Hubert Burda Media

Sea To Shining Sea

Keen boater ARTHUR TAY is envisioning the development of ONE°15-branded marinas all across the region

Any sun-loving seafarer will tell you that there’s one little spot that shines brighter than usual each April. If you understand nautical speak, it’s a place easy enough to find: Just head one degree and 15 minutes north of the equator.
There, you’ll find nestled in the heart of upscale Sentosa Cove the aptly named ONE°15 Marina Club, the regional hub of the superyacht community and venue of this month’s Singapore Yacht Show (SYS). Only just going into its fifth edition (from April 23-26), the event is widely acknowledged as Asia’s leading boat show. More than half a billion dollars’ worth of vessels reportedly dropped anchor last year, attracting, according to a Wealth-X report, visitors with a combined fortune of well over US$400 billion.
Standing at the centre of it all is seasoned boater, avid water-skier and Cove resident Arthur Tay. A Pasir Panjang boy who practically grew up on the beach, Tay invested more than $70 million into transforming this former pirate haunt into Southeast Asia’s top yacht club, unveiling ONE°15 in September 2007. Monaco’s Prince Albert, patron of the Monaco Yacht Show — the world’s largest megayacht event — is only but one in a long list of who’s-who to have moored at the club’s 270 berths.
Head of his family’s SUTL group of companies, which began as a ship chandelling and duty-free supply trading firm, Tay’s expansion into marina development a decade ago was timed perfectly to the government’s plan to turn Sentosa into a playground for the affluent. Reflecting on his successful 2004 tender for the site where ONE°15 now sits, he says candidly: “I heard they were going to build a residential waterfront with a sizable number of homes, so I thought [a marina would] work. I rushed into it, put in my best price bid, prayed a little and won.”
There were detractors at the time who felt that Singapore didn’t need yet another marina, but Tay’s gut instinct is rarely off. “There were a few [naysayers]. But I’m not one who follows the crowd; I prefer to lead. Of course, I also listen to opinions and do my homework,” he adds. For Tay, one icing on the cake had to be that club membership — capped at 4,000 but maintained at a current 3,853 — was fully subscribed less than two months into the club’s opening.
“A good marina is like a good carpark. There are plenty of carparks in the wrong area, which are empty, but a good carpark is always full. We’re a good carpark and we’re blessed,” he says, vindicated and with a lopsided smile. Not only has the club also proven itself as a convenient gateway to Southern Islands, such as Pulau Seringat, Pulau Hantu and Sisters’ Islands, and to regional destinations the likes of Phuket and Krabi, it is also a four-time Best Asia Marina of the Year honouree at the annual Asia Boating Awards.
Describing himself as one “who cannot sit still”, the 59-year-old is only just getting started. If permitted, he will develop more marinas along the Singapore coastline. But convincing local authorities of the economic payoff has taken more time than expected. “But not too much longer, I hope. I’m giving it my last best shot,” says Tay, who has identified at least one other Singapore location, which, for now, he declines to name. “My part in the equation is to persuade the authorities to see this as an opportunity that benefits everyone, not just the boating community.”
A born entrepreneur who even sold ice kacang and other Asian deserts while a university student in late-1970s San Francisco, Tay’s vision is to create an entire yachting infrastructure stretching from Sri Lanka to Indonesia, Thailand and up to Japan and China. With a ribbon of marinas, boaters will be able to connect with each other, rest and refuel along their journey. Thus far, a memorandum of understanding has been signed (in May last year) to develop ONE15 Vung Ro Bay Marina, in Vietnam’s easterly Phú Yên province — what Tay describes as the “first place on land that gets to witness sunrise in Vietnam”. The nautical hub will be built in two phases and will eventually see the creation of some 300 to 400 berths. It is being developed in partnership with the Rose Rock Group-backed Vung Ro Petroleum, which is building an entire waterfront enclave with hotels, luxury townhouses, and retail and entertainment facilities.
“I believe Asia’s next wave is in marina development. With strategic new properties, we will become the next playground for megayachts from all over the world and I want to take leadership of that charge,” he declares. “But we’re not discounting properties outside Asia either. We’re looking for good partners anywhere in the world where there is good marina infrastructure.” Aside from in Vietnam, there is talk that Tay is gearing up for projects as far as the Americas.
“You cannot depend on the Singapore market — it’s too small and costly. There isn’t enough manpower or land to build upon a vision. If you have the next generation in mind, you will have to expand and go overseas,” he says.
A father to twin daughters aged 12, Tay, is himself, a next-generation business leader. SUTL Global, the parent company of ONE°15, was founded by his late father Tay Choon Hye, who started out selling supplies to ships docked in Singapore waters in 1968. Under the charge of the younger Tay, SUTL is now diversified and has presence in 18 different markets and a staff of more than 5,000. Aside from its marina development and consultancy business, the multimillion-dollar conglomerate distributes consumer goods (such as tobacco, wine and spirits, including a range of Arthur’s Reserve wines), operates lifestyle brands (including the NYDC chain of restaurants and in Vietnam, the KFC franchise) and is the controlling shareholder of mainboard-listed tech company Achieva Limited.
But while Tay had shadowed his father to meetings even as a teenager, he had little inkling that at age 25 and chasing his dream as a developer in the San Francisco property market after college, that he would be called back to the family fold. “Sometimes, you have to make a sacrifice for family,” he says matter-of-factly.
He adds: “My father taught me to work hard. He was a man of few words and watching how he brought the bread home taught me that I cannot fail.”
The elder Tay also believed in returning to society in equal measure to what one has received — a philosophy that led him to make a $5 million contribution towards the setup of the Tay Choon Hye-NKF Dialysis Centre in 2000. Under Arthur, this community-minded spirit lives on at SUTL, which in February donated three new dialysis machines in celebration of the company’s 47th anniversary.
“Business success is just one hallmark of a thriving corporation. To be counted truly successful, the company has to be measured by the positive impact it creates in the local communities and the environment,” he says.
It comes without saying then that the bulk of all corporate social responsibility efforts at his beloved ONE°15 have been tailored to address the health of the marina’s waters. This includes advocating the use of water instead of chemicals to wash down vessels and the introduction of corals and mussels into the marina to filter pollutants and act as an additional source of food for marine life — all initiatives he can’t help but speak of with pride.
With his own boat moored at the club, a home within the Cove and his declaration that “it’s magical to be near the water”, the biggest surprise of our chat comes when Tay lets slip that today is actually moving day. The family is relocating to the mainland side of the Sentosa causeway to be closer to the twin’s school.
“But we’ll be back again when they finish secondary school. I was born near the water; I can’t be away from it for too long,” he says. “In Singapore, we’re all islanders.”