Five years on, MBS shuns status quo

CEO George Tanasijevich's drive for nothing but the best keeps integrated resort at the top of its game

By Lee U-Wen

[email protected]@LeeUwenBT

27 Apr

SEVERAL weeks ago, Marina Bay Sands (MBS) rolled out a new multi-million dollar advertising campaign called "Never Settle".

Fronted by retired English football star David Beckham of Manchester United fame, the glitzy marketing drive describes how the S$8-billion integrated resort does not settle for the status quo.

The name of the campaign could also double up as the personal motto of the integrated resort's president and chief executive George Tanasijevich, who doesn't believe in staying still when it comes to how he does his job.

The 54-year-old American shares how he is someone who doesn't settle for anything other than the best when it comes to how MBS is run and what it has to offer to the thousands of people who pass through its doors every day.

MBS, which celebrates five full years since its soft opening on this very day back in 2010, is one of the flagship properties of the Nevada-based Las Vegas Sands (LVS).

Mr Tanasijevich is now into his 11th year as a LVS employee and has spent the last four as its top executive based in Singapore.

"A lot of things on my checklist are things that will never be completed," he tells The Business Times in an interview in a suite on the 53rd floor of one of the hotel's three gargantuan towers. "We are talking about what's going to happen in the next five years, and the five years after that. We're always looking for the next big thing, trying to find the areas that we can do better in."

During the candid, 40-minute chat, Mr Tanasijevich speaks of the importance of always staying one step ahead of the competition, being able to anticipate new trends and making adjustments in advance to give customers what they want.

Work is already underway to spruce up all the 2,560 hotel rooms, even at this relatively early stage. The industry norm is to do this at the seven-year mark, but Mr Tanasijevich shares that MBS, with its staggering 99 per cent occupancy, chose to start the re-design process much earlier.

The SkyPark observation deck on the 57th storey will soon have a new restaurant for guests to take in the view of the Singapore skyline as they dine.

The luxurious grand ballroom in the Sands Expo - the largest ballroom in South-east Asia - sees such heavy demand throughout the year that there are plans to reconfigure a significant space on the fourth floor as a second major ballroom for weddings, corporate events and other functions.

"We're a business where we never turn off the lights or close our doors. We just keep going. Our efforts are non-stop," says Mr Tanasijevich when asked to reflect on his time at the helm of one of the country's largest employers.

"The way I look at it, a lot of what we're trying to achieve is that we are always looking to do more and reaching for greater heights. Complacency doesn't set in, because we are always faced with new challenges that need to be overcome," he adds.

Mr Tanasijevich is proud of the fact that there is a growing recognition and awareness of MBS as a Singapore company, and not so much as an American-owned one.

There are 9,400 full-time staff on its payroll, the majority of whom are Singaporean. Each year, MBS organises its corporate social responsibility programme, the Sands for Singapore festival, to raise funds for local non-profit organisations. In 2014, it managed to collect more than S$3.6 million.

MBS also spends a lot of money on various goods and services - well over a billion dollars in the last two years alone - to keep its operations running smoothly round the clock.

What's telling, however, is the conscious effort to ensure that the bulk of its procurement contracts are awarded to Singapore-based companies. Nine out of every 10 deals in 2013 and 2014 went to local firms.

Be it flowers for the many wedding and convention events each week, energy-saving lights for the hotel rooms, or fresh seafood and juices for the numerous restaurants across the mega-complex, MBS makes it a priority to purchase from local suppliers as much as possible.

The amount is split almost equally between the larger corporations and small and medium-sized enterprises, which means businesses from both ends of the spectrum are able to enjoy a slice of the pie.

"We bring in a lot of economic activity and growth, but we spread it across the island so that all types of companies and industries can share in this growth," says Mr Tanasijevich, adding that it was a "big focus" of the entire management team at MBS to help Singapore achieve its many tourism and economic goals.

In addition to overseeing the Singapore business, Mr Tanasijevich also has his hands full with his other main responsibility as the managing director of global development at LVS, a post he has held since January 2011.

LVS, which already runs three integrated resorts in Macau, is looking to expand its footprint in Asia, with Japan and South Korea on top of its list.

There is talk that Japan could give the green light to open its first casinos in the near future, although much depends on how soon this legislation can be pushed through Parliament. Last May, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spent time touring MBS during his visit to Singapore for the annual Shangri-La Dialogue.

"There is a lot of potential upside for growth in Japan's tourism market," explains Mr Tanasijevich. "We think we have a very strong chance of being able to develop something there if they do decide to move forward and have integrated resorts."

As for South Korea, LVS is eager to build an integrated resort in the port city of Busan, but only if the central government agrees to relax its ban on locals visiting casinos.

As both countries deliberate on their options, Mr Tanasijevich feels that one lesson from the Singapore experience is the "early-mover advantage" in deciding to build integrated resorts.

"We're already marking the five-year anniversary of the two integrated resorts in Singapore, and the country has reaped tremendous benefits across all the important categories. Others are still thinking about it while using Singapore as a case study. It's clear that if you move quickly, you can derive the benefits immediately."