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Once a physicist: Ali Parsa

Ali Parsa is the managing partner of Circle, the UK’s largest private partnership of healthcare professionals.

Ali Parsa

How did your career start out?
First I did civil engineering as an undergraduate at University College London, but after I graduated in 1987 I stayed on to do a PhD, which was mostly about the physics of fluids.

It was a great time of my life and I really enjoyed my work. My time was divided, however, as I had to finance myself through my studies. I had a full-time job getting the PhD as well as a full-time job building a business to make the money I needed to pay for it.

What was that business?
It was a media-promotions company. It did very well and in 1995 I won a Prince of Wales award for being one of the best young business people in the UK. After I finished my PhD in 1995, I sold the company and joined Credit Suisse First Boston as an investment banker. That was a lot of fun, although I’m not sure I enjoyed it as much as I had enjoyed doing my PhD. I stayed in investment banking for almost 10 years, moving to Merrill Lynch and then Goldman Sachs.

Did you ever consider a career in science or engineering?
Not really. I always wanted to go into research, but once I was doing my PhD I found that life in academia was a bit different from the life I wanted. Also, to do physics and engineering research in my field, you need high capital expenditure on equipment. This makes it difficult to be world-class in the UK.

How did you come to start Circle?
I had my first child quite late in life, when I was in my mid-thirties, and that made me reassess my life. I didn’t see my wife enough and we agreed that one of us would have to make a change. I always wanted to go back to being an entrepreneur and investor, so I quit my investment-banking job and in 2004, after being approached by a friend who wanted to build his own hospital, we created Circle.

What is Circle all about?
We looked at healthcare, and at the issues that are faced by current generations, and we saw that three things were happening that were making the current model for the delivery of healthcare unsustainable: the aging population; the advent of technology in healthcare; and, finally, the fact that the consumers of healthcare have fundamentally changed their attitudes and expectations. We realized that it was time to re-engineer the delivery of healthcare.

Our solution was that healthcare should be a services organization that is run “bottom-up”. Currently, it is organized top-down, like the manufacturing industry, and doctors and nurses have very little say in how things are done. Instead, the system should be run by the doctors and nurses. We currently have 2000 doctors — mainly consultants — who are all owners of the business, making Circle the largest partnership of doctors in the UK. We help them to create and then tailor their services to their patients’ needs.

Does your physics background help you now?
Physics gives you a great way of looking at the world. No problem is ever too big or too small to be solved, and that view of the world really helps. I think the study of physics is all about problem solving, and that’s also what life is all about.

This article originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of Physics World

last edited: September 11, 2018

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Once a physicist

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