Marie Charles has never taken the easy way out. The executive chair of Tiger Global Holdings found success early on by becoming a medical doctor, learned to speak six languages, added a master’s degree in international affairs and business from New York’s Columbia University to her résumé, and was all set to take up a leadership role at one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies in Europe.

Instead, Charles founded a series of her own international healthcare enterprises that are collectively active in over 40 countries. She is also chair of the Tiger Healthcare Group and Tiger Healthcare Private Equity in Hong Kong, the executive chair of Tiger Environmental Technologies and chair emeritus of Global Medic Force.

However, she chose another path “where I would not be on somebody else’s payroll and where I would be able to found my own series of global social enterprises to save millions of lives every year [...]”, Charles explains. Walking away from the “Big Pharma” corporate existence, she says, immediately propelled her into working all over Africa on the front line in the war against HIV/Aids. She has worked with some of the most extraordinary people “that I have ever known in my life. Suddenly, my fabulous collection of Louboutin high heels were of no use at all to me”.

Our time on earth is actually very short, approximately 600,000 hours before we end up consigned to entropic oblivion
Marie Charles

The shoes were discarded, but Charles picked up two distinctive passions in return. She enjoys closed-circuit rebreather deep diving and flying vintage first and second world war combat fighter aircraft, especially the Spitfire.

What does it take to make a US$74,000 diamond-encrusted Apple watch?

Charles embarked on her chosen path having witnessed the broken global “charity” system in the health care sector 20 years ago. “One of the things that shocked me the most at the time was the realisation that, over the past 50 years alone, more than US$2.3 trillion in aid money had been spent in these [African] countries, and yet we were still treating exactly the same diseases that [David] Livingstone and all the other famous British explorers and doctors had been describing in their letters back home,” she says.

“So to me, it begged the question: what happened to all of these trillions of dollars of so-called aid and development money?”

How Patek Philippe is giving mechanical women's watches their allure

“[...] And thus I set out to correct it as a global disruptor, initially through a series of social enterprises (as opposed to the conventional malfunctioning ‘charity’ model), and later on through scalable and sustainable high-impact for-profit ventures and investments.

“Our time on earth is actually very short, approximately 600,000 hours before we end up consigned to entropic oblivion, so we all have a duty or ‘noblesse oblige’, as was drilled into me from birth, to always help those who cannot help themselves, and by extension, to leave the planet a better place for us having been here.”

Want more stories like this? Sign up here. Follow STYLE on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter