Tan Chin Tuan



Tan Sri Tan Chin Tuan (Dr) (b. 21 November 1908, Singapore–d. 13 November 2005, Singapore), nicknamed “Mr OCBC”, was a prominent Peranakan philanthropist, and often credited as the man who built the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC).1

Early history
Tan grew up in austere conditions, having lost his father while still at school. It is believed that these early years shaped his conservative approach to finance. Educated at Anglo-Chinese School, he left school and joined the Chinese Commercial Bank (which later merged with Ho Hong Bank and Oversea-Chinese Bank to form OCBC) as a junior bank clerk on 1 March 1925 at the age of 17.2 He would remain at OCBC for a total of 58 years.3 He was the managing director of OCBC from 1942 to 1972 and its chairman from 1966 to 1983.4 Under Tan’s stewardship, OCBC rose from its humble beginnings to become one of the world’s top banks.5


Philanthropist
Tan is also a noted philanthropist.6 In 1984, he donated £350,000 to the Needham Research Institute (NRI) in Cambridge, United Kingdom, for the construction and equipping of its East Asian History of Science Library.7 In recognition, the NRI installed a plaque in the library building to commemorate his contribution.8 In 1997, Tan committed S$250,000 each year towards the engineering exchange programme at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Named the Tan Chin Tuan Exchange Fellowship, it provides funding for 20 academics to conduct research at NTU or overseas.9


In 1999, Tan celebrated his 91st birthday by offering a gift of S$1,000 to any Singaporean who was over 90 years old and still active.10 He wanted to share his good fortune with people of a similar age.11 About 60 volunteer doctors and Justices of the Peace helped to check and certify that the applicants were still physically active and mentally alert.12 By the time the application for the offer closed, a total of 1,282 people had applied. It is estimated that Tan’s birthday gift cost him S$1.2 million.13

Banking career highlights
1 Mar 1925:
Joins Chinese Commercial Bank (CCB) as a junior bank clerk.

1932: Assistant manager of CCB prior to its merger with Ho Hong Bank and Oversea-Chinese Bank to form OCBC in the same year.14 He then takes on the position of divisional manager.15
1933: Bank manager of OCBC.16
1939: Managing director, Eastern Realty, OCBC’s subsidiary.
1942: Joint managing director, OCBC – the youngest person in Singapore then to hold such a position.
1945: Sole managing director, OCBC.
1966–83: Chairman and managing director, OCBC. After retiring in September 1983, he is conferred the lifetime title of Honorary Life President.17 

Other notable positions
1939:
Municipal commissioner.18

1948–55: Member of the Singapore Legislative Council and subsequently Member of the Singapore Executive Council.19
17 Apr 1951: Deputy president of the Singapore Legislative Council.
1983–86: Chairman, Singapore Turf Club.20
1988: Chairman, Bukit Turf Club.21

Tan was also chairman of companies such as Malayan Breweries Ltd, the Overseas Assurance Corporation Ltd, Wearne Brothers Ltd., Fraser and Neave, Great Eastern Life, Robinson & Co., and The Straits Trading Co. Ltd.22 He was the founder and chairman of the Tan Foundation, Singapore, and the Tan Sri Tan Foundation, Malaysia. He was also a patron of organisations such as the Orchid Society of Southeast Asia, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Singapore Badminton Association.23

Awards
1951:
Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, for contributions during service in the Legislative Council.24

1969: The title of Tan Sri, conferred by Malaysia’s Yang Di Pertuan Agong Sultan Tuanku Ismail Nasiruddin Shah.25
3 Sep 1991: Honorary Doctor of Law, National University of Singapore, “in recognition of his role as banker, civic leader and public benefactor”.26
13 Jun 1992: Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Curtin University, Australia “in recognition of his contribution to the banking community and his close association with Australia”.27

Family
Father:
Tan Cheng Siong, a banker.28

Wife: Puan Sri Helene Tan, née Wee, a banker’s daughter.29
Son: Tan Keng Siong.
Daughters: Tan Kheng Lian, Tan Kheng Choo.
Grandchildren: Kenneth Tan Boon Beng, Debbie Tan Siok Hean, Patti Tan Siok Tze, Chew Gek Khim, Chew Gek Hiang, Chew Kwee San, Chuan Ian Campbell, Helene Campbell.30
Nephew: Tony Tan.31

Hobbies
Tan’s hobbies included rearing fish, birds and dogs, as well as orchid planting.32



Author
Eugene Tan



References
1. Yang Razali Kassim. (1992, May 15). The legend who built the OCBC Group. The Business Times, p. 10; Obituary: Tan Sri Dr Tan Chin Tuan. (2005, November 14). The Straits Times, p. 15; Lam. P. F. (1998, August 3). Can baba culture be revived? The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2003). Who’s who in Singapore. Singapore: Who’s Who Pub., p. 375. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WWS)
2. Yang Razali Kassim. (1992, May 15). The legend who built the OCBC Group. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Macbeth, M. (2003). Quiet achiever: The life and times of Tan Sri Dr Tan Chin Tuan. Singapore: Times Editions, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 332.12092 MAC)
3. Mathi, B. (1998, November 22). At 90, he’s still going strong. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Yang Razali Kassim. (1992, May 15). The legend who built the OCBC Group. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 215. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 CHE); Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation. (1973). Annual report 1972. Singapore: Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation, p. 31. (Call no.: RCLOS 332.12095957 OBCLRD)
5. Yang Razali Kassim. (1992, May 15). The legend who built the OCBC Group. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Tan Chin Tuan Foundation names YMCA S’pore chief as first CEO. (2006, October 7). The Business Times, p. 7; Leong, W. K. (2006, October 24). Revamped Tan Chin Tuan Foundation seeks clarity in charity. Today, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Needham legacy and China’s genius. (1995, May 26). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Macbeth, M. (2003). Quiet achiever: The life and times of Tan Sri Dr Tan Chin Tuan. Singapore: Times Editions, p. 208. (Call no.: RSING 332.12092 MAC)
8. Pow-Chong, G. (1984, October 21). Cambridge library named after Mr Tan. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Macbeth, M. (2003). Quiet achiever: The life and times of Tan Sri Dr Tan Chin Tuan. Singapore: Times Editions, p. 208. (Call no.: RSING 332.12092 MAC)
9. Nirmala, N. (1997, May 8). NTU gets donation from retired banker. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Banker’s birthday gift for over-90s. (1999, November 22). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Banker’s birthday gift for over-90s. (1999, November 22). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Porter, B. (1999, December 9). Birthday give-away cheers 90-something. South China Morning Post. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
13. Wong, F. W. (1999, December 7). $1.2M. The Straits Times, p. 37. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Lee, L. (2005, November 14). Tan Chin Tuan made OCBC a household name. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Honorary doctorate for Tan Chin Tuan. (1992, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Yang Razali Kassim. (1992, May 15). The legend who built the OCBC Group. The Business Times, p. 10; Raj, C. (2005, November 15). A patriarch of blue chips. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Yang Razali Kassim. (1992, May 15). The legend who built the OCBC Group. The Business Times, p. 10; Tan Chin Tuan made life president of OCBC. (1983, September 27). The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Lee, L. (2005, November 14). Tan Chin Tuan made OCBC a household name. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Yang Razali Kassim. (1992, May 15). The legend who built the OCBC Group. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2003). Who’s who in Singapore. Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, p. 375. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WWS); Loh, G., Goh, C. B., & Tan, T. L. (2000). Building bridges, carving niches: An enduring legacy. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 86. (Call no: RSING 332.1095957 LOH)
20. Yang Razali Kassim. (1992, May 15). The legend who built the OCBC Group. The Business Times, p. 10; New Chairman. (1983, March 23). Singapore Monitor, p. 24; Election day for STC. (1986, March 21). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Tote Board registers new club with Chin Tuan at helm. (1988, March 22). The Straits Times, p. 33; Barker to head Bukit Turf Club. (1988, December 19). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Yang Razali Kassim. (1992, May 15). The legend who built the OCBC Group. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2003). Who’s who in Singapore. Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, p. 375. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WWS)
23. Mathi, B. (1998, November 22). At 90, he’s still going strong. The Straits Times, p. 3; What it should have been. (1991, August 27). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. 2 Commissioners congratulated. (1951, February 1). The Straits Times, p. 5; Banker Tan Chin Tuan receives honorary degree. (1991, September 4). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. The King appoints four new Tan Sris. (1969, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 1; Mathi, B. (1998, November 22). At 90, he’s still going strong. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Two leading businessmen conferred honorary degrees. (1991, September 4). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Honorary doctorate for Tan Chin Tuan. (1992, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, pp. 215–218. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 CHE); Raj, C. (2005, November 15). A patriarch of blue chips. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Fashionable wedding. (1926, September 20). Malaya Tribune, p. 8; Obituary: Tan Sri Dr Tan Chin Tuan. (2005, November 14). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Obituary: Tan Sri Dr Tan Chin Tuan. (2005, November 14). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Mathi, B. (1998, November 22). At 90, he’s still going strong. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Mathi, B. (1998, November 22). At 90, he’s still going strong. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Lam, P. F. (1995, May 26). Chinese Science Centre and the man behind it – Needham legacy and China’s genius. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Lim, S. B. (1992, May 24). A conservative who beat the tide. The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Mackie, R. (1982, October 31). A banker for all seasons. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

No. 42 Cairnhill Road (Tan Chin Tuan Mansion). (2009). The Singapore architect, 69(248). Singapore: The Institute.
(Call no.: RSING 720.5 SA)

Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation. (1973). Solid as a rock: Brief history of OCBC’s 40 years of progress. Singapore: Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation.
(Call no.: RCLOS 332.12095957 OVE)

Wilson, D. (1972 ). Solid as a rock: The first forty years of the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation. Singapore: OCBC.
(Call no.: RCLOS 332.12095957 WIL)

Yen, F. (2005, November 14). Bank pioneer Tan Chin Tuan dies. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2005 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
Tan, Chin Tuan, Tan Sri, 1908-2005
Business, finance and industry>>Finance>>Banking
Community leaders
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
Bankers--Singapore--Biography
Philanthropists--Singapore--Biography
Businessmen--Singapore--Biography