Cruise Lines to Casinos

September 18, 2016 Nestor Licanto

It’s like a giant cruise ship, except it’s built for land. That’s how Chief Operating Officer Stephen Reilly described the concept behind Resorts World Manila, the Philippines’ first integrated resort.  

The analogy is right up Reilly’s alley. Before he became RWM COO in 2009 he held top management positions at Star Cruises, the world’s largest cruise line operator. RWM is a joint venture of Star’s parent, the Genting Group and Alliance Global, the holding company of Chinese-Filipino billionaire Andrew Tan.

The company leveraged its expertise in the luxury ship business to open its first land-based attraction. A lot of the experience for the launch came in the form of about 600 Filipino nationals who were longtime employees of the Genting Hong Kong cruise fleet. “They wanted to come home because I think a lot of them were getting a little older. Maybe they wanted to settle down and start families, but they never had any jobs to come home to,” Reilly said. So the company reassigned them to the Resorts World project, which proved to be a tremendous help when they first started. “These people were ready to work straightaway. They understood the culture, they understood the dynamics of an integrated resort,” he added.

The core management team for the launch was also made up of veterans of the cruise business. They had the added benefit of being together for between 17 to 20 years, “which means we can curse one another, because to a degree we came up together through the ranks. We can argue, we’re best friends. But we all know exactly what to do. We can trust one another fully. And that’s great, for a management team that is something very, very special. It makes a difference,” Reilly said.

He admitted to having made big adjustments after arriving in Manila. “I understood the business, but in different demographics,” he said. “I never truly understood the consumer in the Philippines when we first started.” He credited RWM investor Tan for helping him learn about the local market. In addition to his real estate investments, Tan owns the McDonald’s franchise, and the top-selling Emperador brandy in the Philippines.  

What he learned was that Filipino social lives revolve around the family. “If they can’t have a meal together or bring Lola (grandma) with them, it’s not going to happen.” The British-born Reilly didn’t quite understand this Filipino mindset at first, but he understands it quite well now. Thus, the family concept has figured heavily in RWM’s expansion, and the resort has more than forty restaurants with a diverse selection of local and international food, “because people here like to dine together, and in big groups.”

One of the resort’s top attractions is the Newport Mall with its high-end retail stores. The nautical name is not a coincidence. There is also the Newport Cinema, featuring state of the art movie theatres, and the Newport Performing Arts Theater, an ultra-modern facility that has hosted top international and local productions. “It’s been a great success, a really tremendous success. On a busy day we’re talking 35,000 people coming into the resort. That’s an awful lot of people,” said Reilly.



  He added that RWM’s very close proximity to the newest terminal of Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport is also a great advantage. “You can’t beat being across from NAIA-3,” said Reilly. “The first thing [customers] always write on the travel websites is, ‘Wow, it’s so close to the airport. It has a free shuttle service, people are so courteous, so friendly, I would go back again.’”

Currently there are four hotel brands that comprise Resorts World Manila: the luxury all-suite Maxim’s Hotel, the five-star Marriott Hotel Manila, the budget class Remington Hotel, and the new mid-range Belmont Hotel. There is also a three-story convention center that houses the Marriott Grand Ballroom, the country’s largest ballroom. Two more hotels also with world-class branding are under construction—Hilton Manila Hotel and Sheraton Hotel Manila. “We’re sitting right now with 1,200 hotel rooms. By the end of the year, that’s going to increase to nearly 2,000. When we’re done with phase three, we’ll be sitting with nearly 2,600 hotel rooms. When we’re fully developed we’ll be looking at closer to 5,000 hotel rooms in one location,” Reilly revealed.

A typical workday for Reilly means no less than 12 hours. His first meeting every day starts at 7:30 in the morning. “Sometimes I might actually forget that it’s morning because I haven’t left yet from the night before.” He admitted that his biggest challenge at work is letting go. “I find that a bit difficult sometimes, because I like to know everything going on because there’s nothing worse than walking into a meeting or talking to a guest, and they mention something to you and all you can say is, ‘Great to hear that’ because you don’t know the answer,” he said, with a wide smile.

Reilly said it’s not a case of being a “control freak.” He described it as him being “very, very hands on. You have to be, you have to feel the pulse.” But more than six years since launching the resort he is slowly shifting his focus more toward capital development. “I’m aging, I’m getting a bit older,” he said, smiling. “I also want a bit more time to focus on things that are more strategic.”  

One of his biggest professional inspirations is Sir Richard Branson, the founder and chairman of the Virgin Group. “He was actually here last week as a guest speaker. I really wanted to go. He is very inspirational for me. He admits mistakes, and I truly respect that. And he’s taken on the big boys; he’s taken on British Airways. He really strived to be the best, and now look at him, he owns Necker Island (a private resort in the British Virgin Islands).”

It says a lot that when asked what he might do during his off hours Reilly spent several minutes on a detailed response, without once mentioning any leisure activities. When prodded, he said, “I love to dive, I used to teach a lot of diving when I was younger.” But he admitted he has little time for it anymore. He also said he loves golf, and is a member of several clubs in and around Metro Manila. “But, I think I play once a year,” he admitted.

Clearly, Reilly is a man consumed by his work, but there is one thing that can tear him away from it, and that’s family. “If my children are in town I spend time with them of course.” He has two teenage daughters who attend boarding school in Great Britain. Reilly lives in Manila with his wife, who happens to be Filipina. They met in 1995 while working together in Hong Kong. “She stole my heart, locked it in a safe, and refused to give it back to me,” he said, smiling, “and we’ve got two wonderful daughters.”

Reilly said he no longer has a bucket list to mention. “Most of that went out the window when you have kids.” He said his goals are now more about his children’s goals “because everything I do now is more for them. Actually, the one thing I want to achieve is to leave a legacy with my family. If my children can turn around by the time they’re 30 or maybe 40, and hopefully I’m still around and maybe a grandpa at that time. If they could turn around and say, ‘My Dad did the best he could for us,’ then I’m very, very happy. I’m saying that with all sincerity. That would make me very, very happy.”

Till then he is happy working his usual long hours at Resorts World where he tries to end each day with a walk around the floor. He likes to speak to the guests, “which is really important,” and he also tries to find time to speak to the staff, “not just on official business; you’ve gotta spend time to speak to the team and say, ‘Hey, I’m one of you. I may be one of your bosses, but I’m just a working guy. It’s just that I’ve got a few more stripes on my shoulder, that I’ve earned over the years.’”

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