Dennis Cheong joined Northpoint City as the General Manager shortly before Singapore’s Circuit Breaker last year.
Behind the malls of Frasers Property, we have a group of dedicated individuals working tirelessly to bring our shoppers the best experience. As part of our People Story series, we bring to light some interesting insights and anecdotes from the individuals behind the scenes, speaking to them to find out more about their jobs and interests outside of work.
This month, we caught up with Dennis Cheong, General Manager of Northpoint City, one of the largest malls in the north of Singapore. In this interview, Dennis shares with us the ins and outs of running a mall, his hobbies and the little things that keep him motivated.
Could you share with us your day-to-day responsibilities as the General Manager of Northpoint City? What is one lesser known fact about your job?
On top of the usual paperwork, my role as a General Manager is to ensure that the mall operations run smoothly. I typically conduct my mall walk three to four times throughout the day to ensure that everything is running smoothly, and that the mall delivers a safe and comfortable shopping experience for our shoppers. Being the mall manager also entails curating our tenant mix to meet the needs of our community. With Northpoint City being such a large mall, we organise our tenants according to how they complement one another, to help shoppers better navigate the mall. This helps create a better retail experience for our shoppers.
On the managerial side, I am sometimes likened to be the papa bear of the team. As the General Manager, you are responsible for the well being of the team, and gelling your team and ensuring that the various teams work well together while embracing each other’s differences. Once you get a good system going, the camaraderie is formed and the magic of teamwork happens. Everyone is clear on their roles and will carry out their tasks effectively to the best of their ability. When I see everyone doing this, I know that I have succeeded in creating a collaborative environment with no silos and this is one of the most satisfying aspects of my role.
What aspect of your job do you enjoy the most?
I like that my job is not totally deskbound. During my mall walks, I get to see actual projects and works materialising. For instance, whenever a tenant enters the mall, you get to see the whole process; from the time they sign the lease documentation to the fitting out of their unit. Once they open, you get to observe how they trade, and work with them on driving sales for their business.
I also have the opportunity to interact with our technicians, cleaners and the security team. These people are your eyes and ears on the ground and their observations of the mall are oftentimes crucial in the decision making of our mall operations
It also brings me joy to witness our plans being executed within the mall and knowing that our staff are always ready to bring a better shopping experience for our visitors. Such small wins make me happy and bring much satisfaction.
How would you describe your leadership style?
My leadership style can be described as democratic and participative. I believe that everyone has a role to play in contributing to the betterment of the mall and thus, should feel free to contribute and speak up. Typically, I would work with my department heads to discuss the various issues and listen to the perspectives of my team before coming up with solutions together. It is very useful to gather these insights as everyone has varying backgrounds and experiences.
Being the largest mall in the north, what are some challenges in upkeeping Northpoint City, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic?
While we have always been committed to providing a safe environment for the community, this has only become more important now given the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides ensuring that our mall conducts regular deep cleaning and disinfection to uphold the highest hygiene standards, we also have to manage the traffic flow within the mall to ensure that everyone adheres to the safe distancing and safe management measures. With Northpoint City being a transport hub, managing the entry and exit points is an extra challenging task! Previously, we had many entrances and exits open to welcome our shoppers but now, we need to strategically select which entrances and exits to use and manage the safe entry process.
To add to the challenge, I have also only just joined Northpoint City right before the Circuit Breaker so I had to quickly adapt to working with new team members whom I have never met before.
To better connect with my team, I like to surprise them with gifts and food, which serve as an encouragement for them as well. When the team returned to the office during Phase 2 of Singapore’s reopening, I left “Welcome Back” care packs on their desks to welcome them back to the office. Even though we may not be able to meet in person as often given the current situation, we can still show care and concern for each other through simple acts like these.
To welcome his staff back to the office during Phase 2 of Singapore’s reopening, Dennis prepared care packs for them.
What is one thing most people might not know about you?
I am a qualified scuba diver. I took up this sport while I was studying in the United States at the Arizona State University. It was a memorable experience as our lessons were held in a small seaside town in Mexico, about a four-hour drive from the university. So I got to travel to another country every week just to dive. There is a whole different world in the ocean, and it gives you a different perspective to life. Scuba diving has made me realise that there is such a vast world out there and we are so small compared to the universe.
I also enjoy cooking when I am stressed. I find it very therapeutic, and my colleagues would be the ‘beneficiaries’ of the end product. It makes me very happy when I see others enjoying my cooking.
One of Dennis’ go-to dishes to cook is 糯米饭 nuòmǐ fàn (glutinous rice).
Do you have any hobbies or activities that you are currently participating in?
I usually go on walks ranging between 5km to 6km. However, post-Circuit Breaker, I started going on even longer walks that stretch between 10km to 20km as I wanted to push myself to accomplish something new in the brand new year.
One particularly satisfying walk I had was the coast-to-coast trail which stretched almost 40km and took me around nine hours to complete. To avoid the heat, I walked the trail overnight starting in the evening till dawn. I embarked on the walk on New Year’s Eve and arrived just in time to catch the fireworks when I reached Bishan Park. It was definitely one of the more memorable New Year’s.
View of the sunrise taken during one of Dennis’ long walks.
Lastly, could you share with us what keeps you motivated in your job?
Nurturing the next generation of staff to take up leadership in the centre management office is what keeps me going. Mall leadership roles are highly stressful, and I would like to share my experiences with those who would like to walk down this path to help them along their career goals. I believe that establishing strong teamwork and camaraderie is key to ensuring success in this industry. The mall cannot be run by a single person or department – it takes a resilient team to keep the mall running smoothly, and I am glad that I have a great team supporting me throughout.