Art/Style/Travel DiariesStyle

Chairman Kevin Tan: Watch youth transform a conglomerate

'We learned to adapt, become more empathetic and people-centric,' says Alliance Global Group Inc (AGI) head

The Reception Hall at Hotel Okura Manila

In an era where influencers and bloggers are the preferred guests in media events, it was amazing to have an exclusive affair of veterans from lifestyle publications.  It was even more surprising to have the chairman of Alliance Global Group Inc (AGI), Kevin L. Tan—KLT in the corporate world—join us for a leisurely lunch at Yamazato, the fine dining Japanese restaurant of the luxurious Hotel Okura Manila at Newport World Resorts. Formerly known as Resorts World Manila, it is the 14-year-old lifestyle and entertainment district in Newport City township in Pasay City

Clad in a sporty blazer with a pocket square, Tan, with his Indonesian guest Willix Halim, arrived at Yamazato  coming from Eastwood, the first township in Quezon City built by AGI subsidiary Megaworld.

Media consultant Joji Dingcong insisted on the value of maintaining ties to the old guard, the traditional media which, he said. carries more gravitas.

Dingcong underscored that it was about time that the press met with KLT as the chairman of AGI, the conglomerate whose interests cover real estate, food and beverage (its casual fine dining restaurants and bars have been getting good reviews), liquor (Emperador is the world’s largest brandy manufacturer), quick-service restaurants and tourism entertainment/gaming.

Press at Kevin Tan lunch

In infrastructure, AGI is part of the newly-formed Manila International Airport Consortium, a group of six Philippine companies and an American infrastructure investment firm that aims to revitalize the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, in partnership with the government. Tan mentioned that tourism arrivals in the Philippines, despite the uptick, were less compared to those of its neighbors. He noted that the state of the airport was critical to tourism.

When Tan was appointed AGI chairman in March 2022, things started to move even in the pandemic. Hotel Okura was inaugurated in April last year, and Resorts World Manila was rebranded as Newport World Resorts in July.

When Tan was appointed AGI chairman last March 2022, things started to move. Hotel Okura was inaugurated in April last year, and Resorts World Manila was rebranded as Newport World Resorts in July

“This has been the start of the transformation,” said Tan.

Launched in 2009,  Newport World Resorts is the country’s first integrated resort, a district consisting of casino and gaming, lodgings, conference venues, retail, dining, and entertainment.  Under its new identity, Newport World Resorts has been divided into the Garden Wing, consisting of Marriott, a convention center, mall, theater, and casino and gaming complex, and the Grand Wing, which includes three international five-star hotels and more casinos and gaming.

Tan revealed plans for enhancing the retail district, the children’s facilities, and rebranding Maxims, the country’s first all-suite hotel, into Newport Mansion with 14  new villas.

However, the 42-year-old tycoon maintained there was no order of business for the Chairman’s Lunch except to introduce Hotel Okura Manila and Yamazato. Okura impresses with its resplendent finishes of marble, glass, and steel, softened by flowers along the bridgeway. Though the busy casino was nearby,  Okura’s ambiance came across as a sanctuary, heightened by images of mountains, forests, and rice fields, and Japanese architectural motifs referencing old homes and temples in the Edo period. The Hinoki Yu room is built with a wooden bathtub made of hinoki, a prized aromatic wood used in Japanese baths. The guest rooms were nearly double the size of the rooms in other hotels.

Okura’s value proposition is the blend of omotenashi, the Japanese art of hospitality and attention to detail, and Filipino warmth. This augurs well for its discriminating guest mix of high-rollers, executives, Japanese businessmen, and high net-worth individuals who find the P20,000 to P25,000 per night rate small change.

At the Chairman’s Lunch,  the press was feted with Yamazato’s specialty, the kaiseki, an exquisitely-plated, traditional Japanese multi-course meal consisting of a variety of seafoods with wagyu. The press made their way through the bite-sized appetizers of firefly squid and chicken loaf, a soup with seabream and clam to titillate the palate, and a sashimi of gourmet fish—lobster, bluefin tuna, lapu-lapu, and salmon. The deep-fried ayu sweetfish was a hit among the guests.

Chairman’s Kaiseki

Yamazato is  famous for its wagyu sirloin. One dish was served salad style, accompanied by caviar and ikura, while the succeeding main course, the wagyu tenderloin, came with garlic rice with dried young sardines. The dessert was light—sweetened crown melon from Shizuoka prefecture with a contrast of wasabi pudding and arrowroot noodles in syrup.

The press was feted with Yamazato’s specialty, the ‘kaiseki,’ an exquisitely-plated, traditional Japanese multi-course meal consisting of a variety of seafoods with wagyu

Nibbling on the starters, Tan shared his experience attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last January. He was part of the “Magnificent 7,” a group of top business leaders who joined President Marcos Jr. Since there were no hotels in Davos, he shared a chalet with Lance Gokongwei, president and CEO of JG Summit Holdings conglomerate.

He also talked about looking for places to entertain his Indonesian friend during the weekday. They ended up at Dr. Wine rooftop bar and French restaurant in Poblacion, Makati. It overlooks the CBD skyline. Yes Please cocktail bar at The Palace complex was another go-to place on a working day.

Tan started to eat only as the courses got heavier. He hardly touched the dessert tray when he was asked questions about a highlight of his career. “There have been many trials over the years, and the most recent was COVID,” he said. “We had to deal with it and recover from it.”

Yet, despite the stress of adjusting to new working conditions and the uncertainty of the future, developments continued. “We kept building,” said Tan, adding that Okura was arguably the only hotel in the city that continued construction at the height of the pandemic.

The  lessons from the pandemic changed their perspective towards work. “We learned to adapt, become more empathetic and people-centric,” he said.

Asked what his father and company founder, Andrew Tan, was doing now, KLT replied that the 71-year-old was “semi-retired” though still active.

A source described Tan as “easy to work with” because of his humility and people skills, cultivated by his parents. He can’t be bothered with fluffy conversation and would rather talk about matters of substance.

Dingcong noted that although AGI’s millennial media team favored the digital natives as the news conveyors, he hoped that Tan would continue his conversations with the old guard  press.

“That’s the legitimate way to validate the company,” he said.

Yawaragi at Hotel Okura Manila

About author


She is a veteran journalist who’s covered the gamut of lifestyle subjects. Since this pandemic she has been giving free raja yoga meditation online.

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