3 Companies That Have Soldiered On Through the Years with Lee Kuan Yew

Over the past week, we have seen many accounts about the legacy and accomplishments of Singapore’s founding father, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, after he unfortunately passed away last Monday.

We’ve also seen people from all walks of life in Singapore queue up for hours on end – without complain, I might add – just to pay their last respects to the late Mr. Lee.

Beyond foreign leaders and dignitaries, international companies like McDonalds, MasterCard, and many more also paid their tributes to Mr. Lee in their own unique ways.

Mr. Lee’s lifework had been about building up Singapore to where it is today. Given all that has transpired, I thought it might be apt to take a step back in history and look at three companies that have helped Mr. Lee shape Singapore’s remarkable development since our country gained independence many decades ago.

1. DBS Group Holdings Ltd (SGX: D05)

Founded by the government of Singapore in June 1968, DBS was previously known as Development Bank of Singapore. Its main aim was to provide loans and financial assistance to the manufacturing and industrial companies in Singapore back then.

In 1998, DBS merged with POSB Bank, a statutory board under the Ministry of Finance and a bank that’s frequented by many Singaporeans.

Today, DBS has become the largest bank in South East Asia by assets and has a regional network spanning 17 markets.

The bank’s strong capital position, as well as rock-solid “AA-” and “Aa1” credit ratings (amongst the highest credit ratings for its kind in the Asia Pacific region), had helped DBS earn Global Finance’s “Safest Bank in Asia” accolade for six consecutive years from 2009 to 2014.

2. Singapore Telecommunications Limited (SGX: Z74)

The history of Singtel dates all the way back to 1879 when telephones were first introduced to Singapore by Bennett Pell as a 50-line private exchange. This made Singapore one of the first cities in the East to have a telephone service. (Remarkably, this came just three years after Alexander Graham Bell had first patented his telephone invention.)

In 1993, SingTel was listed and its shares were traded for the first time on the Stock Exchange of Singapore (what is now known as the Singapore Exchange). The IPO represented 11% of Singtel’s shares, with the remaining amount held by Temasek Holdings, one of the Singapore government’s investment arms. Incidentally, Temasek Holdings still holds the majority of SingTel’s shares (51.88% as of 30 May 2014).

When Singtel first went public, Singapore citizens were able to acquire shares at a discounted price as part of the Singapore government’s efforts to share the nation’s wealth and to encourage more Singaporeans to start investing for their future.

Singtel today counts more than one million Singaporeans amongst its retail shareholder base, including my dad. He has told me that it was Singtel that got him interested to know more about investing and to actually start putting his money to work.

Today, Singtel has a mobile subscriber base of more than 500 million customers across 25 countries through its many foreign subsidiaries and associates. As of March 2014, it was also the largest company by market capitalization listed in Singapore.

3. Singapore Post Limited (SGX: S08)

SingPost is an associate company of Singtel and is actually the body in charge of Singapore’s postal systems and services.

Its roots can be traced back to the founding of Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819. In those days, a single mail office collected and delivered the small volume of letters here. The earliest version of SingPost was located in the previous Parliament House and was run by just three people.

According to SingPost’s own account of its history, Singapore took over its own postal functions in stages after independence on 9 August 1965 and was eventually admitted to the Universal Postal Union (UPU) on 8 January 1966.

The Singapore Postal Services Department became a fully autonomous body soon after on 1 January 1967 and after a series of mergers and restructurings, SingPost as we know today got listed on the Mainboard of the Singapore Exchange on 13 May 2003.

Today, SingPost can boast of a S$4.2 billion market capitalisation and offers a range of mail and logistics services.

The company has also come a long way from being just a mail delivery outfit. This is evident from how China-based e-commerce giant Alibaba Group was willing to invest in a 10.35% stake in SingPost in 2014; as my colleague Stanley Lim noted, SingPost’s strong logistical network in the Asia Pacific region may have been a large pull factor for Alibaba.


While Mr. Lee has left us, his legacy will still continue to live on as Singapore grows from strength to strength.

The growth of the three companies mentioned above is a microcosm for some important beliefs I have: That Singapore can find an important place in the world using the collective expertise and knowledge of her people and organisations, and that her small physical size is by no means a limit for her possible accomplishments.

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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 contributor James Yeo doesn’t own shares in any companies mentioned.