The head of Newcastle skincare business Dermasalve is also a practising GP. Iain Laing discovers a man of contradictions.
IT IS hard to say whether Mark Randle is a more unlikely GP or an unlikely entrepreneur. Now he is the head of a multi-million pound stock market listed business which is looking to make serious inroads into the fast-growing £440m medicated skincare market and poised to recruit 500 staff across the UK as he launches a new range of products. But Sunderland-born Mark began his career as a general practitioner and his rather indirect path to becoming a company boss took another turn when after passing his exams he spent three months in the Caribbean working in the healthcare system there.
“The idea is that you spend time learning about healthcare and how it is administered abroad, but obviously I was also able to explore the beauty of the region as well,” he smiles.
After spending time on the beautiful island of Bequia, near the island of Mustique, he returned to London in 1990 but was put off returning to medicine by his doctor friends’ tales of 140-hour weeks.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do but knew I was seriously out of pocket following my studies,” he says.
Then after reading an advertisement in London for an advertising sales position, he decided to apply.
“It said I could earn £50,000 a year. I rang up, they gave me some information and they asked me to call back and sell them some advertising space as part of my interview.”
Mark was offered a job on the spot and within six months became one of the company’s top performing sales staff.
But he soon left to launch his own advertising sales business, on the Kings Road, London.
“We made a very good start but it soon became apparent that some of us were doing the bulk of the work and after another six months I pulled out of the company,” he says.
And in 1991 Mark decided to return to the North-East and resume his medical career.
“It was tempting to stay in sales but it was getting to the point where if I left it any longer my medical studies would have needed updating,” he explains.
He then spent three years doing his GP training and eventually established a medical practice in Durham, where he now lives with his wife and three children aged four, 11 and 13.
However, his commercial instincts never left him and, whilst working as a GP, he investigated a number of business opportunities.
In 1999 he set up two businesses, one involved in electronic data capture for use in clinical trials and one delivering online training to medical practitioners.
Within two years both companies had sales of several hundred thousand pounds and a workforce of about 25.
But Mark was unhappy with the influence some of the major investors were having.
But he disagreed over both the businesses’ future direction and sold his stake as a result.
“I really had no idea what I was going to do at this point but I was able to spend valuable time with my young family,” he recalls.
Whilst Mark was more closely involved in helping to raise his children, he noticed that one of them was suffering from a dry skin condition.
“I did some research and found the condition was being caused by an ingredient (called a sensitiser) in the type of moisturiser they used.
“This got me thinking. As a practising GP, you are provided with a basic medical reference book offering a list of available creams and what sensitisers they contain that could cause a skin reaction. I did some research and found there weren’t any creams available that contained no sensitising ingredients at all and that is where the idea for our products came from,” he says.
The company now has 2,400 retail outlets in the UK stocking its products, more abroad and although it has not yet made a profit expects turnover to spin into the millions over the next couple of years.
And despite the unassuming manner, it is clear that the doctor seriously means business.
“I have taken a lot of risk financially to get to this place. I could have stayed with a safe, steady income from the medical profession. With this business there is a lot of hard work when you are setting things up; it is relentless and often there is no break from it but it is exciting and you are constantly opening up new avenues.”