Ghanaian businessman leaves European banking job to return home

In 2011, Samuel Waterberg made the tough decision to part with his cushy life in Europe to move back to his country of birth, Ghana. At the time Waterberg, who left Ghana at the age of 10, was corporate relations manager for one of the biggest banks in the Netherlands. However, he felt the urge to return to Ghana to contribute to the country’s development.

Samuel Waterberg, general manager of the Diagnostic Centre

Samuel Waterberg, general manager of the Diagnostic Centre

“I worked in Europe as a banker. I had a good job and I was happy. I was travelling back home to Ghana every once in a while and I saw the opportunity here. I also wanted to contribute to the development of my country,” Waterberg told How we made it in Africa.

He eventually decided to take the plunge when he was offered the position as general manger of the Diagnostic Centre, a private healthcare business situated in Ghana’s capital Accra.

Founded by a mix of international and Ghanaian investors, the facility offers state-of-the-art medical diagnostic services to patients in Ghana and the rest of West Africa. On a walk-in basis, patients can undergo MRI, CT, X-ray, mammography, ultrasound and bone densitometry examinations, with results provided on the same day.

Private healthcare opportunities

About 150 patients pass through the doors of the Diagnostic Centre every day. It caters for patients from all income levels, from prominent politicians to informal traders. Despite the high price of sophisticated medical equipment, the Diagnostic Centre manages to keep its rates on par with those of state hospitals through the efficient use of its resources

Healthcare in Africa has not had a great track record in recent decades – too many people still die from preventable diseases and it is common for African leaders to travel abroad for treatment.

According to Waterberg, Ghana offers good opportunities for private healthcare. When the Diagnostic Centre first opened, there were only a handful of facilities in Ghana that offered these services. Waterberg says since then a number of other companies have started to offer similar services. The Diagnostic Centre is currently considering opportunities to expand in Ghana and the broader West African region.

He says a growing middle class in Ghana is positive for the private healthcare industry. “The moment you have money, the second thing you think about is your health. If you are working, and you earn a good salary, you want to live long and enjoy your life. People are willing to invest in good quality healthcare. So there is definitely a market.”

Ghana started with offshore crude oil production towards the end of 2010, and the industry has been responsible for much of the country’s rapid economic growth in recent years. However, many ordinary citizens are not benefitting from oil, and many locals say the increasing number of foreign businesspeople in the country has led to a rise in the prices of goods and services, often making them unaffordable to local Ghanaians.

Waterberg says the industry struggles from a low penetration of private medical insurance. “In Europe the healthcare sector works perfectly. The majority of people are insured, and we have good government insurance schemes. So if you are sick, and you need an MRI scan, the insurance will pay for it. In Ghana, only a small percentage of the population is insured through private insurance. The majority is insured through the national health insurance scheme that doesn’t pay for services such as MRI. The majority of our patients have to pay for themselves.”

Life in Ghana

“So far, so good,” says Waterberg about his decision to relocate back to Ghana.

“In the Netherlands I was dealing with corporate clients, and we were always talking about digits – how can we make our clients even richer than they are. It was good to close a deal, but it was about financial issues. Now we are saving lives,” he explains.

Waterberg says one of the best things about Ghana is the optimism of the people. “Even though they have a lot of challenges, they still have hope. I lived in a Western country for 24 years, where we have a lot, but still we are complaining. Here you meet people who don’t have it, but they still believe that tomorrow will be a better day.”