How to Work With Millennials


Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Listen first, talk later.

Says Tan, whose passion for supporting new business owners has led her to work with many millennial tenants: “They are very different, you have to listen to them first because they want to be heard.

Only then can you share with them how you can add value, and that’s when they can see whether there’s a potential partnership.”

A little trust goes a long way.

Boulder Movement co-owner Jansen Ko remembers pitching his concept to Tan. “At first glance, it was clear that we were a start-up without a prior track record. Other people in her position probably would have struck us off the list based purely on that fact. But she saw that our brand held promise and that we had assembled a strong team to take on the project. And so she gave us a chance.” Now, he says, he and his partners are determined to repay that faith and contribute to the Downtown Gallery eco-system.

The relationship has to be more than transactional.

Local online boutique Beyond The Vines decided to set up its first two physical stores at Mandarin Gallery and Downtown Gallery because its partnership with OUE goes beyond space rental. “Patrina is extremely approachable and accepting of any of our crazy marketing and campaign ideas,” says co-founder Daniel Chew. “Once, we held an event, The BTV After Dark Sale, which ran from 9pm 2am. With only short notice from us, Patrina and her team spared no effort in coordinating the security and operations team to facilitate the event, making sure our operations went smoothly the entire night.”


Online becomes a real issue only if retailers do not repurpose to remain relevant to the lifestyle of the consumers, mainly the millennials.”

If Tan seems to have the millennial mindset all worked out, it’s because she is au fait with that bracket: She has four children, aged between 14 and 27. This is a parent who grew up in an era when, as she says, if you had said you wanted to be an influencer, “you would get whacked”. Yet here she is, proudly announcing that one of her sons is Instagram-famous, before whipping out her mobile to show us her son’s account and its nearly 20,000 followers. “I learn from my children all the time.”

That open-minded approach is what she takes with her tenants too. Tan, who has been with OUE for nine years, believes that retail is about looking at the landscape “at a macro level”. And she’s working at shifting that traditional landlord-tenant relationship away from being merely transactional, to one that is about shared vision. “It’s about building things together as a seamless communal eco-system; finding out what your neighbour is doing so you can best complement it.”

Never one to shy away from a challenge, she feels that what the local retail scene lacks most is “guts and authenticity”. Which is why she has eschewed the tried-and-tested formula of anchoring her malls with dining outlets and prefers to support new entrepreneurs, like The Autobus, the CBD’s first cycling hub, and Boulder Movement, the district’s first climbing gym. “F&B is only one piece in the total retail experience. It’s also important to have the right balance in terms of our tenant mix, as we are conscious of the fact that customers are looking for more than just dining options,” she says.

Tan was also instrumental in helping local online boutique Beyond The Vines set up its first two physical stores at Mandarin Gallery and Downtown Gallery, a partnership that has gone beyond space rental. Says Daniel Chew, co-founder of Beyond The Vines: “We had a launch party recently at our newly opened store at Downtown Gallery and OUE was the main sponsor for food and beverage. OUE even gave complimentary shopping vouchers to all our guests. I am in awe of its generosity.”


A retail veteran, Tan started in advertising before kicking off her shopping centre career at Scotts Holdings with a role in advertising and promotions.

There, a former boss noticed her aptitude for business, and she was handed the leasing portfolio.She later moved to Orchard 290, operator of Paragon Shopping Centre, for seven years as its deputy general manager, where she helped revamp the mall into the luxury offering it is today.

In 2008, OUE came calling. At the time, she remembers, she had “no intention” of leaving and nearly didn’t agree to the meeting. “I don’t believe in wasting people’s time. But something in my heart told me there was no harm to just meet up.” Her first interview, a casual chat over lunch at a now-defunct Chinese restaurant in Mandarin Orchard, was with OUE chief executive Thio Gim Hock. That was when she realised that the company and its management had a “very different approach” from what she was used to. “(The interview) was about my perspective in life on different things beyond work. I also had a lot of respect for the fact that the staff practise what they preach.”

The lunch led to another synergistic meeting with the group’s chairman, Stephen Riady, at his Shenton Way office. To say it went well would be an understatement; when Tan returned to her desk after the meeting, she received a call from OUE.

The job was hers.Today, she calls her acceptance of the offer “the best decision I’ve made”. “When something is right, you find peace in your heart and you will be able to say yes very readily,” she says. “I work for people, not for companies – whether that’s right or not, I don’t know.”

Like any good story though, Tan’s has had its trials. “Challenges are always to do with dealing with people,” she says. “Some people can make things very difficult for you. But that’s retail for you.Staying positive is key. We often forget our original purpose, and that’s why we scramble when things go haywire. I also see ‘NO’ as ‘Next Opportunity’, instead of a negative.”



To unwind, the almost intimidatingly lithe Tan goes cycling, a sport that she picked up just nine months ago but is so serious about that she’s already acquired (and souped up) a top-of-the-range Specialized Amira road bike, not to mention quite a collection of outfits. “I think I have a bigger cycling wardrobe than people who’ve been cycling for nine years!” she admits with a gleeful giggle.

Date nights with her husband, an engineer turned creative professional, now involve cycling around Singapore’s east side, where they moved a few months ago so that her elderly mother could be nearer her siblings. The joy in biking together, she says, is in “keeping each other on track to improve our performance.”

The downtime is especially welcome to Tan, who confesses to being something of an introvert.

“On the outside, everybody thinks I’m a party animal and that I’m gregarious and go out all the time,” she says. “But I’m not who I look like. I don’t like to go out. I don’t strike up conversations well with strangers. I can go to a party and come out not knowing anybody, and I’m happy with that. But if I have to do it, I’ll do it, and I’ll do it with sincerity.”

As she nears 50, Tan’s plans for the future are just as endearingly simple. She’s planning a three day trip to Bali with nine of her former convent school mates, all of whom will be celebrating their 50th birthdays next year. And beyond that? “I want to continue to do what I do for quite a while more.

You know the saying, love what you do and you will not have to work a day? I love what I do and I can say that I have not worked a day in my life.”


To unwind, Tan hits the road with her trusty road bike.


IN Tan's children, especially her 19-year-old son Jeremy, help her make sense of the millennial generation.

Tan helped local online retailer Beyond The Vines establish its first two physical stores at Mandarin Gallery and Downtown Gallery.