Marina Bay Sands: The resort that never sleeps

Managing one of the world’s largest resort properties and its 10,000 employees is certainly no small task. Marina Bay Sands’ Senior Vice President of HR Chan Yit Foon shares just how her team keeps things running smoothly 365 days a year
By: | May 9, 2017

In one episode of the 2012 original docu-series titled Marina Bay Sands 24/7, thousands of staff are seen attending to the biggest dinner ever held at the property – a 5,000 person, eight-course, fine-dining banquet extravaganza.

That evening, the head of banquet operations was tasked to manage some 600 waiters;  valet services had to park 2,500 cars within an hour; and the 400-person culinary team was under immense pressure to deliver meals promptly and seamlessly.

This is a fairly typical Saturday at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands integrated resort. Whether it is across the food and beverage department, in the hotel, the shopping mall, museum, or casino, there is always something big going on.

With over 2,500 guest rooms, a 120,000-square-metre convention centre, a 74,000-square-metre shopping arcade, a 21-gallery museum, two large theatres, world-class “celebrity chef” restaurants, and the world’s biggest atrium casino with 500 tables, every part of this gigantic machine has to stay well-oiled around the clock.


Well-defined roles

As MBS’ Senior Vice President of HR Chan Yit Foon shares, the talent management team – all 73 of them working across 100 departments – face the challenge of providing for the entity’s human capital needs, and supporting its business goals.

With so many departments and nearly 10,000 employees in all, Chan says having the right structure has been the key driver of her team’s ability to tackle the sheer scale of MBS’ workforce.

“We organise ourselves in well-defined ways that enable us to support all the different departments,” she says.

Chan explains that MBS divides HR into three main functions: HR partners, design, and delivery.

The role of HR partners is to interact directly with the various departments, from front office all the way to backend operations. They will find out what each department’s people needs are, as well as help ensure that all staff understand the various HR policies, programmes,  and standard operating procedures.

“They are very knowledgeable in all HR policies and business functions, and are advisors to the different business units,” says Chan.

These partners will then explain to the design team about the unique requirements of each department. This design team is made up of specialists who are well-versed in niche HR specialisations like recruitment specifically through school outreach, and compensation and benefits.

With the information, the specialists will develop programmes and policies to meet those needs.

Once the policies have been formulated, it is the delivery team that ensures smooth implementation across the team involved, or the entire organisation if required.

While their roles are different, the three functions often collaborate closely on policy formulation and implementation. Chan says succession planning is one area where tight collaboration is regularly needed.

For business units that tend to experience high attrition rates, for example, HR partners will identify the roles that are constantly facing shortages. From there, they will draw up a plan for consistent pipelines to keep those operations running.

During this succession planning process, programmes and schemes often have to be created, so the partners will work with the design team before introducing the solutions back at the individual units.



For an organisation as big as MBS with so many distinct parts, Chan says it is pivotal that all 10,000 employees adopt the “one MBS” mindset, and feel as if they are part of a family.

To instil this principle, along with other key corporate values like integrity, passion, and teamwork from the outset, the property conducts perhaps one of the most comprehensive, wide-scale onboarding programmes in the region.

Every new hire, from ground staff all the way to senior executives, attend the same two-day orientation programme. They participate in activities designed to train them on being team players and building “one MBS” together.

The most important outcome is that employees learn about the company’s vision and mission of being a diverse and inclusive organisation that “transcends all borders”, says Chan.

This helps ensure that every team member is working in sync towards achieving the same goals of making MBS “the best resort in the world”.

“Our guests don’t see that you are working for the hotel or the casino. It’s very important that all staff represent the brand as a whole.”


Structured recruitment

But even before reaching this stage, Chan stresses the importance of hiring the right people. Working for Singapore’s largest resort property is certainly not for the faint-hearted, she says.

With over 2,000 roles hired each year for a wide range of business divisions, recruitment is inherently one of the HR team’s top priorities.

The talent acquisition team, through a structured recruitment process, puts job candidates through thorough pre-screening assessments to identify those who exhibit the values of MBS and attributes needed for each specific role.

“What I mean by ‘structured’ is that we have set several benchmarks for the selection process,” says Chan.

“So if applicants exceed the first set of requirements, then they’re cleared for the next round, but this is just the initial stage.”

In its online written tests, questions are subtly phrased to test candidates on traits such as service excellence and how passionate they are about their work and interests.

Their answers provide insight to the recruiters to discern who the ideal candidates are.

With a significant number of its hires being for customer-facing roles, Chan says service excellence is one of the key characteristics MBS looks for in its potential recruits.

“As an integrated resort, in everything that we do, our mission is to bring people to our property and create unforgettable memories and the best experiences for them,” says Chan.

“Giving them each amazing touchpoint is very important, and those are things you can test and find out from applicants.”

MBS has been committed to hiring and developing Singaporeans since it opened in 2010. Today, locals make up 60% of the tourist attraction’s workforce.

“We put in a lot of effort to work with various local government agencies and groups to hire locals,” says Chan, adding that the organisation participates regularly in career fairs, and also seeks out Singapore Armed Forces personnel who are transitioning between careers.

The company has perhaps unsurprisingly been a big participant in the Singapore Government’s SkillsFuture initiative; hospitality diploma graduates are employed by hotels and resorts to learn on the job for four days out of the week. They then return to their schools for classroom learning one day a week.

MBS hired six Republic Polytechnic students through this programme in May last year and Chan says the company is very pleased with their progress and contributions.

Committed to local hiring

At a glance

Number of employees: 9,500

Size of the HR Team: 73

Key HR Focus Area:

– Recruitment

– Learning and development

– Career growth

– Employee engagement and retention











Dynamic pipelines

The property has also had to resort to alternative staffing approaches in order to meet its diverse and dynamic pipeline needs, Chan shares.

Instead of just recruiting for roles via the traditional route, MBS has introduced schemes aimed at developing competencies of incoming candidates who might not possess the skills needed for their hired role, but have the capability to progress toward that level.

“Typically, you would go out and buy the skills needed. But there’s such a tight labour market in Singapore today, so instead of buying the skills, we build the skills,” Chan explains.

One example is the Security Officers Traineeship Scheme. To cover the entire property, Chan says MBS requires nearly 500 security officers on its schedule throughout the year.

Instead of hiring 500 experienced security officers, MBS brought on board hundreds of individuals without experience in the security field. Over a 90-day period, they were trained internally for the job, and then put through an accredited Singapore Workforce Skills Qualification training course where they were certified and greenlit to be officially deployed on the floor.


Best of the best

Keeping a resort the size of MBS running smoothly also requires keeping employees consistently happy and motivated to perform at their best.

This is why the company puts a lot of effort into staff engagement, says Chan.

Some of MBS’ key engagement practices include the quarterly One MBS Achiever. This reward and recognition programme celebrates exceptional contributions in line with the company’s corporate values of respect, integrity, passion, teamwork, and creativity. Winners receive a $200 cash prize.

The “Best of Best” awards, on the other hand, are a much grander affair, that Chan says is akin to the Oscars. As part of the annual awards, a gala dinner takes place every March, bringing together some 300 nominated employees for being their respective team’s most outstanding member.

Some 50 employees will ultimately receive a trophy as recognition of their hard work, and an all-expenses paid trip to MBS’ sister property in Macau.

“The beauty of this place is we let every team member appreciate who their high-performing colleagues are, and inspire them to do their best as well,” says Chan.

MBS’ annual dinner and dance party is another momentous event executed with the utmost thought and attention to detail.

There are two sessions each year, attended by some 5,000 employees who have to dress according to the chosen theme.  In 2015 for example, the various halls were designed based on the different eras of the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Chan believes that going all out on the annual dinner and dance – even bringing in some of the celebrity chefs on site to handle the catering – is something that makes employees feel like it is a “privilege” to work for the company, rather than an “entitlement”.


Daily experience

While Chan admits that these awards and parties are good motivational tools, she says it is the day-to-day experience and wellbeing of team members that counts for more.

The employee experience is particularly evident in what is known as the “Heart of House”, a massive employee care centre located at the property’s basement level. Workers can visit the doctor if they are feeling unwell, or get their uniform laundry done, complete with alteration services.

But the most noteworthy thing about this “underground city” is its dining room, where all 10,000 employees have their meals every day, prepared by a culinary team dedicated to cooking meals only for staff. At least nine choices are served in a buffet line, along with drinks and dessert.

This dining room provides a space for all team members to gather and interact on a more personal basis.

These efforts have well and truly paid off for MBS, says Chan, as internal survey scores reveal a very high level of engagement and satisfaction among employees.

“The scale of our workforce is a big challenge here. So it’s important that we do what we can to become an employer of choice here in Singapore, and make everyone feel proud that they work for ‘one MBS’”.