Broadmeadows to Macau: How Sands’ David Sylvester rose through the ranks
We recently sat down with David Sylvester, the executive vice president of global retail at Las Vegas Sands Corporation, for his thoughts on his career thus far and how he keeps himself grounded while at the same time managing a dizzying array of responsibilities. Inside Retail: Tell me about your career journey. How did you get into the industry, what are some of the different roles you’ve held along the way? David Sylvester: I started off my career with Lendlease in 1985 as marketing manager
anager of Broadmeadows Shopping Square in Victoria, Australia. After leaving Lendlease, I continued with marketing taking up a role at Westfield Southland.
I then had the chance to get into centre management with Jones Lang LaSalle looking after Endeavour Hills Shopping Centre in Melbourne’s East.
I progressed up the corporate ladder by taking up various positions and projects around the country. My final roles were heading up retail leasing for Australia and then international leasing based in Hong Kong.
After 12 years with Jones Lang LaSalle, I then joined GIC, the Singapore Government’s offshore investment arm as head of retail with assets in Australia that included the Queen Victoria Building, Strand Arcade and Chifley Plaza.
Due to my project experience and exposure to luxury retail, I was approached by Las Vegas Sands Corporation to set up their retail business in Asia. That turned into a global role and here I am today still with the company 17 years later.
IR: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your career and how have you dealt with them?
DS: One of the biggest challenges I faced was when I first joined Las Vegas Sands Corp in Macau. I was set the task of leasing and setting up management structures for five malls with over 1000 shops in a market that had never had a shopping mall.
The way I dealt with it was by taking the ‘baby steps’ approach, I tried not to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. I broke it down into a number of smaller objectives and concentrated on finalising certain goals before moving onto the next ones.
IR: What are some of your career highlights so far?
DS: Looking back, one highlight that sticks out was when we won our first Retail & Leisure International Award for Best International Shopping Centre with our Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore in 2012. We beat out the newly finished Westfield Stratford in the UK and many other global contenders.
IR: What do you love about your job?
DS: I get to do unique and interesting things most of the time. As a group we are constantly pushing the boundaries of the luxury experience and that puts us on the world stage.
IR: What are some of the key leadership lessons you’ve picked up over the course of your career?
DS: Run your business lean and mean in the good times, so you don’t have to scale back so much in the tough times. Find the best people, invest time in putting together well thought out SOPs [standard operating procedures] and then empower your team to do their job.
Lastly, some words of wisdom from my business hero who constantly reminded me that there was always another deal bus coming: “If the deal isn’t right, don’t do it.”
IR: What advice would you give to someone who wants to move up the corporate ladder?
DS: The best way to move up the corporate ladder is to achieve good results in what you are doing and demonstrate that you are capable of taking on more.
In your early to mid-career, stick with the ratio of being over 90 per cent focused on the company’s results and less than 10 per cent on getting caught up in politics. Be flexible and don’t just follow the money, go for the right roles and the money will come.
IR: Do you have any business heroes?
DS: My greatest business hero was our late Chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp, Mr Sheldon G Adelson. He was fearless and had the ability to see what could be, when others were trying to work out what just happened.
I had the great fortune of working with him on our Singapore and Macau projects and learnt more in that time than the rest of my entire career.
IR: Do you have any “work hacks” for getting things done?
DS: I am definitely an inbox zero type of guy. I find if you put things into action when they hit you, time isn’t wasted moving tasks around and chasing up things you haven’t done.
IR: What’s your approach to work-life balance?
DS: A career is a marathon not a short sprint so you have to find a work-life balance that is sustainable in the long run.
You have periods where work is all-consuming but you need to pull that back when you can.
I am fortunate to work for a company whose leaders know the true value of family and understand the importance of finding that needed balance.
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