

School: Wellington College, Berkshire

Live: Hampshire but Maidstone during the week

Family: Wife (who he married in St Mary’s Platt, near Sevenoaks) and two teenage sons

First job: Steel trader

First wage: HK$13,000 a year (£12,000)

Car: Audi A6 Estate

Book: Cold by Ranulph Fiennes

Film: “The 1980s was a great time for film. I like Lethal Weapon, Robocop and Mad Max.”

Lethal Weapon starred Mel Gibson
Lethal Weapon starred Mel Gibson

Music: “I’m kept up to date by my teenage sons although some of it I don’t recognise as music.”

Gadget: Compass

Last holiday: The Algarve, Portugal

Charity: Heart of Kent Hospice

Typical day

Simon James arrives at KIMS Hospital shortly after 7am and spends at least half an hour working out his priorities for the day.

“Then I throw that in the bin and deal with what’s thrown at me”, he joked.

The day begins with management meetings and one-on-one meetings with key team members.

He tries to make sure he has a walk around the hospital most days and visits a different department each day to see what is going on.

He will also visit consultants and look at new theatre equipment.

“And I have to find time for the dreaded emails,” he said.

In his downtime he likes exploring and aims to climb all 283 hills in Scotland over 3,000 feet, which he describes as a “20-year project”.

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