25 years GHE – 25 years of export networking
The German Healthcare Export Group (GHE) places great importance on personal contact with its member companies and on exchanging knowledge and experiences within the Group. In other words, GHE means networking at its best. A look at GHE’s history reveals how it created this extensive network of contacts from scratch over a period of just 20 years.
The GHE was founded in 1991 under the name “German Community of Interest for the Export of Pharmaceutical, Laboratory, Dental and Medical Technology” (Deutsche Export-Interessengemeinschaft Pharma, Labor, Dental und Medizintechnik). At that time – which coincided with the Second Gulf War – information coming from the Near East was extremely sparse, and it was this very circumstance that that inspired Heinz-Jürgen Witzke (Beta Verlag) and Udo Pawelka (then “Sartorius AG”) to organise a group of companies that would focus exclusively on international exports. “We felt that we were not receiving sufficient support from German politics, and therefore wanted to get something going ourselves, so we organized a self-help group as it were”, explains Witzke, who is today Honorary Chairman of the German Healthcare Export Group. It didn’t take long for the idea of an export forum to take hold and for leading international companies, such as B. Braun, Eppendorf, Atmos and Dräger, to join the Group as founding members.
Strategic focus – The Near and Middle East
Initially, the Group’s focus was on individual geographical regions only. “Because of the war in Iraq, GHE originally limited its area of interest to the Near- and Middle East. This, however, changed quite quickly”, said Witzke. The meetings held in order to exchange information soon started to include areas like the Far East, Eastern Europe and South America. However, with all of these meetings, the practical benefits they would create for member companies always stood in the foreground. “Most of us where fully aware of the value of this exchange of information from our everyday jobs.”, emphasised Wolfgang Hünlich, formerly employed by Heraeus and now Honorary Member. Although, initially, the project did not involve any formal organisational procedures, these started to materialise quite quickly as time went on and led to the printing of stationary, the organisation of meetings and delegation of responsibilities.
A new beginning
This initial period of enthusiasm and promise was, a year later, followed by one of disenchantment. “During this initial phase, it quickly became clear who the Group’s activists were, i.e. who was committed and prepared to take on tasks voluntarily. However, apart from that, not a lot was happening”, remembered Stefan Ohletz, who is now CEO of the GHE GmbH. The most active members of the Group were therefore confronted with the question of how, and even if the Group was to continue, which led to the unanimous decision to continue and, this time, to do so in style!
A new name
The Group finally changed its name to “German Healthcare Export Group” in 1992. This was also the year that its members elected a board of directors and an advisory board, chaired by Wolfgang Hünlich. “We wanted to prevent any potential impasses and thus agreed on five board directors“, explained Stefan Ohletz, who took over as chairman from Wolfgang Hünlich in 1995.
The sharing of experiences
The, initially, rather casual meetings held by the Group became a lot more professional and the range of subjects under discussion was expanded to global export. These days, the Group meets three times a year to discuss current export issues and to offer its members and high-profile experts the opportunity to share their experiences of various export markets. However, even the venues used for the Group’s meetings have changed. Whereas, initially, they were often held in hotels, the decision was soon taken to hold them on the premises of their member companies – thus also enabling member companies to get to know each other better. Later on, regular meetings were also often held in various ministerial offices, including the Berlin offices of the Department of Trade and Industry, the German Office for Foreign Trade (gtai) in Bonn and the Bonn offices of the Ministry of Health.
In addition to the regular meetings, members would also help one another in selecting representatives in certain regions and share their personal experiences of various export markets on a one-to-one basis. This illustrates the fact that the GHE has now developed into a network of businesses that is based solely on direct communication between member companies.
The GHE always intended to participate in medical technology trade fairs and exhibitions right from the very start of its conception. “Our first joint appearance at a medical trade fair in Hanover was only the first of a continuous string of GHE appearances at the most important of the leading healthcare sector trade fairs.“, explained Markus Braun (Meiko Maschinenbau GmbH & Co. KG), first chairman of GHE. For about 20 years, GHE has been occupying a large joint stand and adjacent lounge at the MEDICA in Düsseldorf and has also been making an appearance at the ARAB HEALTH in Dubai for several years running. Another important trade fair for GHE members is CMEF in China or Hospitalar in Sao Paolo.
GHE opened offices in Bonn and Berlin as a result of the increasing interest and number of enquiries from both Germany and abroad. With these offices, GHE is offering its international partners single points of contact that act as intermediaries between individual members.
Today, half of the GHE companies are active in the electronics and medical technology sector, closely followed by those dealing with and manufacturing medical commodities and consumables, physiotherapy and orthopaedic technology, operating theatre equipment and medical furniture. However, GHE’s members are also active in the laboratory technology, medical services and publishing sectors. Those working in the rescue equipment and emergency medicine sectors, as well as diagnostic, information and communication technology, complete its list of member companies.
A cornerstone of the German economy
Being one of the driving forces behind innovative technologies, the German medical technology sector not only secures and creates jobs, but also provides young people with opportunities for specialised training. It is one of the largest sub-segments of the German economy, internationally competitive and an industry of the future. Export turnover of nearly 9 billion euros, GHE’s member companies play no small part in this segment’s importance. GHE member companies’ contribution to this segment primarily relates to export and, with a joint export turnover of nearly 13 billion euros, they make up nearly 70 percent of German medical technology segment exports.
The healthcare sector will most certainly continue to be a growth market for the foreseeable future – both nationally and internationally. Its further development will not only be influenced by population growth and demographic developments, but also by the rapid advances currently made in medical technology. The GHE Group has dedicated itself to contributing to increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of medical technology in order to improve the quality of health care across the world.