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Wildlife Reserves chief targeting stability

Mr Barclay plans to focus on three main areas at WRS: creating a work environment that allows staff to develop their skills and reach their potential; create more value for guests; and renew the organisation's focus on conservation in Singapore and S
Mr Barclay plans to focus on three main areas at WRS: creating a work environment that allows staff to develop their skills and reach their potential; create more value for guests; and renew the organisation's focus on conservation in Singapore and South-east Asia, and to inspire visitors to protect the environment.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

Firm has seen too much change to senior management, he says

When Mr Mike Barclay first visited the Night Safari in 1995, it was because of a breakdown in communication.

The Englishman had asked a taxi driver to take him to nightclub Zouk, but instead he was taken to the zoo. "So I got to see the Night Safari 10 months after it opened, which was a great treat," said the 48-year-old, who was working for Singapore Airlines at the time.

Two decades later, Mr Barclay is back at the zoo, but this time it is not by mistake.

The new chief executive officer of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), who took up the job on Oct 1, said joining the organisation was an "easy decision" as he has always loved its parks and the outdoors.

WRS manages the Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari and River Safari.

Mr Barclay, who was CEO of Sentosa Development Corporation in the past seven years, hopes he can lend some stability to an organisation that has seen "too much change" in its senior management in recent years. He is WRS' fourth CEO in eight years. Prior to his Sentosa stint, he was with Singapore Airlines for 16 years.

He told The Straits Times: "One of my early messages to the (WRS) team is that when I go somewhere I tend to stick (around). But of course, the board has to be happy with my performance."

He had left Sentosa having more or less accomplished what he set out to do. "If you wind the clock back seven years, there were some major projects coming up."

These included the setting up of the Resorts World Sentosa integrated resort, the development of Sentosa Cove, and adding transport options, attractions and hotels to the island. "Those boxes had kind of been ticked. So it felt like a good time to pass the mantle on to someone else. You can't hog these good jobs forever," said Mr Barclay.

At WRS, he plans to focus on three main areas.

The first is creating a work environment that allows staff to develop their skills and reach their potential. One of the first things he did was to hold sessions for staff to share what was going on in their departments. "If you create the right environment for people to prosper, they can do wonderful things."

Second, he hopes to create more value for guests. This includes offering multi-park packages at a good price - the company is still experimenting with this - and introducing surprise programmes, such as face-painting, during the weekends and public holidays.

"The end goal should be that every weekend, there's something going on that (visitors) don't necessarily expect and it adds to the excitement - particularly of the children coming to our parks."

The third item on his list is to renew the organisation's focus on conservation in Singapore and South- east Asia, and to inspire visitors to protect the environment.

WRS supports at least 15 conservation projects involving species such as orang utans, banded leaf monkeys and freshwater crabs.

"We do a lot of conservation work, but we don't talk about it very much," Mr Barclay said.

He wants the parks to be better at explaining how their conservation work links to the animals they exhibit and how a guest's visit helps these species.

More than two months into the job, the Singapore permanent resident is slowing getting the hang of it. "Every day's still very, very different," he said.

Mr Barclay, who has lived in New York, Brussels, Zurich, Frankfurt and Nepal, thinks he is "pretty adaptable". He lives with his wife, who works in a school, and two teenage daughters in Dover here.

Last month, he joined a team that counted wild creatures such as snakes and frogs that had ventured into zoo grounds for a biodiversity survey. He said: "We have a wonderful group of experts here. I've a lot to learn."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2015, with the headline 'Wildlife Reserves chief targeting stability '. Print Edition | Subscribe