The rise of Dr. Andrew L. Tan: vision-centered leadership style

“I believe that it is my duty as a CEO to lead and inspire the workforce, to provide vision and direction, to guide and motivate my people so that Megaworld continues to maintain its competitive edge in the property market.”
Dr. Andrew L. Tan

A powerful statement reinforcing the notion that growth in business evolves around a leader with a clear vision and a motivated workforce.

Fellow billionaire and developer Manny Villar Jr. acknowledges Dr. Andrew Tan as the undisputed No. 1 condominium developer in the Philippines, surpassing even the old-rich landed clan of the Zobel-Ayalas.

Property consultants CBRE, Colliers International and Wong + Bernstein Group named the Tan-led Megaworld as the Philippines’ top residential condominium developer in more than a decade, and the country’s biggest builder of residential condominiums in terms of units completed.

Working and collaborating with Tan, a certified rainmaker

So how was it like working as a senior executive under Dr. Tan and managing a portfolio of three start-up business units while simultaneously mentoring his eldest son?

I can say the man is truly a visionary, a brilliant strategist and a brand builder.

From a start-up business unit with zero contribution and literally no employees to start with in 2001, the market capitalization of these three business units is probably valued now at more than P100 billion.

Megaworld Lifestyle Malls

When I took on the role of establishing the Commercial Services Group, it was borne out of a need to provide a recurring income stream for Megaworld. Similar to what Ayala and SM have been doing for decades, their sustainability relied heavily on their retail and mall operations.

It must be recalled that when the 1997 Asian Financial crisis struck, these real estate companies with retail operations were so resilient and naturally overcame the contagion with so much to spare.

Sometime in 2000, during one of my regular visits to Tan’s office, I reiterated the need for Andrew to create a business unit focused solely on retail operations and mall management.

After explaining the rationale and objective of not selling the commercial and retail spaces instead of the usual sell-all initiative, he immediately scribbled a marginal note on a piece of paper and declared to all the executives that effective immediately Megaworld will discontinue the selling of ground floor spaces in all of its properties and shift the efforts to leasing out the assets. He also tasked me to lead the retail operations starting with the management of Eastwood City.

What started as a four-man team with me on top and carrying the distinction of being employee No. 1 back then, the commercial services team grew exponentially and later became known as the Megaworld Lifestyle Malls, contributing more than 23 percent of Megaworld’s total revenues.

Currently it is run by its hardworking FVP Kevin Tan and managing a portfolio of five lifestyle malls and hundreds of commercial spaces found in various condo developments. Another 10 more malls are currently in the pipeline.

Resorts World Manila

Resonating Tan’s passion and decisiveness, I vividly recall a short meeting sometime in 2004 where he requested me to prepare an exhaustive business plan for a 25-hectare development in Pasay City.

That plan, hatched in collaboration with business development managers and student researchers, led to the creation of his gaming, hotel and tourism empire under the Travellers Hotel International (THI) brand. A few months later, Andrew asked me to head THI.

The company’s first foray into leisure and gaming development was the hugely successful Resorts World Manila Entertainment Complex in Newport City in Pasay. It went public in 2013. Presently, the casino and hotel complex employs 7,000 employees, mostly returning OFWs. RWM has started expansion in the bay area for another development twice its current size. It will be known as Resorts World Bayshore.

How does Tan bring out the best in his executives? What is his leadership style?

People who worked with him look at his management style in the organization as one that blends entrepreneurship and professional management. Entrepreneurship provides the vision for the company and looks at the big picture while the professional managers take care of the small details.

He puts so much trust in his professionals. At Megaworld and all its subsidiaries, the only family member I know is his eldest son, Kevin. The rest are professionals from the COO, CFO, Treasury, Operations all the way to the head of sales.

As a CEO, he sees that the success of Megaworld rests on its ability to tap the individual skills of employees and to efficiently harness these skills when employees work as a team.

Tan once remarked, “Under Megaworld’s culture of innovation and excellence, I give my officers and employees free rein to think and perform innovatively. I don’t just assign specific tasks to individuals; I challenge them to work outside their comfort zones in order to develop their creativity and resourcefulness.”

Recipe for success

Tan shares that his recipe for success was so simple: “Do not expect everything to turn out the way you want it to. Be ready for disappointments. You should have extra bullets left to help you fight another battle.”

He continues further, “Making my first million at 27 marked a turning point in my business career. My philosophy as a businessman is really quite simple: Just keep working and investing whatever profit you make in new businesses. That way, you generate more jobs and help the country’s economy grow,” he said.

That, in a nutshell, is the story of Tan’s corporate life. It has been a continuous process of moving forward. Every time he sees a certain room to grow, or a new opportunity to advance further, he goes out and takes it.

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