Swimming with sharks and scaling heights: A weekend with Mazda PH president Steven Tan
Steven Tan, president and CEO of Mazda distributor Bermaz Philippines, stands out in the auto industry for his unusual weekend hobbies.
A Malaysian with a 23-year (as of 2021) track record in Southeast Asia’s automotive cosmos, Tan began working in Metro Manila in 2008 as Vice President for Sales and Marketing of Ford Group PH (FGP). At that time, the Mazda distributorship in the Philippines was under FGP’s stewardship since the American carmaker held a substantial stake in Mazda Motor Co. of Japan.
In November 2010, Ford cut its shares in Mazda to 3% and in August 2012 Berjaya Corp., a Kuala Lumpur-based business conglomerate, bought the Philippine distributorship rights of Mazda from FGP. Berjaya hired fellow Malaysian Steven Tan, who was then back in Thailand working for Ford, to head its new Mazda PH distribution company.
In January 2013, the new Mazda PH distributor under Berjaya began formal business operations with Steven Tan as the managing director. In 2016, the company name was changed to Bermaz PH to align with the parent company BerMaz Motor, which is Mazda’s partner in Malaysia and which is 80% owned by Berjaya.
Tan, 55, speaks two Chinese mother tongue dialects (Cantonese and Fookien) and conversational Thai. “I write and speak English and Bahasa Malaysia. I’m picking up the Filipino language din po!” he says with a smile
For Tan, coming back to the Philippines was like a dream come true because he enjoys scuba diving on weekends and the Philippines, he says, “is a major global dive destination. I am very lucky to live here.”
SWIMMING WITH SHARKS. The highlight of Tan’s diving in the Philippines was Tubbataha Reef. His other favorite diving sites are Apo Reef, Mactan, Oslob and Anilao. “My hobby in diving started in Thailand in 2003, and it deepened my conservation sense and extended my interest to include marine life,” he says.
Aside from its health and fitness benefits, diving is a great way to get back to nature and de-stress. Being up close to fish in all kinds of colors and sizes, watching beautiful corals makes divers appreciate the ocean, the fragile underwater habitats and the importance of preserving them.
For Tan, protecting marine life includes sharks. He has often swam close to sharks underwater and has a photo of himself in Fiji facing a tiger shark, a top ocean predator measuring more than 20 feet.
“It is a tragedy that sharks around the world are still widely hunted and killed for their fins, while leaving the rest of the carcass to waste,” he says, given that shark fins have no medicinal or nutritious content. “And yet they are valued as a food product for those who can afford to consume them.”
“For a very long time I have not eaten in a restaurant that has shark’s fin on their menu, nor will I share a table if shark fins were added to the meal. All shark species require protection – from the Great White to the harmless gray tips to the gentle Giant Whale Shark. They are all found in Philippine waters in varying numbers, but they are also dwindling in numbers due to hunting and overfishing.”
PROTECT THE PANGOLIN. Another creature dwindling in numbers that Steven Tan wants to help protect is the critically endangered Palawan pangolin. The Palawan pangolin, one of the Asian pangolin species, is threatened by poachers active in the illegal wildlife trade and by loss of habitat due to expanding agriculture and other human uses.
In 2020, Tan named a specially equipped Mazda BT-50 pickup variant after the pangolin in support of the pangolin preservation project. “Finding a platform to raise awareness is one way to bring attention to the fast disappearing Palawan pangolin,” he avers. “This animal is endemic to the Philippines. If we do not attempt to raise awareness to protect the animal, it may become extinct.”
Steven Tan was passionate about preservation causes even before he began diving on weekends in Thailand in 2003. “My interest in conservation stems from my early days in hiking in the Malaysian rainforest and later, in my career, in bringing families on off-road excursions to the forest for leisure activities and education in natural conservation,” he recalls. “Malaysia’s rainforest is among the oldest in the world, exceeding a hundred million years old.”
Tan shares hiking as a weekend hobby with his family. “We are a hiking family, so we love finding new places to hike,” he says.
Aida Sevilla Mendoza is fascinated by everything about cars: their power, styling, design, technology, craftmanship, exciting history of motor sport through the years, and the ever-evolving industry that creates them. But above all, she enjoys driving, especially on a traffic-free expressway where she feels the connection bonding her and the car.