The late Tan Sri Dr Lee Shin Cheng the grand patriarch and founder of local conglomerate IOI Group. He was known to be hardworking, persistent, determined and intelligent.
He was worth US$4.7 billion (RM19.7 billion) and ranked by Forbes as Malaysia’s fifth-richest man along with being the 325th richest men in the world.
The executive chairman of IOI Corp Bhd and IOI Properties Group Bhd has a vision, a hard work oriented and enterprising spirit that both companies have become leading corporations in their respective sectors.
Today, IOI Corp is worth RM26.32 billion and is an integrated palm oil company which has operations in eight countries spreading across Asia, Africa, Europe and North America.
In terms of properties, IOI Properties is valued at RM7.37 billion. It’s a property development and investment company which has a noticeable presence in Singapore and China.
It’s a classic rags-to-riches story for Lee’s success.
Lee grew up in Jeram, Kuala Selangor. His father owned a Chinese food shop at the time. At the young age of 11, Lee stopped school temporarily to sell ice cream from a bicycle to help raise younger siblings, before returning to school four years later.
Lee recounts that fateful one rainy day when he was selling ice cream. His bicycle wheels jammed as he was passing through a muddy path. He had to use his shoulders to carry the heavy ice-cream box until help came along.
In that moment, he couldn’t distinguish if it was rain, sweat, or tears wetting his face. He realised the only way to obtain better quality of life was through education.
His greatest regret in life was that he never had an opportunity to enter university, which was why he made sure all his children are well-educated.
Lee ran a pig farm with a friend, worked at a gas station and worked at some small oil palm plantation companies before he became an entrepreneur.
The late 1960s was an eventful moment when he was turned down for a job at the palm oil company, Dunlop Estates, due to his inadequate English, only to buy the same estate he made enough money about two decades later, from the very same people who wouldn’t employ him.
Lee was proud to admit that ownership of 27,880-hectare Dunlop Estates from the then beleaguered Multi-Purpose Holdings Bhd in 1990 was one of the most significant achievements in his life.
The Dunlop Estates included 13 estates, two mills, two factories and a research station.
From there, he hit it big by going into property development in Puchong and Putrajaya. Back then, he was known for speaking Tamil with estate workers.
Lee was well known as the “tree whisperer”, as he loved talking and singing to his trees. His thinking was that every tree was different, just like women. So he would talk to them, get to know them better, saying it would help them grow better.
On the corporate front, Lee was regarded as a polite gentleman but aggressive if the situation calls for it.
Several years ago, IOI Corp was engaged in a hostile takeover bid with Sime Darby Bhd, to gain control of Palmco Holdings Bhd, an oleochemicals manufacturer in which IOI was the single largest shareholder at the time.
In July 2001, Sime Darby made an unexpected conditional voluntary offer for all the shares at RM4.35 apiece in Palmco. But a few hours later, IOI Corp, which held a 32.1% stake in Palmco then, declined Sime Darby’s offer.
Within days, IOI Corp took over Palmco by matching Sime Darby’s offer, forcing the latter to raise its offer price to RM4.60 per share. The takeover saga ended in October after IOI Corp got hold of more than 50% stake in Palmco.
Lee struck gold when IOI Corp sold of its 70% stake in Loders Croklaan, specializing in fats business, for RM3.94 billion cash to Bunge Ltd, global agribusiness and food company.
It is a prized business that IOI has grown since it was acquired in 2003 for RM814 million from Unilever. The acquisition immediately gave IOI a presence in Europe and North America.
Lee was the patron and adviser of many community and business associations in Malaysia. One of his notable contributions was leading the redevelopment of the 111-year old Kuen Cheng Secondary School as chairman of its board of directors over 20 years.
He will be deeply missed.
24th February 2020 21:20