Great Eastern Holding Limited: One Of Five Remarkable Singapore Pioneers

Singapore_flagHappy birthday, Singapore!

As we pause to celebrate 49 years of Singapore’s independence, it is right for us to acknowledge the achievements of the pioneer generation. It is also fitting for us tip our hats to the many pioneering companies that have helped to shape our economy. Here are five of them.

Boustead Singapore (SGX: F9D) was established in 1828. That is less than 10 years after the founding of Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles. Boustead, which is Singapore’s second-oldest company, was originally involved in finance, the trading of spices, rubber plantations and even the mining and smelting of tin. Today, Boustead Singapore, which was listed on the Singapore market on 17 October 1975, specialises in energy-related engineering.

Some companies have been in Singapore for longer than any of us have been on the planet. Fraser & Neave (SGX: F99), which was founded 1883, is one of those very unique businesses. The company began life as a pioneer of aerated water in Southeast Asia. By 1931, it was brewing beer. And by 1936, it was making soft drinks. Today, F&N still has an interest in beer, though its main focus is dairy products.     

Great Eastern (SGX: G07), which was founded in 1908 by a Canadian, AH Fair, is one of Singapore’s leading life insurers. Its status as a standalone insurer changed in 2004 when it became a substantially-owned subsidiary of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (SGX: O39). Today, the company, which started with initial assets of just S$70,000 and 15 staff, has grown into a business with S$62b in assets and 4.7m policyholders.

Cavenagh Bridge, the Old Supreme Court Building and the Shangri-La Hotel (SGX: S07) are three iconic works of architecture by the 149 year-old United Engineers (SGX: U04). The company, which was founded in 1865 by Richard Riley and William Hargreaves, was also responsible for constructing the OCBC Centre in 1976, UE Square in 1996 and more recently Orchard Gateway. And when you next visit Lau Pa Sat, don’t just marvel at the sumptuous food on offer but also admire the intricate cast-iron structure, which is another of Richard Riley’s accomplishments.

Haw Par Corporation (SGX: H02) is as much a part of Singapore history as its Tiger Balm is a part of medicine cabinets in Singapore homes. The company, which came to Singapore in 1926, can trace its roots to the 1800s when Aw Chu Kin left his home in China to seek his fortune in Burma. Today, pharmaceuticals accounts for only a small part of Haw Par’s profits. It represents only a quarter of corporate earnings, with property and investments accounting for the lion’s share (or should be the tiger’s share).

Our five featured companies have not only served our country well but they have also rewarded investors admirably. Since the turn of the Millennium, they have delivered a total annual return of between 9% and 20%. More specifically, S$1,000 invested equally in the five companies would have turned into S$39,000 after just 14 years, provided dividends were reinvested.

An average annual return of 15% is certainly a reason to celebrate, as are the 49 years of Singapore’s independence. Majulah Singapura!

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The information provided is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be personalised investment or financial advice. Motley Fool Singapore Director David Kuo doesn’t own shares in any companies mentioned.