Making His Own Luck

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CALL IT luck or seizing opportunities, but Arun Madhok has lived a charmed life.

The gregarious chief executive of Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre is a man in search of challenges that will push him to keep raising his own bar. He took on a one-year project to manage the renovation of Suntec in 2012. When the entire executive team vacated their roles, Arun found himself signing on as the CEO.

With a free hand to develop new concepts, Arun moved the 42,000 sqm Suntec away from being just a space to meet, into a centre that delivered “memorable occasions” for its customers. The versatile venue runs close to 2,000 events annually, and that — and Arun — keeps the 200 staff on the go. While business is brisk, Arun fires the team up to develop new ways of keeping the customers interested to continue edging away from the competition.

The large video wall, made up of more than 660 television monitors is a highlight of the renovated building. It’s a photo opportunity that is seldom passed up on.

Born into a naval family, Arun travelled a lot and found himself in various industries. He strived to excel in all of them — computer programming (“I realised I had more fun dealing with people than bits and bytes.”), flight attendant at Pan American Airways, construction worker, airport security, senior echelon manager at British Airways (BA).

“I got lucky,” he says. “At each turn I got to learn something new, and when the opportunity came knocking, I wasn’t scared to take the jump.”
That was how he landed the Suntec job. The then CEO of Suntec was his manager at BA, and had asked Arun to come across for a year to help with the strategic planning for the centre. It turned out to be quite an unexpected ride.

He talks to STORM about the challenges and opportunities of running Suntec. Here is an excerpt from his interview, which will be published in STORM V.24, due in the book stores in December.

STORM: Does the regional economic downturn affect your business?
ARUN MADHOK: If we think back to the bird flu scare and financial crisis, we did see a small dip in the number of events held. We might also have seen a resizing of events. But we are in a resilient business.

Whatever is going on, people need to meet. If a business is reorganising, the staff will need to meet. If the regional business is being restructured, you will need to bring your different country heads together to meet. If you are celebrating, of course you will meet.

Companies will be tighter on their yield, but business continues.

STORM: Have you heightened security in the mall given the rise in terrorist activity around the world?
ARUN: When we started our renovation, we worked closely with the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Prime Minister’s Office and the various authorities to make sure that our building was an ideal venue for VIPs and other prominent people, and that would ensure we have a building that is safe to operate in.

We’ve installed a lot of passive and active deterrents and detection equipment.

What happened in Paris (the bombings) is quite extreme. We can’t pretend that Singapore is isolated from it. Prevention is what we try and do — early detection. We have some of the latest technology in place for this.

We have millions of people coming into our building. We can’t search everyone. But we are better positioned as an island because our early warning system is probably a little better.

The whole terrorism threat has changed. It’s your neighbour who has an ideology who’s using it in a way you can’t anticipate. It’s a difficult task for the government. As a company, we comply with everything the authorities ask.

The worst thing is not to be prepared. We prepare as much as we can.

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