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Suite Talk: Waterbom Bali’s CEO on why working his way up made him a better leader



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Having practically lived his life in the waterpark he now leads, Sayan Gulino, Chief Executive Officer, Waterbom Bali, tells Jerene Ang what he enjoys most about work. 

Q Leading a waterpark is certainly something few people will get to experience. Give us an insight into how a typical work day looks like

In the mornings, I kick off my day with a couple of rounds around the waterpark to check on how things are going on the operational front and to make key observations. I’ve also found that walking and reflecting has helped me gather inspiration to generate ideas, especially while I’m fresh in the morning. I’m lucky to be able to work in a place that’s so uplifting and inspirational – nestled in the heart of nature, and surrounded by sounds of happy people enjoying the slides. The other part of the day is being in the office, looking after the other aspects of the business.

Q What do you enjoy most about your work?

There are few things I love. I love making people happy, which is exactly what we do here at the waterpark so that definitely makes work an enjoyment in itself. Another thing I like about my job is the environment that we’ve created, where we constantly push ourselves to progress as individuals and as a collective. We challenge ourselves to come up with new ideas for the waterpark, always looking out for how we can move forward and become better. Finally, a great part of the job is seeing people within the team, the ‘Waterbomers’, grow. For me, there’s definitely no greater satisfaction in seeing and being a part of that.

Q Despite your father being the founder of Waterbom Bali, you worked your way up, starting at the young age of 13. How has such an experience helped shape your leadership style?

Having been at the waterpark since 13, you could say that I’ve practically lived my life there. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to step into a variety of roles at the waterpark, such as being a locker boy to working with guest relations. I feel that the experience has allowed me to understand every element of the park and how it operates.

The Waterbom Bali that I grew up in was in its formative years and going through a huge learning curve. Being there during such a period has allowed me to watch and observe how various situations were handled. Watching my father, Santo, lead has also influenced my personal leadership style. You could say that I’ve taken all the above as lessons and it has helped cement the foundations upon which I make strategic decisions and lead the team.

Working alongside the staff in so many roles has allowed me to widen my perspective – it’s given me a much better understanding of how we function, and how every single member of our team contributes to giving our guests a great experience.

Being a big picture thinker, I would say that the experience has had an impact on how I work with my team – allowing me to better communicate and relate to our employees and enabling me to deep dive into each business function.

Q I understand since being appointed CEO in 2017, you brought the theme park to new heights, with it being recognised globally as Asia’s #1 waterpark. From a people standpoint, what is the secret to this success?

As cliché as it may sound, believe in what you are doing and think of the greater good, not just the financial benefits. But aside from that, perhaps a couple of reasons. Ensuring that our teams and employees are aligned with the vision, culture and growth of Waterbom Bali is key. At the same time, this creates a team that works organically with each other, supporting each other to ensure that not only do our guests have the best experience, but so does the Waterbom Bali team.

Every employee at Waterbom Bali is valued for their contributions and ideas. We value the feedback shared from our employees and constantly receive feedback from them. Gaining an understanding of what our customers feel about us is also of paramount importance. Our front facing staff interact with our customers daily and know best how to improve the customer experience. We gather their feedback and constantly identify pitfalls and strive to improve from there on.

When everyone has their mindset and eye on the goal and supports one another in taking steps towards achieving that goal, I believe that the company will move forward. That is the secret to success.

Q I understand you are a firm believer in sustainability and ensuring the business is eco-friendly. How are you empowering employees to create an environmental impact within Bali in terms of reducing its carbon footprint?

In Bali, there is the concept of ‘Tri Hita Karana’, which emphasises harmony amongst people, nature and the spirit. I would say that, we are in a fortunate position, where the environment is part of the culture here in Bali and this has definitely helped our employees understand the importance of and interpret the meaning of sustainability.

Apart from that, we work towards educating and giving people an understanding of what is happening to the environment today. We then relate that to the Balinese culture and what Waterbom Bali stands for. What we find are like-minded individuals that resonate with and want to be a part of this cause, and with that we’ve essentially created eco-champions, and a ‘green’ team.

We want to give our employees that avenue where they can come up with ideas and have a stake in the sustainable efforts we are embarking on. Giving them a platform empowers them and when they feel empowered, it creates a ripple effect that spreads across their families, communities and peers.

Q What advice do you have for organisations taking their first steps towards being sustainable? What role does HR play in this?

Firstly, being the department that connects all others and ensures that departments function together seamlessly, I like to liken the HR function to that of the nucleus of a cell – they connect all departments, and keep things running smoothly, ensuring we can all work toward a common goal.

Secondly, data shows you a clear view of how much environmental damage is happening and shows the opportunity to correct in different areas (back offices, engineering, front office etc…). HR, to some extent, can help getting everyone involved and collectively build a cultural spirit of sustainability within the company.

In that aspect, I believe that HR has an integral role in helping organisations take their first steps toward being sustainable. It definitely helps to have an understanding of where and how you want to take the company forward in terms of sustainability. However, in order for that to work, there has to be processes in place to ensure that goals can be achieved.

Being a waterpark means that human capital is extremely important to us. We believe in empowering our employees and letting them know that we value their opinions. With all the talk around sustainability, people have different ideas about how to achieve our common goals and Waterbom Bali aims to provide a space for these ideas to be heard and realised – and our HR team takes the lead in driving such conversations.

Q What is your view on the HR function and how can it contribute better to organisational goals?

I feel that HR bridges all the gaps between all the different departments, be it management and staff. The HR team ensures that harmony doesn’t exist in only one part of the park, but in all aspects of Waterbom Bali. HR management is key in helping organisations to be adaptive, resilient, and customer-centered by bringing in people who are best positioned to help the company move forward, ensuring that employees stay engaged with their work, and creating an environment that is satisfactory for all employees.

Q What is one myth you would like to debunk about working in the recreational industry?

Entertainment venues are typically known for their fast food and snacks – think of your theatres and theme parks. But this is something that Waterbom Bali would like to subvert by showing that it’s definitely possible for delicious, healthy, and mindfully prepared food to be served.

At Waterbom Bali we have a variety of cuisines available for our guests, all providing a choice spread of dishes. From 48-hour leavened pizzas, Caribbean style dishes for a Latin America flavor, and local favorites, we want to show that being at a Waterpark doesn’t mean you just have to fill up on popcorn, hotdogs, and candy floss. There are ways to keep guests’ taste buds and stomachs happy. In fact, we’re announcing the reopening of Caribbean-inspired retro beach shack diner, The Shack very soon.

Q If not this career, what alternative career path might you have chosen?

At one point I was interested in the theatre and film world but that didn’t last too long. I would probably venture into the jungles or savannahs in Africa and work with animals or nature. Or possibly figure out other sustainable businesses that can make an impact on the globe and on the individuals participating within it.

Photo / Provided



Human Resources Online is heading to Bangkok with the Accelerate HR conference on November 26-27.
HR leaders from Agoda, DKSH, Fonterra, FWD, Kasikornbank, Minor Food, Nissan Motor and more have already confirmed to speak.
Bring your team for additional group discounts.

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