Leung Kai Fook Medical Company
by Nureza Ahmad
Leung Kai Fook Medical Company (Pte) Ltd is the maker of Axe Brand Universal Oil (also known as Axe Brand Medicated Oil), a popular brand of medicated oil recognised by its logo, which features an arm holding an axe.1 Axe Brand Medicated Oil is colourless, and contains a unique blend of eucalyptus, menthol, camphor and other essential oils.2 For more than 80 years, it has been used by adults and children as a treatment for giddiness, headache, travel sickness, stomachache, insect bites and other minor ailments.3
Leung Kai Fook Medical Company was founded by Leung Yun Chee (b. 1897, Shunde, China–d. 1971, Singapore) who, as a young man in his twenties, travelled from Shunde, China, to Singapore in the 1920s.4 He got to know a German physician, Dr Schmeidler, who gave him the formula for a medicated oil.5
Leung was initially a manager at a Shanghai silk trading company. But after three years, he decided to run his own business, operating from a shop in South Bridge Road, next to a medical hall. In 1928, Leung closed down his silk business and started the Leung Kai Fook Medical Company.6
Leung named the medicated oil after the axe because in the past, the axe was an essential item in every household, used daily to cut wood for cooking. The tagline he came up with, “Therapy in a bottle”, further sums up the brand’s values.7
In its early years, the response to the medicated oil was lukewarm, and faced stiff competition from more established companies from China and Hong Kong. Leung decided to advertise his product in the local papers, which was a bold marketing move in the 1950s. To promote and increase awareness of the company’s products, he started his own Chinese newspaper, New Life Daily, and gave away calendars and gifts. Furthermore, he undertook business trips to Malaysia, looking well-polished and distinguished in his Western suit, impressing buyers with his presentation.8
The business flourished in the 1960s, when Singaporean and Malaysian Muslim pilgrims started using Axe Brand oil on their annual haj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The pilgrims used the oil to relieve headaches, giddiness and other ailments caused by the long sea journey. The oil also became popular among Muslims living in countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan and Kenya.9 Its popularity and sales grew to such an extent that the company shifted its production from a small cottage factory in South Bridge Road to a seven-storey factory in Macpherson in 1970.10
Leung passed away in 1971.11 After his death, his son Leung Heng Keng, who had helped manage the company since 1951, took over.12 Another son, Leung Mun Sum, joined the company in 1987 and was appointed managing director.13
In 1992, Leung Kai Fook Medical Company became the first local medical oil producer to obtain ISO-9002 certification.14 It continued to expand its markets beyond Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. New products, such as Axe Brand Red Flower Oil, were also produced.15 The company made other investments too. In Hong Kong, for instance, it invested in property and the travel industry. It also ventured into hospitality in mainland China, with investments in the luxurious US$65-million Hotel Landmark Canto in Guangzhou.16
As at 2016, the company operates five Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP)-certified factories in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Vietnam. Axe Brand products are also sold in more than 50 countries.17 Axe Brand Universal Oil is one of the leading brands of medicated oil in Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Middle East, and China.18 The company has successfully expanded the market for its medicated oil into the US, Australia, Romania and Greece.19 The universality of the product has seen its packaging translated into Arabic, Cambodian, French, Greek, Indonesian, Italian, Spanish, Sri Lankan, Swahili, Thai and Vietnamese.20
Following Leung Heng Keng’s death in 2018, Leung Mun Sum continued as managing director of the company.21
The company has actively contributed to the community. It has donated to hospitals, educational institutions, and arts organisations. For instance, through its generous donation to the National University of Singapore, the company supported research on addressing the needs of an aging population, such as treatments for common conditions experienced by the elderly.22
13. The CEO Magazine. (2019, July 25). What a relief: Leung Mun Sum. Retrieved 2019, September 6 from The CEO Magazine website: https://www.theceomagazine.com/executive-interviews/healthcare-pharmaceutical/what-a-relief-leong-mun-sum/
14. 2 local companies unveil overseas expansion plans. (1992, November 6). The Straits Times, p. 44; Carving a name, across the world. (2016, July 22). The Business Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.17. Leung Kai Fook Medical Company. LKF in the region, manufacturing facilities. Retrieved 2019, August 30 from Leung Kai Fook Medical Company website: http://axebrand.com.sg/manufacturing; Carving a name, across the world. (2016, July 22). The Business Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Superbrands: An insight into more than 100 of Singapore’s strongest brands. (2002). Singapore: Superbrands, p. 23. (Call no.: RSING q658.827 SUP)
19. Carving a name, across the world. (2016, July 22). The Business Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Superbrands: An insight into more than 100 of Singapore’s strongest brands. (2002). Singapore: Superbrands, p. 23. (Call no.: RSING q658.827 SUP)
21. The CEO Magazine. (2019, July 25). What a relief: Leong Mun Sum. Retrieved 2019, August 30 from The CEO Magazine website: https://www.theceomagazine.com/executive-interviews/healthcare-pharmaceutical/what-a-relief-leong-mun-sum/; Wong, C. (2018, September 8). Man behind the growth of Axe Brand empire dies. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/main/
22. Ministry of Finance. (2019, March 22). Speech by Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at The SG100 Foundation's 3rd Anniversary Dinner, 22 March 2019, at Jubilee Garden Restaurant Safra Toa Payoh. Retrieved from Ministry of Finance website: https://www.mof.gov.sg/news-publications/speeches/speech-by-minister-for-finance-heng-swee-keat-at-the-sg100-foundation's-3rd-anniversary-dinner-22-march-2019-at-jubilee-garden-restaurant-@-safra-toa-payoh; National University of Singapore. (2017, February 9). Business leader gives to advance research into ageing. Retrieved 2019, September 2 from National University of Singapore website: http://giving.nus.edu.sg/business-leader-gives-to-advance-research-into-ageing/
Goh. C. L. (2014, May 17). Keeping Axe Brand Oil legacy burning. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Lim, S. N. (1988, December 10). Making medicine for the masses. The Business Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
National University of Singapore. (2016, July 11). Leung Kai Fook Medical Company donates $470,000 for Pharmacy research and scholarship. Retrieved 2019, August 30 from https://www.science.nus.edu.sg/blog/2016/07/11/leung-kai-fook-medical-company-donates-470000-for-pharmacy-research-and-scholarship/
True to tradition. (2017, July 19). The Business Times. Retrieved 2019, August 30 from The Business Times website: https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/hub-projects/ceo-conversations-2017/true-to-tradition
The information in this article is valid as at September 2019 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.
Health and medicine>>Medication and therapies>>Traditional Chinese medicine
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Healthcare and medicine
Leung Kai Fook Medical Company