TBY talks to Elie Haddad, Chairman of Bio Istanbul & CEO of Bio City Development, on TOKİ, children's hospital development, and the need to build green right from the get go.

Elie Haddad
Before joining Bio City as Group CFO, Elie Haddad was the General Manager of Damac Real Estate Investments based in Dubai. He joined Damac coming from Al Oula Capital, an Abu Dhabi-based Investment Bank with close ties to the Royal family where he served as Head of Investment Banking and then Chief Executive Officer. Prior to that, he was the Head of Investment Banking at United Gulf Financial Services in Qatar, a member of the KIPCO Group. He started his career more than 15 years ago with Arthur Andersen as a strategy consultant. Mr. Haddad has an Engineering Masters degree from St. Joseph Engineering School in Beirut (ESIB) and an International Finance Masters degree from the ESCP-EAP group. He then took over as CEO of the BCDco group of companies in December 2012. He serves as Chairman of the Board of Bio Istanbul.

Why did you choose Istanbul as the location for such an innovative project?

We were looking for a country that lacked specialized children's hospitals, and that had a young population, a relatively high GDP, economic stability, and the opportunity to enter into a joint venture with a government or a government-related agency. There were few countries in emerging markets that ticked all of those boxes. Turkey was, therefore, the best choice, as it has a government that intends to implement healthcare reforms, and one that is keen to bring in cutting-edge technology through foreign groups and to amend legislation where required. We submitted the project to the Housing Development Administration (TOKİ), which engages in massive towers and large-scale social housing projects. We wanted to further engage TOKİ in smart and aesthetically beautiful constructions. For our project, we needed 2 million sqm of land; TOKİ had to make deals with many small owners and swap land with them. Once we had all of these elements aligned, we went to the international markets to raise funds. Our aim is to make Bio Istanbul the showcase of a typical smart city of high international standards. To summarize our vision, go to a campus in Cambridge, Harvard, or somewhere in Switzerland; you have a university, sometimes a hospital, students, and research facilities—it is a vibrant community. Then you add another layer to it, namely real housing for a real community, and through this you create a city where people can actually live, go out, eat, and spend their weekends. We provide leisure facilities, as well as such amenities as restaurants, hairdressers, a butcher, a bank, and a spa; in short a full range of services. In addition, ecological sustainability and technology are crucial elements in our design. It costs a lot less to design and make a smart building from scratch than to transform an existing one. We source all our materials locally in order to minimize the waste and cost of transport.

How will the children's hospital and research center change the health sector in Turkey?

There are no specialized children's hospitals in the country. There are general children's hospitals and there are specialized units for children in other hospitals. It will cater to the more complicated cases and serious diseases. It is going to be dedicated to the comfort of children because parents will be able to stay close to them. We believe that it is better for children to recuperate in the natural environment of a science park amid nature, as opposed to being in the middle of the city with its noise and pollution. Our international affiliations will be an important element of the hospital; exchanging students and doctors and applying certain new procedures and manuals will affect the sector profoundly. Ours will be a teaching hospital with teaching and research units, with the hospital being separate from the research center; researchers will be invited from abroad to train their local counterparts. What is most important is how you update your functional program based on new discoveries and methods of treatment, mainly stemming from the US. There is a large Turkish diaspora with researchers and medical doctors throughout Europe and the US.

How do you plan to encourage their return?

People will return if the right infrastructure is in place. Government backing and a strong academic framework will allow people to keep doing research and work on serious, complicated cases. Integration with international universities and the unhindered transferal of credits will be another important attraction. The quality of doctors and researchers you attract is determined by the funding available for research, infrastructure, the projects themselves, the availability of government support, and a long-term vision. These professionals need to be sure that if they undertake serious research, it will at least see initial clinical trials. And this is the challenge Bio Istanbul is trying to address, because we are privileged in having firm relations with the government. We would like foreign nationals to come, but our main objective is to reverse the tide of departed nationals. This cannot be achieved on a promise alone.

“Government backing and a strong academic framework will allow people to keep doing research and work on serious, complicated cases. "

What is your schedule, and what is the future of Istanbul after bio-cities?

Overall, 2014 is set to be a very exciting one as all designs and the planning phase itself will have been completed, which means it will be time for the ground breaking. We will have completed work on the first residences and the hospital by the end of the year. Ours is a massive project, which we have divided into three phases. We also have three steps to the initial phase because we cannot source $1 billion at one time. The project will include approximately 650 units, the first phase of the hospital, a number of innovation campus buildings, and some of the retail and lifestyle components; it will become a livable space by the end of 2015. That is our plan for Turkey, but the remaining phases will unfold until 2020. We are four years into the project and have seven to go. We are also targeting Saudi Arabia, which has great potential, along with China.