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Steven Tan is Now President of SM Supermalls


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It’s more than a promotion for Steven Tan, more than a reward for all his years of effort and excellence. It’s a sign of the times. “His new position underscores the rapid and dynamic changes in the Filipino consumer behavior,” said Jeffrey C. Lim, SM Prime Holdings, Inc. president. “Mr. Tan’s focus on building meaningful shopping experiences consistently throughout his career prepares him for this next phase.”

Since the beginning of the Chinese New Year, it has been announced that Steven, former chief operating officer of the Sy-led conglomerate’s mall management unit, Shopping Center Management Corp. (SCMC), more commonly known as SM Supermalls, is now its president.

Steven and I go back a long way, even before he joined the Sys, so I am very privileged to have seen him grow as big and as fast as the company he now represents. Shortly after the announcement, we sat down on a Monday morning, just before he would have begun his first official workweek as president, going from day-to-day operations, the nuts and bolts of his previous tasks as COO, to the future, the big picture, which is now his greatest challenge as president of the Philippines’ biggest retail phenomenon. Here are some snippets of our conversation.

Do you realize that on this day exactly two years ago, I was also with you to congratulate you on your promotion as COO? Two years hence, here we are. Did you even have enough time as COO?

It’s been like, every after two years, there’s a career advancement for me. Before being COO two years ago, I was senior vice president of the company.

Is that such a big leap?

As chief operating officer, you’re in charge of the day-to-day operations of the mall. You’re in charge of what’s going on in the mall on a daily basis. But as president of the company, you’re really the head of the business unit. You’re expected to really grow the company. It’s really more on the growth now, the expansion, the redevelopment of SM Supermalls and the image it is delivering to the public.


SM MOA, one of the biggest malls in Asia, is a tourist destination that has raised the standard of shopping, leisure, and entertainment in the country

What was the first thing that popped into your head when you found out you were going to be president?

Of course, this one comes with big responsibilities as well. It’s not just a title, you know. The company is growing at a massive pace, so there’s so much pressure to really take it where it is headed. I’ve since the announcement been thinking a lot about the growth of the company in the next five to 10 years.

Growth, expansion, and diversification have been in the DNA of the Sy family since they started, right? But there are bigger challenges now because the world is changing so fast.

Yes, I agree with you. Before, doing business was much easier. With social media alone, you know, whatever you do, people will just pick it up and they can just post it. Anybody is an influencer. So you have to really be more responsible in doing business nowadays. It’s not just about making profit, but it’s also the responsibility to the people, the nation, the world.

How are you adapting to all these changes and all these new customer demands?

We’re lucky because, as you have said yourself, as you have pointed out, the Sy family has always been… like chameleons. They really change a lot and they’re not afraid to discover or to take chances or to try new things, no? It has always been in our system, in our DNA to be very innovative. Innovation is something that we live by on a daily basis.

One of the things we are doing for 2020 is digital transformation. It’s not just what our end customer sees, it also has a lot to do with the processes to make everything more efficient, to make it easier for our tenants, for our customers. It’s a form of service as a matter of fact, this digital transformation. Before when applying for a concept, you’d have to write us a letter, you’d have to mail it or DHL it. Nowadays, you just upload it on our web page or send it to us via email. We’re trying to cover as much ground, from tenant application to award notice to our tenants, even for marketing and HR. You can see the transformation in the malls now. I’m sure you’ve seen our robots, Sam the robot at SM Supermalls. Before you had to ask security or the concierge where the nearest Jollibee or McDonald’s was. Now, just ask Sam. He might even take you there.

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Aside from Sam, how else are you taking the retail space to this new age?

You know you have to embrace [the new age]. If you shy away from it, ikaw yung talo eh (you’ll be on the losing end). Our malls now are not just a shopping center, we are experience centers. If you remember in the ‘80s or in the ‘90s, when you would go to the mall, you would go to SM and all were very functional. You would just go and buy what you needed from the supermarket or from National Bookstore. Now, it’s all about experience. Like you can sample vinyl records while having your coffee. We have all these things for customers that e-commerce cannot give them. That’s become the core of our relationship with our tenants: What experiences are you bringing to the space? What added value is there for the customer so that he or she would make the trip?

Let’s talk more about experiences, such a big thing for the modern mall goer.

I’ll cite one. Before I joined SM in 2004, the food operation mix was only five percent. Now, it’s at 35 percent. Dining is an experience. Even our tenants are big on experiences. For example: Sunnies World. It’s a concept store that sells Sunnies cosmetics, eyeglasses and sunglasses in the latest shades, but at the same time, customers can have their milkshakes. There’s also a milk bar. Besides, SM has always been all about the family. So now there is a trampoline park inside the mall. You can leave your kids there, if Dad has to go to Ace Hardware while Mom has to have her hair fixed. At S Maison, there’s also the Dessert Museum, which is very Instagrammable. It’s all under one roof. What we’ve been saying—“We’ve got it all for you!”—is no truer ever than now.

Speaking of S Maison—there are also the Podium and the Block—what are the plans for them?

Have you been to the Podium recently? You should check it out. It is an elevated shopping experience meaning the restaurants are more premium, the likes of Wolfgang’s Steakhouse and Las Flores. The shops are also more premium. You have Rolex, you have Dior. But it’s not that we are shifting. It’s more like we are trying to cater to all segments of the market. We are also very good at adapting to where we are, so when we opened SM Aura, we felt that the positioning of the mall should also cater to the business community in the area. Our malls are developed based on many variables, like restrictions on the land, the space available, but whether it is a premier mall or a regional mall or a community mall, or whether it is the Podium or the Block or S Maison, it’s still SM, made to serve the market best.

The podiumThe Podium

What more of SM are we expecting?

You can expect us to hit our 100th mall by 2023. We count only the bigger ones, like the SMC (SM City). We have 74 right now, but if you add up all big and small malls, it would be around 120. But by 2023, we should have a total 100 SMC-type malls all over the country.

So that’s growing the company further at the rate of six malls a year?

That’s right, plus in the next four or five years, we have 66 projects lined up to renovate, expand, or redevelop the malls that already exist.

Where else can we see more of SM in the immediate future?

Well, it’s a mix. Some will be in Metro Manila, some in the provinces. There’s so much potential, so many opportunities not just in Manila but also in the Visayas and Mindanao. We’re very excited to open a new project by the last quarter or third quarter of this year—the Grand Central in Monumento, which used to be the Ever Gotesco in Caloocan. This project is a big one, a major one for us this year. But there’s also Butuan. We have Daet. The next is Sorsogon.

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As president, you’re also in charge of international expansion. What are your plans?

We will continue expanding our portfolio in China, where we have seven malls right now. We’re opening another one by 2021 or 2022, but we are also expanding the existing malls there. In Xiamen, construction is under way, currently on its third phase. China is so big and there’s so much opportunity. So with China alone, we have our plate full.

More than full. Aren’t you even a bit overwhelmed?

You know, we’re very lucky. I think we are the sweet spot of Asia right now, so more and more of the brands out there are coming in. It’s a crazy time but it’s also a good time for us. I don’t mind. I think SM and I, we’re a match made in heaven. First, I have to give credit to my bosses, Mr. Hans Sy and Ms. Tessie Sy-Coson. I’m so honored to have gained their trust. They’ve mentored me so tirelessly, sometimes making the extra effort to explain things to me. But my job is perfect for me: I’m a people person. I love shopping. I like to travel. I like to be connected to the world. I go to the office five days a week but, on weekends, I’m always at the mall. It can get overwhelming, but I can handle it, as long as I get to hit the gym in the morning. That’s how I fuel up and prepare for the day.

Watch part of the interview here:

Source: Manila Bulletin

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