Wearne Brothers Limited



Founded on 1 April 1906 as C. F. F. Wearne & Company, the firm was renamed Wearne Brothers Limited (WBL) on 26 November 1912 when it became a public listed company. It had initially specialised in automobile trade, but later diversified into heavy machinery and equipment, as well as technology, manufacturing, financial services, leisure and properties. In 1994, the company was renamed WBL Corporation Limited. In 2010, all of its automotive companies and divisions were repositioned under a single brand, Wearnes Automotive, which was then acquired by StarChase in 2014. 

Beginnings
WBL was founded as C. F. F. Wearne & Company on 1 April 1906 at the rear of James Craig’s house in Singapore. Craig was the brother-in-law of Theo and Charlie Wearne, the two brothers who started the firm that specialised in automobile engineering and imports. While Charlie Wearne had no capital, Theo Wearne contributed $700 towards the start-up costs and Craig, one ninth to the share of the venture. With the capital, they bought the Oldsmobile Agency, together with two used cars and spare parts, from Howarth Erskine Limited (forerunners of United Engineers Limited) through W. Kennedy, the superintendent engineer. To supplement their income, Theo Wearne was concurrently employed for another nine months, contributing $200 per month as working capital to their start-up. His employer was W. Palliser, a civil engineer and contractor. Palliser and Theo Wearne had worked on the construction of a tramway bridge over the Kallang River, as well as other projects.1


The start-up’s first employee was Abdul Salloom. He was the company’s salesman, bill collector and general helper.2 The firm expanded as it became an agent for a number of automobile brands, including Rolls-Royce, Napier, Standard, Rover, Star, Renault, Siddeley Deasy, Dennis cars and trucks, as well as Smith and Sons’ accessories. In 1911, it was appointed sole agent for Ford’s cars in Singapore and Malaya. Ford’s previous agents in the Straits Settlements, Gladelous and Paterson Simons & Co, were unsuccessful. The business was thus offered to Wearnes for 60 cars per year to serve the whole of the Straits Settlements. When business expanded, Wearnes moved to a rented site on Orchard Road, opposite Oxley Road, for $50 a month.3

On 26 November 1912, C. F. F. Wearne & Company became a public listed company and was renamed WBL. Out of the company’s capital of $275,000, $45,000 was publicly subscribed. The balance reflected the value of land, building, cars and stock-in-trade which Craig and the two Wearne brothers took in shares. Their money spinners were Ford and Morris, which took them from strength to strength. When they became Ford’s sole agent, they sold 157 cars in the first year.4

Pre-war developments

By end 1920, the slump in rubber prices began to reduce Malaya’s export earnings, and the automobile industry was feeling the effects of economic recession. In November 1920, it was reported that motorcars were left exposed to the environment at the wharves as consignees would not or could not take delivery. It was uncertain if any of these consignments belonged to WBL. Competition in the motor industry was intense throughout the late 1920s. Besides the long-established car dealers and agents, there was competition from newer players such as Eastern Auto Company, Lyons Motors, Guthrie and Company and Imperial Motors, which sold other models. Cycle and Carriage Company, which was publicly listed in 1926, was an agent for six English automotive brands, four for American motorcars and various French, Italian and German vehicles. Other Malayan firms were Georgetown Motor Garage in Penang, Grosvenor Motors in Penang and Ipoh, as well as Borneo Motors in all key towns. In addition to well-known makes such as Mercedes, Citroën, Chrysler, Ford, Peugeot and Fiat, there was a proliferation of brands from the United States, Britain and Europe which did not survive the passage of time.5


Market conditions after the Great Depression remained poor for the export-driven economy of Malaya. Many were laid off, causing a fall in the demand for new cars.6

Yellow top taxis

The first Yellow top taxis in Singapore were introduced by WBL. On the morning of 24 October 1929, The Straits Times reported that Singapore’s first taxi was brought to its office for an inspection by a representative of Malayan Motors Limited, a subsidiary of Malayan Motors Limited. However, there were no further developments until almost four years later in May 1933, when the company decided to put the Yellow top taxis on Singapore roads. Success was huge. Within six months, 25 taxis were on the roads. The venture took off so well that a new subsidiary called the General Transport Company (GTC) was established in 1934 to operate the business. Taxi services were then launched in Malacca, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, and Rangoon. The rates at the time were 20 cents for 2 km to $50 for a 12-hour hire. Double-decker bus services were also introduced by GTC subsequently.7

Wearnes Air Services
In 1937, WBL launched its first commercial air service between Singapore and Malaya. It was called Wearnes Air Services (WAS). On 28 June 1937, a de Havilland Dragon Rapide aircraft named Governor Raffles took off from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur and Penang. It was WAS’s inaugural commercial air service between these three cities. As the flights became popular, the air service was extended to Alor Star, Taiping, Ipoh and Kota Bahru. The planes not only ferried passengers to and from these towns and cities, but also transported copies of the local newspaper, The Singapore Free Press, as well as bulk mail.8

War and reconstruction
When World War II broke out, many residents tried to sell their cars before leaving Singapore and Malaya. Despite poor sales, WBL decided to contribute $100,000 to the war fund as a show of support for the British forces. Just before the fall of Singapore, Charlie Wearne left Singapore for Freemantle, Western Australia. Most of WBL’s senior employees, however, were left behind and later interned by the Japanese. During the Japanese Occupation (1942–45), Charlie and Theo Wearne lived in Western Australia. On 23 July 1944, Charlie Wearne died of cardiac failure in his home in Mandurah, Western Australia.9


WBL resumed its business several months after the Japanese surrendered. Recovery was slow as there was a shortage of food and basic necessities. The government facilitated the recovery by releasing staff on military service or internment, allowing them to return to their former positions or to take on any task their firms had for them, so as to expedite the import of supplies. WBL and seven other leading companies in Singapore benefited from this assistance. In October 1945, WBL and Borneo Motors Limited formed a trading partnership to re-establish the motor trade in Malaya through a new company called Wearne-Borneo Motors Services (Malaya) Limited. Its tasks included the reconstruction of road systems and repair of military vehicles. On 1 April 1946, WBL officially recommenced its trading operations in Singapore and Malaya.10

Key developments from 1960s
During the 1960s and 1970s, WBL extended its activities to include the sale of heavy machinery and equipment for industrial, agricultural and construction purposes.11 In 1983, it further diversified into technology, manufacturing, financial services, as well as leisure and properties.12 A series of strategic acquisitions, which began in 1985 with Advanced Logic Research in California, also gave WBL the edge it needed in computer technology.13

In 1989, WBL was among Wall Street Journal’s 66 companies of the future.14

The company was renamed WBL Corporation Limited in 1994.15 Then in 2005, its parent company, WBL Corporation, offered to acquire all of its issued shares and delist the company from the Singapore Exchange’s SESDAQ.16

In 2010, Wearnes repositioned all of its automotive companies and divisions under a single brand, Wearnes Automotive. In 2014, Wearnes Automotive was acquired by the StarChase group. StarChase’s core business activities comprised the sale and distribution of premium automotive, as well as lifestyle products and services.17



Author
Kartini Saparudin




References
1. Fyfe, C. (2002). Wheels in Malaya: The Wearne Brothers and their company. Claremont, W. Aust.: Lana Press, pp. 4, 8, 16. (Call no.: RSING q629.2220922 FYF)
2. Fyfe, C. (2002). Wheels in Malaya: The Wearne Brothers and their company. Claremont, W. Aust.: Lana Press, p. 18. (Call no.: RSING q629.2220922 FYF)
3. Fyfe, C. (2002). Wheels in Malaya: The Wearne Brothers and their company. Claremont, W. Aust.: Lana Press, pp. 16, 23—28. (Call no.: RSING q629.2220922 FYF); Singapore International Chamber of Commerce. (1979). From early days: [Some longtime members of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce]. Singapore: The Chamber, p. 100. (Call no.: RSING 380.10655957 SIN)
4. Fyfe, C. (2002). Wheels in Malaya: The Wearne Brothers and their company. Claremont, W. Aust.: Lana Press, pp. 28, 30—31. (Call no.: RSING q629.2220922 FYF)
5. Fyfe, C. (2002). Wheels in Malaya: The Wearne Brothers and their company. Claremont, W. Aust.: Lana Press, pp. 46, 99. (Call no.: RSING q629.2220922 FYF)
6. Fyfe, C. (2002). Wheels in Malaya: The Wearne Brothers and their company. Claremont, W. Aust.: Lana Press, pp. 101—102. (Call no.: RSING q629.2220922 FYF)
7. Fyfe, C. (2002). Wheels in Malaya: The Wearne Brothers and their company. Claremont, W. Aust.: Lana Press, pp. 105, 181. (Call no.: RSING q629.2220922 FYF); Yacob, S. (2011, December). “Anglo-American cooperation in the Malayan automobile market before the pacific war”. Jebat: Malaysian Journal of History, Politics and Strategic Studies, 38(2), pp. 61—82. Retrieved 2017, June 29 from UKM Journal Article Repository website: http://repository.um.edu.my/19458/1/Shakila%2020Yacob%202038%2020%282%29%2020%28December%20202011%29.pdf
8. Fyfe, C. (2002). Wheels in Malaya: The Wearne Brothers and their company. Claremont, W. Aust.: Lana Press, pp. 121—130. (Call no.: RSING q629.2220922 FYF)
9. Fyfe, C. (2002). Wheels in Malaya: The Wearne Brothers and their company. Claremont, W. Aust.: Lana Press, pp. 140—141, 147—150, 159. (Call no.: RSING q629.2220922 FYF)
10. Fyfe, C. (2002). Wheels in Malaya: The Wearne Brothers and their company. Claremont, W. Aust.: Lana Press, pp. 167—169. (Call no.: RSING q629.2220922 FYF)
11. The Singapore International Chamber of Commerce. (1979). From early days: [Some longtime members of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce]. Singapore: The Chamber, p. 100. (Call no.: RSING 380.10655957 SIN)
12. Cheok, A. (1987, January 24). Wearnes’s short-term investments grow 7 times. The Business Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Peters, A., Lee, S. H., & Soon, D. (2006). Hundred short stories that make us Wearnes: Celebrating 100 years of WBL Corporation Limited. Singapore: WBL Corp, pp. 82—85. (Call no.: RSING 338.761658095957 PET)
14. Loong, S. Y. (1989, June 27). Wearnes among Wall Street Journal’s 66 companies of the future. The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. WBL Corporation Limited. (n.d.). Revving up: WBL Corporation Limited annual report 2012. Singapore: Author, p. 3. Retrieved 2017, February 1 from SGX website: http://infopub.sgx.com/FileOpen/WBL%20AR_2012.ashx?App=Prospectus&FileID=3521
16. Wong, W. K. (2005, April 28). Delisting dance for WRL, Wearnes. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewsaperSG.
17. Wearnes Automotive Pte. Ltd. (n.d.). Milestone & history. Retrieved 2017, February 1 from Wearnes website: http://www.wearnesauto.com/sg/about2.aspx#11



The information in this article is valid as at 1 February 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Organisations>>Companies
Computer industry--Singapore
Automobile industry and trade--Singapore
Business enterprises
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Services>>Transportation and logistics