Sharing our planet and inspiring people to protect wildlife together takes dedicated leadership—and Benjamin Tan, ’06, is rising to the challenge.
- By January 10, 2020
Benjamin Tan, ’06, recently signed on to become the deputy CEO and chief commercial officer at Wildlife Reserves Singapore, a self-funded organization that operates the Singapore Zoo, River Safari, Night Safari, and Jurong Bird Park. Conservation is at its core, not only in its parks but also in Southeast Asia, where it is involved in more than 40 wildlife projects that protect species in their native habitats.
A major expansion project is underway that will offer more potential for Singapore’s zoological parks to be world-leading centers of animal conservation, education, and research. There will be a new bird park that replaces the existing one after 50 years, and will see an increase in conservation-dependent species. There will also be a rainforest park, nature-themed indoor experiences, and an eco-friendly resort. Tan is in charge of helping the team rise to the challenge, beginning in 2022 when the new offerings progressively launch and Wildlife Reserves Singapore expects to see visitor figures double to 10 million a year.
Transitioning from the aviation industry that kept him constantly on the road for much of the past decade, Tan says he finds deep meaning in working to preserve Singapore’s world-class biodiversity and rallying the parks’ visitors to embrace and advocate conservation and sustainable practices in their everyday lives. Here, he walks us through a typical week in his world.
I try to see my kids off to school. I have two kids with special needs, so they require a lot of care and therapy. Over the course of the week, my wife is very, very busy shuttling them between different therapy sessions, so I try to help her by bringing them to school. My commute will get me to work by about 9 a.m., and I always try to get home before 7:30 p.m.
Today, we’re in discussions with one of the largest supermarket chains in Singapore to look at how we work together to encourage consumers to lead a sustainable life. I also spend time reviewing plans for the nature-themed kindergarten that we are looking to build: What are the options for pedagogy? What are some of the experiences we would like children to have?
On Tuesday I attend a meeting with a vendor that provides autonomous vehicles. We are exploring the option of letting our guests call a golf cart on an app to bring them from the resort to a specific attraction—the vehicles could also act as mobility options for visitors with special needs within the precinct.
Tuesday is also our food and beverage meeting. We have a relatively large operation, and when all the new parks are open, we will have about three times the F&B, commercial, and retail area.
Wednesday starts with a meeting of the audit and risk committee, which is one of the board committees. Then I have lunch with one of the leaders of our design team for the new parks to discuss the possibility for commercialization and the opportunities for monetization of the new assets that we are currently building. In the afternoon we have a fairly detailed meeting on the year-end campaign for next year, and a manpower meeting.
On Thursdays we hold a weekly review of our new plans. Management gets an update on construction, and we have discussions around designs for the new parks. I also meet with a government representative from the Middle East. We field these inquiries from time to time from various parties who are looking to replicate some of what we do here in their own home countries.
Then we have a meeting discussing the cruise segment of visitors. There was an article recently that said the number of cruise passengers in Singapore increased by 35 percent last year, but we haven’t seen that increase—so we discussed how to more effectively target that demographic.
Friday holds a couple of external meetings and a monthly management meeting, with 20 something departments all packed in the room.
But at night we have a zookeeper’s night—it’s good fun, with beer, food, and table games. It’s held at an outdoor location at the zoo, and it’s an opportunity for guys like me to spend a bit of time interacting with the zookeepers, who are the people that are really responsible for ensuring that our guests have a great experience.
It is really eye-opening as well: it makes an impression on me, just how well some of them know their work. At one of the table games, the DJ plays sounds made by animals and has people guess which animal made the sound. It seems straightforward enough, but there is one particular sound that’s quite memorable. It sounds like a bird to me—but it’s actually the sound made by a cheetah cub. One of the zookeepers from the carnivore team nails it on the first go.
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