Yeo Hiap Seng



Yeo Hiap Seng Limited (YHS) is known as a food and beverage manufacturer and distributor. Listed on the Singapore Exchange since 1969, it has grown from being a family-owned and -controlled business to one with an international reach. Its products are distributed in more than 55 countries. YHS has also diversified into property development, building a number of condominiums and landed properties. In the mid-1990s, control of YHS passed from the Yeo family to Ng Teng Fong’s Far East Organization.

History
In 1901, Yeo Keng Lian set up the Hiap Seng (later Yeo Hiap Seng) shop, which made and sold soya sauce in Zhangzhou, Fujian province, China. His eldest son, Yeo Thian In, took over the business before moving to Singapore in 1938 to escape the Sino-Japanese War. He established the Yeo Hiap Seng Sauce Factory, located at the junction of Outram Road and Havelock Road, and opened for business on 18 September 1938.1 Business was bad due to keen competition. This was exacerbated by the local practice of soya sauce vendors selling Cantonese-style sauce in bulk door-to-door, while Yeo’s bottled Hokkien-style soya sauce was sold in provision shops.2 As a result, Thian In asked his brother Thian Kiew to come to Singapore to help with marketing the product.3

Japanese Occupation (1942–45)
The factory sustained bomb damage in January 1942 during World War II. Because of the damage it had suffered, YHS was spared the fate of other soya sauce factories whose stocks were seized by the invading Japanese.4 The factory was thus able to maintain production during the Japanese Occupation. The company persisted in sourcing the raw materials, beans, salt, sugar, which were needed to continue operations despite the high black-market prices.5

Postwar years
In 1947, after the war, YHS expanded its production by purchasing 8 ac of land in Bukit Timah to set up a new factory.6 Yeo quickly expanded his business in the early 1950s to producing canned food and bottled beverages. The company starting with tinned chicken curry in 1953 and Beanvit, a vitamin-fortified soy milk drink, in 1954.7 Beanvit was developed by Chen Chee De, the son of Yeo’s eldest sister.8 Both products were pioneering products that proved popular.9

YHS went into the production of tinned food in 1953, canning curries, pork, pickles, seafood and vegetables.10 The company expanded its range of sauces, and by 1955 was producing around 224,000 bottles of sauce each month and nearly two million cans of food each year. Roughly two-thirds of the output were for the Singapore and peninsular Malaya markets, while the rest was exported to Borneo, Indonesia and New Guinea.11

Besides soy milk, YHS also started bottling other drinks such as iced tea, sugarcane juice and water chestnut.12 It has been posited that YHS’s success in the soft-drinks market was because it catered to Chinese tastes, a market segment that the dominant company, Fraser & Neave (F&N), had ignored.13


In 1955, the business was incorporated as a private-limited company and renamed Yeo Hiap Seng Canning and Sauce Factory Private Limited as more family members joined the business. On 1 August 1956, an agreement was signed to divide the ownership of the company among Yeo Thian In and four of his brothers – Thian Soo, Thian Kiew, Thian Seng and Tian Hwa, as well as two of Yeo Keng Lian’s grandsons, Chee Ming and Chee Kiat.14 The five brothers played different management roles, complementing each other, while Chee Kiat was acknowledged as the technical expert in running the factory and coming up with new products.15 Chee Ming received a share because he was the eldest grandson.16

Expansion
By 1957, YHS was producing 12,000 bottles of sauce and 20,000 cans of food per day.17 During the next decade, the company’s markets grew to include all of Malaysia, Hong Kong and Australia.18 In 1967, the company also became the first food manufacturer in the region to package soft drinks in rectangular Tetra Brik cartons rather than the traditional bottle.19

The company became publicly listed in Singapore in March 1969, changing its name to Yeo Hiap Seng Limited and increasing its authorised capital from S$2 million to S$10 million.20 To ensure that the Yeo family remained in control over the company, Yeo Hiap Seng Holdings was set up to hold a 49-percent stake in the company.21

YHS subsequently secured an agreement to bottle and mark the Canada Dry line of drinks, placing it in direct competition with F&N.22 YHS-produced Canada Dry entered the market in 1971.23 Only few years later in 1974, YHS secured the rights for Pepsi Cola after the local Pepsi distributor, Union, had closed down due to trade union problems.24

In 1975, YHS’s subsidiary, Yeo Hiap Seng (Malaysia), was listed on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange.25 By the 1980s, YHS had become the second-biggest drinks manufacturer in Singapore and Malaysia after F&N.26 During the ’80s, YHS further expanded its manufacturing and distribution networks overseas, including the 1989 joint YHS–Temasek Holdings acquisition of Chun King, an American food manufacturer.27 The US$52 million venture suffered large losses, however, and became a catalyst for a significant turning point in the company’s history.28 The year 1985 also saw the passing of Thian In soon after he had handed the reins of the company to his son, Alan Yeo Chee Yeow.29

Yeo family feud
During the early 1990s, a number of Yeo family members with stakes in YHS Holdings came into dispute with YHS chairman and chief executive Alan over his management style, direction of the company, and investment losses from the Chun King venture.30 By late 1991, decisions within the Yeo family had begun to be made by majority vote.31 Management changes from 1992 onwards led to some Yeo family members being sidelined while new staff were brought in.32


Alan’s nephew, Charles, joined the faction of shareholders seeking to oust Alan as chairman in June 1993.33 In May 1994, the group blocked Wing Tai Holdings’ bid to acquire up to a 40-percent stake in the company.34 Wing Tai, along with other local property developers, were looking to acquire underdeveloped Singapore land after depleting their own land banks in the 1980s.35 YHS, with its 4.4 ha of land in Bukit Timah which the government had recently rezoned for residential use, was therefore an attractive target.36 Wing Tai’s bid was supported by Alan, who hoped to utilise Wing Tai’s connections in China and its expertise to develop YHS’s Bukit Timah property.37 After the Wing Tai deal failed, Alan went to court in May 1994 to petition to dissolve the family holding company.38 This resulted in the division of the Yeo family’s collective 38.5-percent stake in the company being split up.39

Meanwhile, one of Singapore’s biggest property developers, Ng Teng Fong, had been quietly buying YHS shares on the open market through one of his companies, Orchard Parade Holdings. After Yeo Hiap Seng Holdings had disposed of its YHS shares, Orchard Parade Holdings became the largest single shareholder of YHS with 21 percent of the shares in July 1994.40 When Malaysian property magnate Quek Leng Chan started buying YHS shares in 1995, a takeover battle ensued between him and Ng.41 Although Quek bought up Alan’s shares and Charles allied himself with Quek, Ng won the takeover battle with a public offer of S$5.35 per share, acquiring majority control with three-quarters of YHS shares.42 The last member of the Yeo family in a senior management role at YHS was Yeo Chee Yan, a managing director of YHS Malaysia who retired in 1999.43

Properties
With Ng in control, YHS moved quickly into real estate, vacating its Bukit Timah land in 1998 and moving its Singapore factory to Senoko.44 YHS’s first property project was Tivoli Gardens in 1997, followed by more private housing projects. The properties developed on YHS’s Bukit Timah site between 1997 and 2012 are The Sterling, GardenVista and Jardin.45




Author

Yulia Hartono




References
1. Lee, T. J., & Liu, F. T. (2010). The soy sauce towkay: The story of Yeo Thian In, founder of Yeo Hiap Seng sauce factory in Singapore. Singapore: Campus Crusade Asia Limited, pp. 7, 9, 19–22, 25–26. (Call no.: RSING 338.766458092 LEE)
2. Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1983, September 23). Oral history interview with Yeo Thian Seng [Transcript of MP3 recording no. 000298/19/4, p. 28]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
3. Lee, T. J., & Liu, F. T. (2010). The soy sauce towkay: The story of Yeo Thian In, founder of Yeo Hiap Seng sauce factory in Singapore. Singapore: Campus Crusade Asia Limited, p. 26. (Call no.: RSING 338.766458092 LEE)
4. Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1983, September 23). Oral history interview with Yeo Thian Seng [Transcript of MP3 recording no. 000298/19/4, pp. 30–31]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
5. Lee, T. J., & Liu, F. T. (2010). The soy sauce towkay: The story of Yeo Thian In, founder of Yeo Hiap Seng sauce factory in Singapore. Singapore: Campus Crusade Asia Limited, pp. 28–29. (Call no.: RSING 338.766458092 LEE)
6. Five brothers outgrow a factory. (1947, October 5). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Yeo Hiap Seng’s modern sauce and canning factory. (1955, October 29). The Singapore Free Press, p. 33; Striking growth of food factory over 20 years. (1960, June 3). The Singapore Free Press, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Five brothers run flourishing sauce factory and cannery. (1955, October 7). The Singapore Free Press, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lee, J. & Li, H. (2009). Yeo Hiap Seng: A typical case study of a family enterprise. In J. Lee & H. Li (Eds.), Wealth doesn’t last three generations: How family businesses can maintain prosperity (pp. 3–40). Singapore: World Scientific, p. 23. (Call no.: RSING 658.0450951 LEE)
9. Lee, T. J., & Liu, F. T. (2010). The soy sauce towkay: The story of Yeo Thian In, founder of Yeo Hiap Seng sauce factory in Singapore. Singapore: Campus Crusade Asia Limited, p. 46. (Call no.: RSING 338.766458092 LEE)
10. Striking growth of food factory over 20 years. (1960, June 3). The Singapore Free Press, p. 18; Five brothers run flourishing sauce factory and cannery. (1955, October 7). The Singapore Free Press, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Five brothers run flourishing sauce factory and cannery. (1955, October 7). The Singapore Free Press, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Lee, T. J., & Liu, F. T. (2010). The soy sauce towkay: The story of Yeo Thian In, founder of Yeo Hiap Seng sauce factory in Singapore. Singapore: Campus Crusade Asia Limited, p. 46. (Call no.: RSING 338.766458092 LEE)
13. Gomez, E. T., & Hsiao, H.-H. M. (2001). Introduction: Chinese business research in Southeast Asia. In E. T. Gomez & H.-H. M. Hsiao (Eds.), Chinese business in Southeast Asia: Contesting cultural explanations, researching entrepreneurship (pp. 1–37). Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 338.040959 CHI)
14. Lee, J., & Li, H. (2009). Yeo Hiap Seng: A typical case study of a family enterprise. In J. Lee & H. Li (Eds.), Wealth doesn’t last three generations: How family businesses can maintain prosperity (pp. 3–40). Singapore: World Scientific, pp. 4, 24–26. (Call no.: RSING 658.0450951 LEE).
15. Lee, T. J., & Liu, F. T. (2010). The soy sauce towkay: The story of Yeo Thian In, founder of Yeo Hiap Seng sauce factory in Singapore. Singapore: Campus Crusade Asia Limited, pp. 33–35. (Call no.: RSING 338.766458092 LEE); Chan, K. B., & Chiang, C. S. N. (1994). Stepping out: The making of Chinese entrepreneurs. Singapore: Centre for Advanced Studies, National University of Singapore, pp. 282–283. (Call no.: RSING 338.04089951 CHA)
16. Lee, J., & Li, H. (2009). Yeo Hiap Seng: A typical case study of a family enterprise. In J. Lee & H. Li (Eds.), Wealth doesn’t last three generations: How family businesses can maintain prosperity (pp. 3–40). Singapore: World Scientific, p. 25. (Call no.: RSING 658.0450951 LEE)
17. ‘Trade outlook not bright’. (1957, January 8). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Lee, T. J., & Liu, F. T. (2010). The soy sauce towkay: The story of Yeo Thian In, founder of Yeo Hiap Seng sauce factory in Singapore. Singapore: Campus Crusade Asia Limited, pp. 43, 52. (Call no.: RSING 338.766458092 LEE)
19. Tetra Pak package deal for Yeo Hiap Seng. (1983, September 2). The Singapore Monitor, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Yeo Hiap Seng Limited. (1969, March 24). The Straits Times, p. 5; Blue chip firmness is mart feature. (1969, March 29). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Lee, T. J., & Liu, F. T. (2010). The soy sauce towkay: The story of Yeo Thian In, founder of Yeo Hiap Seng sauce factory in Singapore. Singapore: Campus Crusade Asia Limited, p. 56. (Call no.: RSING 338.766458092 LEE); de Silva, G., & Chan, S. M. (1994, May 18). Alan Yeo files court petition to dissolve holding company. The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Lee, T. J., & Liu, F. T. (2010). The soy sauce towkay: The story of Yeo Thian In, founder of Yeo Hiap Seng sauce factory in Singapore. Singapore: Campus Crusade Asia Limited, p. 46. (Call no.: RSING 338.766458092 LEE)
23. Croesus. (1971, July 26). City talk. The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Demands by union force company to close down. (1974, October 27). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Other announcements. (1975, February 25). The Straits Times, p. 9; Lee, Y. M. (1975, July 1). Profits take a beating. New Nation, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Hock, L. S. (1980, April 30). Battle for lion’s share of drinks market. The Business Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Chuang, P. M. (1989, July 21). Getting Singapore into US supermarkets. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Balan, A. (1994, August 29). YHS swallows bitter pill with $45m write-off on Chun King. The Business Times, p. 1; Lim, R. (1994, July 17). Yeo’s: So what will happen to the natural choice? The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Notice. (1985, August 28). The Straits Times, p. 38; Obituaries. (1985, January 8). The Straits Times, p. 33; Yeo Hiap Seng MD is also chairman. (1985, August 19). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. De Silva, G., & Chan, S. M. (1994, April 30). ‘Model’ family-controlled group torn asunder by kin rivalry. The Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Tan, J. (1994, July 16). Blood or business ties? The New Paper, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. ‘Model’ family-controlled group torn asunder by kin rivalry.(1994, April 30). The Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Lim, R. (1994, July 17). Yeo’s: So what will happen. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Lee, H. S. (1994, May 7). Alan Yeo loses battle to sell YHS to Wing Tai. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Siow, D. (1993, May 16). Rushing to build up land banks. The Straits Times, p. 4; de Silva, G., & Chan, S. M. (1994, April 23). Wing Tai planning to make takeover bid for Yeo Hiap Seng. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Lee, H. S. (1993, December 18). YHS could land a small fortune. The Business Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Quek, J. (1994, May 17). Alan Yeo tells employees why he backed Wing Tai. The Business Times, p. 17; Lee, H. S. (1994, May 6). Alan Yeo: I’ll dissolve holding company rather than sell out. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Quek, J. (1994, May 18). Alan Yeo petitions court to dissolve YHS Holdings. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Cua, G. (1994, July 2). Alan Yeo wins court battle to wind up YHS Holdings. The Business Times, p. 1; Quek, J. (1994, May 18). Alan Yeo petitions court to dissolve YHS Holdings. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. What happened. (1994, July 16). The New Paper, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Cua, G. (1995, March 22). Ng Teng Fong to launch takeover of Yeo Hiap Seng. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. Lee, H. S. (1995, March 28). YHS battle hots up as FCC moves to boost stake further. The Business Times, p. 1; Goh, S. M. (1995, July 31). Charles Yeo joins forces with Quek Leng Chan-led consortium. The Straits Times, p. 32; Cua, G. (1995, September 13). Teng Fong wins YHS fight, Quek Leng Chan accepts offer. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
43. AFX-Asia. (1999, August 20). YHS(M) managing director to retire. The Business Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
44. YHS will shift production lines to new Senoko factory. (1997, May 8). The Straits Times, p. 39; Ang, L. (1998, May 2). Ex-Pepsi man joins YHS as chief operating officer. The Business Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45. Abdul Hadhi. (1997, May 9). YHS to sell Sterling units at $1,100 psf. The Business Times, p. 17; Chong, V. (2003, May 23). Over 150 new homes to be released. The Business Times, p. 7; Kwok, J. (2012, December 1). Yeo’s tops list of best performing food firms. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Chan, S. M. (1994, July 6). Major shareholders withdraw motion to kick out Alan Yeo. The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Charles’ uncle. (1994, June 18). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Eng, C. (1999, August 16). Yeo Hiap Seng positions itself for the new millennium. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Hill, P. (1950, May 31). Sauce for the tables of Malaysia. The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Yeo family rejects Wing Tai takeover offer. (1994, May 5). Reuters. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/



The information in this article is valid as at 2012 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from out 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
Canned foods industry--Singapore
Organisations>>Companies
Soy sauce industry--Singapore
Business, finance and industry>>Business organization>>Business enterprises
Yeo Hiap Seng--History--Singapore
Food industry and trade--Singapore
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Manufacturing industries>>Food, beverages and tobacco
Business enterprises