KL-Kepong, The Plantation Powerhouse That Chin Hin & Loy Seng Built
By Yong Soo Heong June 02, 2007 18:45 PM
IPOH, June 2 (Bernama) - Kuala Lumpur-Kepong Bhd (KLK) would not have been a
plantation powerhouse today if not for the dreams of two young men - Yeoh
Chin Hin and Lee Loy Seng - in the 1950s.
With most of the big plantations owned by the British back then, both Lee
and Yeoh thought that they too could be just as good as the Brits, if not
"We reckoned that we could do it, too," said Yeoh, one of the founding
directors of KLK, who probably became the oldest recipient of the Darjah
Dato' Paduka Mahkota Perak (DPMP) award from the Sultan of Perak recently at
the ripe old age of 86.
Yeoh, who said that he was grateful to the Perak sultan for the conferment,
added: "If Loy Seng were to be alive today, I think he will be very happy
for me, too."
Lee, who became a Tan Sri for his contributions to the country's plantation
industry, was popularly known as "taiko," Cantonese for elder brother as he
was the elder of a pair of twins. He passed away in 1993 but not before he
had built up KLK from a smallish firm into one of the major plantation
entities in this region together with Yeoh, who had always kept a low
profile all these years.
Yeoh, in an interview with Bernama in conjunction with the country's 50th
year of independence, said he struck a long and lasting friendship as well
as partnership with Lee although they were in different businesses
Yeoh, who was then running his family-owned building materials company in
tin-rich Ipoh back in the 1950s, got to know Lee who used to own a tin mine.
"I was supplying building materials for his tin mining operations and that
was how we got to know each other," Yeoh told Bernama at his residence at
Jalan Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, which was completed in 1957.
"You can say that it's a Merdeka house," he said of the modest bungalow.
As a result of their frequent meetings, both Yeoh and Lee gradually reckoned
that plantations were the way forward in the future.
They were proven right because the business not only provided a steady
income from the tree crops, but the land itself formed a valuable financial
resource if there was ever a need to change the land use and develop it into
They decided to buy into Kuala Lumpur Rubber Co Ltd, which later changed its
name to Kuala Lumpur-Kepong Amalgamated Ltd ("KLKA"), the forerunner of the
In 1967, Yeoh and Lee were appointed to KLKA's Board. Four years later, KLKA
set up its head office in Kuala Lumpur and in 1972, KLKA's tax residence was
transferred from the United Kingdom to Malaysia.
In 1973, KLK was incorporated in Malaysia and under a Scheme of
Reconstruction, KLKA went into voluntary liquidation with KLK taking over
the assets and liabilities of KLKA.
It was at this juncture that the expansion of KLK began, with the group
acquiring 28,000 acres of jungle land in north central Johor. It was at this
time when both Yeoh and Lee received strong support from UMNO stalwart and
former finance minister Tengku Tan Sri Razaleigh Hamzah.
"Tengku Razaleigh wasn't a minister as yet and was also one of the company's
founding directors. It was he who mobilised many thousands of young
Kelantanese to go to Johor to work on the plantations," said Yeoh.
Till today, Tengku Razaleigh's younger brother, Tengku Robert, still sits on
the KLK Board.
Asked on the achievements of KLK, which has today become one of the largest
plantation companies in Malaysia, he said it was proof that Malaysians can
do the job just as well as the British planters, if not better.
He said that Malaysians had formed the backbone of the plantation industry
more than 50 years ago although the British planters had called the shots
prior to Independence in 1957.
The government, he said, played a strong part in helping companies like KLK
becoming major plantation players in the country.
He said the peaceful conditions in the country brought on by a stable
government and the continued industrial harmony in the plantation sector had
enabled many plantation companies to prosper.
Looking back into what had been achieved by KLK, Yeoh, whose son, Eng Khoon
is also on the board of KLK together with two children of Lee (Oi Hian and
Hau Hian), said he and Lee had been proven right by going into large-scale
acquisition of plantation land.
Such purchases, which became strong business cases where the land could also
be turned into valuable real estate, was best exemplified the fact that
plantation land previously owned by the company had been transformed into
much-sought real estate at Bandar Utama in Petaling Jaya and into the
country's new federal administrative capital, Putrajaya.
Today, KLK has emerged as a powerhouse in palm oil, rubber, cocoa and
oleochemicals, with some interest in pharmaceuticals, toiletries and
property development as well.
As far as plantations are concerned, it has even ventured into Indonesia in
a big way.
When asked on what he hopes for KLK in the future, the experienced Yeoh had
this to say to the younger people in the company today: "Do listen to your
elders. Ask if you don't know."
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