Controversial surgeon hands advisers life lessons

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A controversial Australian brain surgeon who irks his colleagues by operating against popular opinion says service industries like mortgage broking must make the clients’ interests paramount.
 
Neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Teo told a large audience of credit advisers at the Mortgage and Finance Association of Australia national conference on Friday about his successful but radical career choices.
 
His patients see him as a miracle worker and come from around the world to see him after other surgeons have turned them away, as Teo uses a keyhole technique that enters the brain through the nose.
 
Teo’s speech was littered with references to swimming against the tide, even at the expense of his career.
 
“My colleagues every day to not piss off [other] colleagues will not go against the first opinion and not take out a tumour,” he said. “The criticism is [from other surgeons], not only that I’m doing this ‘inoperable’ surgery, but it’s that I give ‘false hope’. But there is no such thing as false hope.”
 
Teo, who was recently the first Australian non-politician to address the US Congress, told the audience to always put the client first.
 
“When you’re in a service industry like you and me, if you take the high road and make your clients interests paramount, then you can’t go wrong.”
 
He believes that is how he has survived “vexatious claims” that have plagued him since coming back to Australia after working in the United States.
 
The surgeon, who is director of Sydney’s Centre for Minimally Invasive Neurosurgery, pointed to malicious and “amazingly elaborate” attempts to destroy his career.
 
He talked about the time he had just finished a long, complicated operation, and was covered in blood and fluid. He looked down and joked he had wet himself, and later was dragged through disciplinary councils charged with urinating while in the operating theatre.
 
“Why I have attracted the wrath of my colleagues, I don’t know,” he said, before acknowledging he has a controversial attitude and does not suffer fools.
 
“If I think someone’s an idiot I’ll tell them.”
 
The surgeon’s fighting attitude may stem from an early childhood lesson – after being beaten up by an older bully at primary school, Teo went home to his dad expecting sympathy. This he did not get, with his dad telling him to go back to school the next day and thump the bully back.

“My dad taught me, it’s bad enough to go down but it’s worse to go down without a fight,” Teo said.
 
Even the most dignified support this message. Teo had a chat with the Dalai Lama recently about work/life balance and whether he was doing the right thing when he irritated his colleagues.
 
The Dalai Lama told him: If you’re going to swim against the tide and the dogma, then you will have to fight.

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  • Matt on 21/05/2014 10:00:59 AM

    Just goes to show there are people in every industry who achieve by putting the client first. But there are always cowboys who take the easy way out...and will fail the client and themselves.

  • Andrew Newman on 21/05/2014 3:19:57 PM

    What an inspiring article! Doing the right thing, such as putting a client first, is not something you legislate but something you teach children from when they are young - just like Teo's dad.

  • jwp on 21/05/2014 5:13:25 PM

    good article

  • GAB on 22/05/2014 9:34:37 AM

    Nice article but not that simple as Teo found out. If you really put your clients interests first in this industry then you would be questioning most of the "industry best practices". And as we know if you don't follow protocol you're in for a world of pain.

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