Tan Eng Joo



Tan Eng Joo (b. 30 October 1919, Singapore–d. 29 October 2011, Singapore),1 a Chinese community leader and businessman, was a leading advocate of the Singapore rubber industry during the 1960s and ’70s.2 In 1964, he and his uncle Tan Lark Sye, together with rubber magnate Lee Kong Chian, formed the Rubber Association of Singapore, an organisation which gave local rubber merchants a say in the regulation of the rubber market for the first time. Tan is also recognised, along with Tan Keong Choon, for his successful boycott of shipping conferences’ monopolistic practices on freight rates. He was the founder of the International Rubber Association, serving as its chairman in 1972.3 He was the president of the Democratic Party, and chairman of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.4

Early life
Tan’s father, third uncle and sixth uncle (Tan Lark Sye) came to Singapore from Jimei, Fujian province, to work for Tan Kah Kee in his rubber company. They later started their own rubber re-milling and trading business named Aik Hoe, which was managed by Tan Lark Sye. At an early age, Tan would follow his uncle during his inspection rounds at the rubber estates. It was during this time that Tan met rubber magnate, Lee Kong Chian.5

Education
Although his uncle was a strong supporter of Chinese education, Tan received an English education, completing his Senior Cambridge education at the Anglo-Chinese School in 1937. He pursued his Bachelor in Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States in 1939, despite his father’s wishes for him to run the family business. Tan graduated in 1943.6

Career
After graduation, Tan was keen to continue with his doctorate, but later decided to enter the work force so as to conserve the family funds during the Japanese Occupation. He first worked at Princeton University’s National Defence Research Committee, experimenting with ballistics, then became a researcher with the Timber Engineering Company in Washington.7

When the Japanese Occupation ended in 1945, Tan returned to Singapore and took up the position of managing director at Aik Hoe. While there, Tan felt he was hampered from introducing changes to modernise the company due to Tan Lark Sye’s persistence in managing the company single-handedly.8 Tan eventually left Aik Hoe in 1965.9

Besides Aik Hoe, Tan was also involved in other businesses.10 He started a factory manufacturing rubber belts and latex.11 With Lien Ying Chow, they jointly set up Union Limited, a bottling franchise of Schweppes and Pepsi Cola.12 However, the industrial strikes of the 1950s and ’60s brought the business to a close. He was successful with Alliance Plastics, a company that he set up to produce lighting fixtures and signs. The firm was later renamed Amcol Electrical Industries.13 Tan also held directorships at Haw Par and Prima Flour Mill.14

Political career
Although Tan had no political aspirations, he entered politics in deference to his uncle, Tan Lark Sye, and other leaders of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. The elders had formed the Democratic Party to contest against the Progressive Party, which was largely made up of highly educated English-speaking professionals, in the 1955 Legislative Assembly general elections.15 Tan was found to be a suitable candidate because he spoke fluent English, and was appointed as the president of the Democratic Party. Tan was unprepared for politics and was relieved when the party lost.16

Advocate of the Singapore rubber industry
In 1964, Tan, together with his uncle Lark Sye and Lee, formed the Rubber Association of Singapore (RAS), an organisation which gave local rubber merchants a say in the regulation of the rubber market for the first time. The previous association, the Chamber of Commerce Rubber Association, was dominated by the subsidiaries of British merchant houses which represented the interests of London. The efforts of the group paid off when the association was given statutory rights in 1967 to make and enforce by-laws and regulations relating to the rubber trade. With these changes, the rubber industry in Singapore burgeoned, and the centre of rubber trading activities soon shifted from New York and London, to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.17 In 1968, Tan was made chairman of the RAS, a post which he held for the next 18 years.18

When Lee retired from the International Rubber Study Group, Tan took over to lead its international meetings. This led to the formation of the International Rubber Association, of which he was appointed chairman in 1972.19

Tan also made significant contributions, along with Tan Keong Choon, towards better freight rates for rubber traders. At that time, shipping conferences, such as the Far East Freight Conference and Straits New York Conference, were set up as alliances by shippers to control freight rates. Both men worked tirelessly to convince rubber traders to use non-conference shippers. The successful boycott of conference shippers broke these monopolistic practices for the first time and opened the way for traders to negotiate for fairer freight rates.20

In 1989, Tan was elected chairman of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.21

Family
Wife: Yang Tai Ying.22
Children: Three sons and four daughters.23



Author

Isabel Ong



References

1. Visscher, S. (2007). The business of politics and ethnicity: A history of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Singapore: NUS Press: International Institute for Asian Studies, p. 204. (Call no.: RSING 381.0605957 VIS); Kwok, J. (2011, November 1). Ex-SCCCI president Tan Eng Joo dies. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Kwok, J. (2011, November 1). Ex-SCCCI president Tan Eng Joo dies. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Loh, G., & Lee, S. Y. (1998). Beyond silken robes: Profiles of selected Chinese entrepreneurs in Singapore. Singapore: Times Academic Press, pp. 74–75. (Call no.: RSING 338.0409225957 LOH)
4. The record of the candidates. (1955, March 21). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Visscher, S. (2007). The business of politics and ethnicity: A history of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Singapore: NUS Press: International Institute for Asian Studies, p. 263. (Call no.: RSING 381.0605957 VIS)
5. Chan, K. B., & Chiang, C. S. N. (1994). Stepping out: The making of Chinese entrepreneurs. Singapore: [Published for] Centre for Advanced Studies, NUS [by] Simon and Schuster (Asia), p. 324. (Call no.: RSING 338.04089951 CHA)
6. Loh, G., & Lee, S. Y. (1998). Beyond silken robes: Profiles of selected Chinese entrepreneurs in Singapore. Singapore: Times Academic Press, pp. 71–72. (Call no.: RSING 338.0409225957 LOH)
7. Loh, G., & Lee, S. Y. (1998). Beyond silken robes: Profiles of selected Chinese entrepreneurs in Singapore. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 72. (Call no.: RSING 338.0409225957 LOH)
8. Loh, G., & Lee, S. Y. (1998). Beyond silken robes: Profiles of selected Chinese entrepreneurs in Singapore. Singapore: Times Academic Press, pp. 72–73. (Call no.: RSING 338.0409225957 LOH)
9. Visscher, S. (2007). The business of politics and ethnicity: A history of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Singapore: NUS Press: International Institute for Asian Studies, p. 205. (Call no.: RSING 381.0605957 VIS)
10. Visscher, S. (2007). The business of politics and ethnicity: A history of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Singapore: NUS Press: International Institute for Asian Studies, p. 205. (Call no.: RSING 381.0605957 VIS)
11. Loh, G., & Lee, S. Y. (1998). Beyond silken robes: Profiles of selected Chinese entrepreneurs in Singapore. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 338.0409225957 LOH)
12. Visscher, S. (2007). The business of politics and ethnicity: A history of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Singapore: NUS Press: International Institute for Asian Studies, p. 205. (Call no.: RSING 381.0605957 VIS)
13. Loh, G., & Lee, S. Y. (1998). Beyond silken robes: Profiles of selected Chinese entrepreneurs in Singapore. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 338.0409225957 LOH); Tan Eng Joo resigns. (1983, January 12). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Visscher, S. (2007). The business of politics and ethnicity: A history of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Singapore: NUS Press: International Institute for Asian Studies, p. 205. (Call no.: RSING 381.0605957 VIS)
15. Chan, K. B., & Chiang, C. S. N. (1994). Stepping out: The making of Chinese entrepreneurs. Singapore: [Published for] Centre for Advanced Studies, NUS [by] Simon and Schuster (Asia), p. 329. (Call no.: RSING 338.04089951 CHA); Visscher, S. (2007). The business of politics and ethnicity: A history of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Singapore: NUS Press: International Institute for Asian Studies, p. 110. (Call no.: RSING 381.0605957 VIS)
16. Chan, K. B., & Chiang, C. S. N. (1994). Stepping out: The making of Chinese entrepreneurs. Singapore: [Published for] Centre for Advanced Studies, NUS [by] Simon and Schuster (Asia), p. 329. (Call no.: RSING 338.04089951 CHA); The record of the candidates. (1955, March 21). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Loh, G., & Lee, S. Y. (1998). Beyond silken robes: Profiles of selected Chinese entrepreneurs in Singapore. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 74. (Call no.: RSING 338.0409225957 LOH)
18. Chan, K. B., & Chiang, C. S. N. (1994). Stepping out: The making of Chinese entrepreneurs. Singapore: [Published for] Centre for Advanced Studies, NUS [by] Simon and Schuster (Asia), p. 326. (Call no.: RSING 338.04089951 CHA); Visscher, S. (2007). The business of politics and ethnicity: A history of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Singapore: NUS Press: International Institute for Asian Studies, p. 205. (Call no.: RSING 381.0605957 VIS)
19. Loh, G., & Lee, S. Y. (1998). Beyond silken robes: Profiles of selected Chinese entrepreneurs in Singapore. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 75. (Call no.: RSING 338.0409225957 LOH)
20. Loh, G., & Lee, S. Y. (1998). Beyond silken robes: Profiles of selected Chinese entrepreneurs in Singapore. Singapore: Times Academic Press, pp. 75–76. (Call no.: RSING 338.0409225957 LOH)
21. Visscher, S. (2007). The business of politics and ethnicity: A history of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Singapore: NUS Press: International Institute for Asian Studies, p. 263. (Call no.: RSING 381.0605957 VIS)
22. Kao, C. (1999, January 1). Please, I am not a tycoon. The Straits Times, p. 43. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Kwok, J. (2011, November 1). Ex-SCCCI president Tan Eng Joo dies. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2009 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
Community leaders
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Agriculture, fishing and forestry
Rubber industry and trade--Singapore
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Businessmen--Singapore--Biography
Tan, Eng Joo, 1919-