Monday, 3 August 2015


I have known Dr John Cowlin, a remarkable achiever and whose late father was an anaesthetist, for more than 26 years.
John Cowlin was born in Cape Town in 1949 and matriculated at Westerford High School in Rondebosch, Cape Town, in 1966. In 1967 he did his compulsory national service in the army before studying medicine at UCT where he graduated with an MB. CHB, in 1973.
John married Margie Travers-Jackson (who also went to Westerford High School) and they had two children, John and Lisa.

Medical doctor

Between 1974 and 1981 John did his housemanship followed by surgical registrar training. He had a practice in Sandton and was regarded by one of my late Dad’s co-directors, Gerd Niterl, as “one of the finest GP’s I have ever known”.

Furniture-manufacturing business

John, whose hobby, had long been cabinet-making, set up a small factory in Johannesburg in 1981 making motif furniture. He sold this business in 1983 and returned to the Cape where he set up a practice as a GP in Somerset West.

Co-partner of surgical clinic

John missed the “action and pulse-beat” of Johannesburg so decided to relocate back to Johannesburg in 1986 where, in partnership with a group of local doctors, he established the “Sandton Surgical Clinic”. The popular clinic was later sold to a public company - Life Health Centre. At this time John was also consulting to Rossing Uranium Mine and the National Department of Health on health maintenance issues and it wasn’t long before he was offered a position with one of South Africa’s largest medical aid organisations - “Medicaid”, which was subsequently absorbed by the Medscheme Group.

Pioneer of pharmaceutical benefit management

John developed a particular interest in studying the utilisation and funding arrangements of medications consumed by members of medical aid schemes. In 1991 when he went to the USA to do further research in this area he discovered that the focus in the USA was on hospital benefit management rather than on pharmaceutical consumption.
On his return to South Africa John adapted some of the principles he had learned in the USA into a model for marketing and managing chronic medical programmes in South Africa and, in partnership with Medscheme , in 1993 he established a pharmaceutical benefit management company, “QHS” (Quality Health Services). This was the first of its kind in South Africa (and probably in the world at the time) and I was personally privileged to serve as his Admin Director.
John realised the importance -  in order  to survive in business - that  one should have some form of basic financial and accounting understanding and so, in 1996, he also completed several short courses in finance and accounting as the Wits GSB (Graduate School of Business) .
Over the ensuing five  years the fortunes of “QHS”, which was renamed “PBM” (Pharmaceutical Benefit Management) in 1996, rose meteorically with compounded earnings of some 40% per annum! And then in 1996 John was appointed to the Medscheme main board of directors.
In 1999 when the “PBM” PE (Price-Earnings ) ratio was "18"  John exercised a “put” option and “retired” at the age of 50!


Dr John Cowlin
John Cowlin, who  has had a lifelong love of good wines and is a true wine connoisseur, started studying wine-making in his early “retirement”  and bought 30 hectares of vacant land in Simondium (near Paarl) in 2000.  There he personally constructed a house and wine cellars as well as various out buildings and planted vineyards and established “Cowlin Wines”. He soon learnt that the most important factor in successfully promoting and marketing wine was correct branding. By 2005 he had succeeded in establishing  “Cowlin Wines” as a strong regional brand, exporting to Canada, Denmark and Japan as well as supplying local bottle stores and upmarket restaurants.

Although in 2006 John sold his wine farm and relocated to Simon’s Town from Simondium he has recently (along with his daughter, Lisa) again  devoted himself to re-promoting the “Cowlin Wines” brand.

Yacht Club Commodore

John has long been a deep-sea fishing enthusiast and in 1999 he built and launched a 40-foot sport fishing vessel named “Tshaya” and in 2002 was elected Commodore of the False Bay Yacht Club. In 2013 he was, for the 2nd time, elected Commodore.

BA (Hons) degree  & evolutionary biology author

After retiring from business and having sold his wine farm John, who has an extraordinary photographic memory, decided to enrol as a full-time student at the University of Stellenbosch where he studied History and soon graduated with a B.A. (Hons) cum laude. He had also meanwhile developed a strong interest in evolutionary biology, driven by “an incurable desire” to understand why there is a human need to believe in the unseen and why it is so deeply ingrained in the human psyche. John is currently writing a book on the subject which he hopes to publish in 2016.

John Cowlin’s advice for aspirant entrepreneurs is this:

“If you want to be successful and are really driven to succeed, dreams are essential. But remember that in order to turn your dreams into reality it requires hard work, dedication, self-discipline and total commitment. Don’t become frustrated or discouraged when you find that sometimes things take longer and cost more than you budgeted for”.

"John Cowlin, medical doctor, businessman, entrepreneur, family man and friend,
is an inspiration for everyone" 
 - Guy Macleod

No comments:

Post a Comment