The BPO industry, also commonly known as the call center business, emerged from the ashes of the Mid-1990’s Asian financial crisis. “We were the first to do that, conceptualize it, brought it to the government. And from almost nothing, it is today a 20-billion-dollar industry. So I’m very proud of that, being able to be at the forefront of developing that industry,” Sian revealed.
He also recalled the “light bulb” moment that got it all started. “We essentially had a bunch of empty office buildings and were scratching our heads—where do we get tenants to fill them up? Well, one day a prospective tenant came in and said they were doing BPO, but back then it was called ‘shared services.’”
Sian and his colleagues did the research and saw the huge potential. “We thought if there’s a guy like this that’s looking for space there’s probably thousands of other companies in the States that also need it to house their workforce,“ he said. “So we created the concept of what you call an ‘IT park’ to house a lot of these BPO companies, but we needed incentives to be provided to them, which only the government could provide.” So they took their plan to the government, and of course the government said “no.”
But Sian’s group wouldn’t take “No” for an answer, and ultimately their persistence paid off. “In fact, we went on a road trip and we showed them (government officials) that it was already happening in India. We took them to Bangalore and other parts of Asia like Singapore where it was already happening, and told them that if we miss this then it will be a big wasted opportunity. So they finally saw the light. We came back, and we got it done,” he said.
Sian eventually moved on from the BPO to help launch another new industry, the integrated resorts. He is currently president of Resorts World Manila, the Philippines’s first and largest integrated resort. Their concept was to bring together a group of world-class hotel properties, casinos, shopping, and entertainment into a single complex.
“It’s really a growing industry, and we’re not just focused on the gaming component, but really to integrate all the other aspects of what a tourist would want when they come and visit. And so the integrated concept, I think, is perfect for that. It’s growing by double-digit numbers, around 15 percent per annum. I think there’s a lot of new interest in the industry, and so we’re all excited,” he explained.
Resorts World Manila continues its seemingly endless expansion. Sian said they are doing a lot of “new build,” including an even larger integrated resort not far from the current property.
Amidst all this Sian made his first trip to Guam recently and met with Gov. Eddie Calvo and other local officials and business leaders. He sees the potential for growth in the island’s tourism industry. "I think it’s a great place and quite convenient. It’s only about four hours away from a lot of places in Asia,” he observed, “but at this point our focus is on the Philippines because it is a growing economy. But who knows, in the future, as I said, you’re so near, and obviously there will be opportunities here as well. I think there are quite a number of Filipino businessmen who have been here and done well in various industries, and so we can never tell,” he said.
Sian started his career in banking, and has a Master in Business Administration for Finance and Business Policy from the University of Chicago. Away from work, things have quieted down for him. “Unfortunately we’re empty nesters already; you know, my two kids are away already in school, and so it’s just me and my wife and our dogs. I do a little bit of tennis. I go to the gym. Just a very simple life,” he said.
By contrast, Sian’s professional life is much more busy. In addition to his job at Resorts World Manila, he is also the president of the Travellers International Hotel Group, Alliance Global Group, Megaworld Land, Forbestown Properties Holdings, and Eastwood Cyber One Corporation. He is a director for the boards of a host of other companies, as well.
He draws his inspiration from his boss, the founder and chairman of the company, Philippine billionaire Dr. Andrew Tan. “He’s a self-made man. He came from China, grew up in Hong Kong, and built the business from nothing to become not only a large local player, but a global player, as well. Aside from real estate and this integrated resort business, we’re also into liquor, and three years ago we bought the fifth largest scotch whiskey company in the world called Whyte and Mackay, and now we’re a global player on the whiskey side,” Sian said.
He continued, “He gave me the opportunity to do this. And taught me that discipline of being able to focus on one thing, and being the best at it. At this point I’m still focused on driving the business. I derive immense pleasure in running this, and being able to build this business. It’s fun for me.”
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