For all the warm plaudits, it is easy to forget that Arthur’s original proposal was not met with universal enthusiasm in Singapore. "Did the island city-state really need yet another marina?" the skeptics pondered. Arthur, however, was undeterred by such doubts.
When I heard that a residential waterfront was planned, I immediately tendered to build a marina, he recalls.
I entered my bid and prayed – and it worked!
Upon completion, ONE°15 Marina Sentosa Cove – named for its positioning one degree and fifteen minutes north of the Equator – soon blew any lingering skepticism out of the water. Subscriptions to the club reached overflow levels within two months of its opening.
While this was Arthur’s maiden voyage in marina development, nautical entrepreneurialism was in his blood. The SUTL Group of Companies – founded by his father in 1968 – was originally focused on ship chandelling. Since then, it has diversified into further consumer goods and leisure activities, including distributing liquor, tobacco and cosmetics to retailers and running quick service restaurants in Vietnam. True to its roots, however, the organization remains one of Singapore’s main suppliers of bonded stores to ship chandlers.
More than just a livelihood, though, the waters surrounding Singapore have provided the setting for much of Arthur’s life. He grew up in Pasir Panjang – which translates as
long sand – and in the shadow of a busy cargo port. From early on, he loved to venture out on boats to explore, dive and waterski. Diving remains among his favorite pastimes today, as well as spending time on his own yacht, named
Hye Seas II in honor of his late father, Tay Choon Hye.
I love the sea, he says.
I know the coast and its waters well. The vision for Sentosa Cove was always clear to me.
Underpinning Arthur’s belief in the need for more marina space was an important insight.
Very early on, I identified a trend: the rapid rise of Asian high-net-worth consumers, he recalls.
However, this wasn’t just about people’s increasing wealth, but also a change in values and demand for better overall well-being.
I anticipated a shift from my father’s time, where entrepreneurs would never have dreamed of buying a toy that only gave them a couple of days of pleasure every so often. They would have regarded that as almost sinful! Today, things have moved on. You still work extremely hard and run your business profitably, but you also feel comfortable rewarding yourself.
Having successfully established his first marina, Arthur wondered if he might extend the concept beyond his homeland.
I went overseas, and I assessed, he recollects.
I went to Monaco, Portofino, Cinque Terre, New York and San Francisco. All the time, I sought to identify the best characteristics of Asian marinas that could be adapted and prove commercially viable. And it’s turned out very well for us!
The process of developing a marina is far from plain sailing. Community engagement is critical to ONE°15's approach.
Today, SUTL operates or manages ONE°15 marinas in Indonesia’s Nirup Island, Jakarta, Taihu near Shanghai, Logan Cove in China’s Greater Bay Area and Brooklyn in New York City. It also provides marina consultancy services to projects in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam. Rather than simply trying to replicate the formula he created to such great acclaim in Sentosa Cove, however, Arthur adopts a bespoke approach.
We understand that every marina must have its own distinctive personality, he observes.
This is partly because shorelines differ geographically. But it’s also about the people who will use it – the marina must be relevant and purposeful for them. In Asia, consumers seek a very particular combination of security, safety, efficiency, connectability and great food. Of course, such things matter in, say, the US, but there’s a different local blend.
The process of developing a marina is far from plain sailing, as Arthur explains.
You have to engage with the coastal authorities and with regulators in each country. They don’t immediately grasp our model in every case, so we have to show patience and enlighten them. Subsequently, we make the case for why it’ll be good for their coastline, jobs, infrastructure, local community and the environment.
Community engagement is critical to ONE°15’s approach. At its Brooklyn marina – New York’s first new facility in half a century when it opened – a quarter of the total dock space is devoted to free and low-cost access for locals. A portion of revenues is contributed to support sailing and other activities for the community. For Arthur, this is an opportunity to spread his passion for nautical pursuits.
People living in the area love it, he says.
Some of them come back to help out during the summer, which is our peak period, while others go on to sail competitively.
I believe very strongly that we have an obligation to preserve our natural heritage.
Getting people involved with nautical pursuits can also help create vital awareness about sustainability.
I believe very strongly that we have an obligation to preserve our natural heritage, says Arthur.
For me, building marinas can serve to educate the community. One of the best ways to understand some of the environmental challenges we face is to experience them first-hand, by going out and sailing, fishing or diving.
We ought to think of the ocean as the Earth’s lungs, Arthur continues.
It produces at least half of our oxygen and is the main regulator of climate on the planet. But many people have no idea how critical it is to our existence. Likewise, there’s a lack of recognition about the damage that has been done. More than a quarter of coral reefs globally have been destroyed and 90% of big fish populations have depleted. Humanity is taking out more than can be replenished.
To help protect the aquatic eco-system, ONE°15 Sentosa Cove now hosts Singapore’s first man-made coral garden within a marina. In collaboration with the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI), National University of Singapore, the facility serves as a habitat for sea life, a research facility and a place for divers to appreciate the world beneath the waves. Eco-dives involving a hundred volunteers who gather up waste from the marina floor are another regular fixture.
SUTL’s latest initiative to protect the oceans and coastlines is the Blue Water Edufest.
We want to provide a meaningful platform for like-minded individuals and the larger community to connect, support and unite with one heart, says Arthur.
As this is a non-profit event, we will be contributing everything we raise to sustainability efforts in the waters off Sentosa and beyond. If we want to save the world, saving the sea is vital!
Arthur Tay: My life
I was born and raised in Singapore. I am the fifth of my father’s eleven children. I didn’t get to speak to my father all that much when I was growing up. He was a man of few words, and he was always working extremely hard. With such a large family, he knew his responsibility was to strive constantly and to feed us all. When he did talk, we would listen intently – and we’d never argue with him!
My military service in Singapore was a character-building experience. It taught me discipline, which serves me well to this day. After that, I obtained my higher education in California, at San Francisco University, U.C. Berkeley and Golden Gate University. I finally came back to Singapore because my father was getting on in years and I wanted to help bring his business expansion plans to fruition. With my academic business expertise, I figured I could offer some technical skills to make the business function better. My biggest concern was that he needed to have an organized structure so I set about diversifying our entities.
We all have our part to play.
My readiness to enter foreign, unexplored markets was what endeared me to my father. Through him, I got a lot of exposure to other Asian countries, including Burma, Thailand and Indonesia. I traveled further to Vietnam, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Mongolia and throughout the region. I closely observed the ways that people behaved and how they purchased, and how companies went after consumers. I am passionate about finding out what consumers want but I don’t like to do the usual thing when serving them.
I like to deliver something exceptional. Singapore is a very meritocratic place and so is our family business. We respect hard work, tough tenacity and steadfast commitment. Our ethos as a family and as an organization has also always stressed the importance of giving back to society in equal measure to what we have received.
We are longstanding benefactors of Singapore’s first and most established kidney health charity organization, National Kidney Foundation, and have helped built a dialysis center in memory of my father. We have also funded scholarships for low-income Vietnamese students at Singapore Management University. Global citizenship for me means caring for the world and thinking about others, especially those less fortunate than ourselves. We all have our part to play.