Kwek Hong Png



Kwek Hong Png (b. 1913,1 Tongan County, Fujian, China–d. 8 November 1994, Singapore2) was the founder and chairman of Hong Leong Group. His elder son, Kwek Leng Beng took over the company’s reins in 1984.3

Background
The second child of a peasant family, Kwek Hong Png grew up on a farm in China.4 Due to the turmoil of life in China,5 Kwek came to Singapore in 1928 at the age of 16. He left Xiamen port on a cargo vessel called Daima Apka, with only an $8 ticket, a mat and a quilt for warmth. 
 
After arriving in Singapore, Kwek began working at his brother-in-law’s hardware shop as a store-hand.7 Knowing that his five years of elementary education in Chinese would be a disadvantage in Singapore, he secured the services of a tutor and spent his evenings improving his reading and writing skills.8

From a store-hand, he rose quickly to the position of clerk, then manager and eventually general manager.9 Although he excelled in his job, Kwek felt he could do better if he were on his own. He decided to set up his own company and named it Hong Leong. “Hong” means big, good and plentiful, while “leong” means great prosperity. Together, “Hong Leong” connoted a good harvest.10

Establishment of Hong Leong
Hong Leong was established in 1941 as a general trading firm dealing in ropes, paints, ship and rubber estate supplies. Business was conducted in a small shophouse at Beach Road. Kwek saved for 10 years and accumulated $7,000 as starting capital. As his business grew, he was able to inject more funds into the company as working capital.11

Kwek knew that expanding his business would mean increasing his staff strength, and he invited his brothers Hong Khai, Hong Lye and Hong Leong to join his firm. He gave them a 65 percent stake in the company, retaining 35 percent for himself.12

In August 1943, he bought a 10-year-old bungalow built on 25,000 sq ft of land at Buckley Road for $49,000. His first wife, Tan Cheng Neo, passed away during the Japanese Occupation. Kwek later married Wee Siew Cheng.13

Post-war developments
After the Japanese Occupation, the demand for hardware increased. There was a shortage of general merchandise and prices escalated considerably. As Hong Leong had a lot of warehouse space, the company was able to buy and store goods such as paint in large quantities. Besides trading, it also ventured into the manufacturing of paint. Hong Leong reaped good profits and business prospered.14

The end of the war also made international sea-lanes safe for shipping again. Singapore saw an increase in the number of visiting ships. At the same time, Singapore embarked on a programme of re-construction to rebuild public and private properties ravaged by war. Hong Leong entered into ship-chandling as well as building and construction materials. In the 1950s, Hong Leong ventured into rubber and made spectacular profits when the price of rubber increased after the outbreak of the Korean War.15

In the 1950s and 1960s, Hong Leong began manufacturing products such as cement (in line with the Singapore government’s industrialisation goals) through joint ventures with large Japanese firms. Based on Kwek’s belief that property was the most secure foundation in business, Hong Leong erected a 7-storey building at Phillip Street in 1954.16 As business continued to expand rapidly, Hong Leong bought another 7-storey building at 144 Robinson Road for $300,000 in 1957.17

As there was more space than was needed by the company, Hong Leong rented out the surplus. In the mid-1960s, the Kwek family business turned its focus to the acquisition of property. In 1971, Hong Leong acquired a substantial interest in City Developments Limited. Hong Leong eventually bought over more shophouses and constructed buildings such as the Hong Leong Building in 1977, renting out the spaces.18

In the 1960s and 1970s, Hong Leong amassed one of the largest land banks in Singapore at a very low cost.19 Hong Leong’s next major strategic move came during the second half of the 1960s. Hong Leong had become a leader in yet another field – the provision of loans to small industries – when it started Hong Leong Finance in 1966. Hong Leong Finance quickly grew to become the largest finance company in Singapore.20 In 1980, he set up the Hong Leong Foundation with $20 million to improve the quality of life of Singaporeans through supporting medical research and charitable organisations as well as providing educational grants.21

Kwek also placed second-generation family members such as his nephews in various executive positions to assume management roles.22 He was always at ease when interacting with professionals such as senior lawyers and bankers. As his nephew Kwek Leng Peck noted, Kwek was skilled at integrating the old intuitive managerial style with the professional approach by recruiting professional managers from outside the family to work alongside his Western-educated sons and nephews. When Kwek retired in 1984, his son Kwek Leng Beng, a law graduate, took over as chairman of Hong Leong.23

Death
Kwek Hong Png died in 1994 at the age of 83.24

Family25
Brothers: Hong Khai, Hong Lye and Hong Leong.
Sister: Quek Yeo.
Wives: Tan Cheng Neo, Wee Siew Cheng.
Sons: Leng Beng, Leng Joo.
Daughters: Geok Luan, Bee Heong and Lee Hoon.



Author

Ong Chong Kai



References
1. Koh, T. et. al (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 286. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
2. Untitled (1994, November 10), The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Kwek Leng Beng named chairman of S’pore Finance. (1984, October 4). Singapore Monitor, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Koh, T. et. al (Eds). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 286. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
5. 郭芳枫. [Kwek Hong Png]. (1989). 我与丰隆. [Wo yu Fenglong/ A lifetime with Hong Leong: An autobiography of Mr Kwek Hong Png]. 新加坡, p. 11. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 338.860924 KHP)
6. Seah, R. (1989, January 11). A garden to call his own. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Realising dreams by tackling tigers. (1989, October 19). The Business Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. 郭芳枫. [Kwek Hong Png]. (1989). 我与丰隆. [Wo yu Fenglong/ A lifetime with Hong Leong: An autobiography of Mr Kwek Hong Png]. 新加坡, p. 76. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 338.860924 KHP)
9. 郭芳枫. [Kwek Hong Png]. (1989). 我与丰隆. [Wo yu Fenglong/ A lifetime with Hong Leong: An autobiography of Mr Kwek Hong Png]. 新加坡, p. 76. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 338.860924 KHP)
10. 郭芳枫. [Kwek Hong Png]. (1989). 我与丰隆. [Wo yu Fenglong/ A lifetime with Hong Leong: An autobiography of Mr Kwek Hong Png]. 新加坡, p. 76. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 338.860924 KHP)
11. 郭芳枫. [Kwek Hong Png]. (1989). 我与丰隆. [Wo yu Fenglong/ A lifetime with Hong Leong: An autobiography of Mr Kwek Hong Png]. 新加坡, p. 81. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 338.860924 KHP)
12. 郭芳枫. [Kwek Hong Png]. (1989). 我与丰隆. [Wo yu Fenglong/ A lifetime with Hong Leong: An autobiography of Mr Kwek Hong Png]. 新加坡, p. 81. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 338.860924 KHP)
13. 郭芳枫. [Kwek Hong Png]. (1989). 我与丰隆. [Wo yu Fenglong/ A lifetime with Hong Leong: An autobiography of Mr Kwek Hong Png]. 新加坡, p. 82. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 338.860924 KHP)
14. 郭芳枫. [Kwek Hong Png]. (1989). 我与丰隆. [Wo yu Fenglong/ A lifetime with Hong Leong: An autobiography of Mr Kwek Hong Png]. 新加坡, p. 82. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 338.860924 KHP)
15. 郭芳枫. [Kwek Hong Png]. (1989). 我与丰隆. [Wo yu Fenglong/ A lifetime with Hong Leong: An autobiography of Mr Kwek Hong Png]. 新加坡, p. 83. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 338.860924 KHP)
16. 郭芳枫. [Kwek Hong Png]. (1989). 我与丰隆. [Wo yu Fenglong/ A lifetime with Hong Leong: An autobiography of Mr Kwek Hong Png]. 新加坡, p. 87. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 338.860924 KHP)
17. 郭芳枫. [Kwek Hong Png]. (1989). 我与丰隆. [Wo yu Fenglong/ A lifetime with Hong Leong: An autobiography of Mr Kwek Hong Png]. 新加坡, p. 87. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 338.860924 KHP)
18. 郭芳枫. [Kwek Hong Png]. (1989). 我与丰隆. [Wo yu Fenglong/ A lifetime with Hong Leong: An autobiography of Mr Kwek Hong Png]. 新加坡, p. 84. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 338.860924 KHP)
19. Honouring the CDL Legacy, Defining the future. (2013, October). CityNews, p. 2. Retrieved 2016, September 16 from City Developments Limited website: http://media.corporate-ir.net/Media_Files/IROL/60/60774/CDL_Bumper_Issue_2013_FA_WEB.pdf
20. Chow, C. S. (1989. October 19). From hardware store apprentice to billionaire. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Hong Leong sets up foundation with $20m. (1980, December 13). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. De Silva, G. (1990, August 22). Hong Leong’s patriarch likely to be succeeded by elder son. The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Siew, T. F., & Wilkinson, B. (2007). Over the Weberian Wall: Chinese Family Businesses in Singapore. The Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies, 25. Retrieved 2016, September 22 from CBS Open Journals website:
https://rauli.cbs.dk/index.php/cjas/article/viewFile/1431/1451
24. Untitled. (1994, November 10). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Untitled. (1994, November 10). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2008 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
Businessmen--Singapore--Biography
Kwek, Hong Png, 1912-1994
Personalities
Personalities>>Biographies
Business, finance and industry