Like many of Singapore’s successful entrepreneurs, the founder of Hong Leong Finance (SGX: S41) arrived on our island a penniless immigrant.
Born in 1913, the second child of a peasant family, Kwek Hong Png grew up on a farm in the Fujian region of China. Times were hard and turbulent, and by the time he reached 16, Kwek knew it was time for him to seek his fortune. He left China on a cargo ship with just his $8 ticket, a mat and a quilt to his name.
When he arrived in Singapore in 1928, however, things were not much better. The island was in the midst of the Great Depression with people suffering widespread unemployment, hardship and poverty. With little work to be found, Kwek helped his brother-in-law in his hardware shop for just $5 a week, sleeping on the store’s floor at night.
However, he worked hard and rapidly rose to become a clerk, then manager and then general manager.
By 1941, Kwek had made up his mind – it was time to start his own business. Hong Leong began life in a small shop house on Beach Road, a general trading firm dealing with ropes, paints, and ship and rubber estate supplies. Kwek worked hard and when the time came to expand, decided to ask his brothers to join his firm, offering them a 65% stake in the company.
Paints and Hardware
As World War II came to an end, Singapore was left with a plethora of damaged public and private properties and initiated an ambitious re-building program. However, with a shortage of hardware, as well as general merchandise, prices rocketed. Hong Leong, with its plentiful warehouse space was in a good position to store and sell much-needed supplies and the company prospered.
From here, Hong Leong continued to grow, turning its hand to manufacturing paint, cement, and ventured profitably into rubber.
Kwek now had his sights set firmly on land, and in 1954 Hong Leong built its first, seven-storey building on Philips Street. By 1957, Hong Leong had bought a second building on Robinson Road and by 1972, had acquired a controlling interest in the property developer City Developments Ltd (SGX: C09).
Hong Leong Finance
The company started to offer financial services in 1961, moving on to offer loans to businesses in 1966, through its new financial arm Hong Leong Finance Ltd. The company quickly grew to become the largest finance business in Singapore.
- Hong means “big, good and plentiful” while Leong means “great prosperity”. Together, Hong Leong connotes a good harvest.
- Kwek’s first property was a bungalow on Buckley Road that he purchased in 1943, for just $49,000.
- The Hong Leong Finance Building in Raffles Place was built in 1975 when it was one of Singapore’s tallest buildings. It currently houses the Embassy of Panama on its 41st floor, and the Embassy of Norway on its 44th floor.
- A gallery displaying Chinese artefacts was named after Kwek Hong Png at Singapore’s Asian Civilisations Museum.
- When Kwek’s son Kwek Leng Beng joined Hong Leong Finance as general manager, he would personally drive staff in his own car to approach businesses.
Today, Hong Leong Finance is Singapore’s largest finance company, with 28 branches and offering an extensive array of financial products and services to both business as well as domestic customers.
The company has also won numerous awards, including the Domestic Finance Company Singapore award in 2013, as well as the ASEAN Finance Company of the Year 2015.
Click here now for your FREE subscription to Take Stock Singapore, The Motley Fool’s free investing newsletter. Written by David Kuo, Take Stock Singapore tells you exactly what’s happening in today’s markets, and shows how you can GROW your wealth in the years ahead.
Like us on Facebook to keep up-to-date with our latest news and articles. The Motley Fool’s purpose is to help the world invest, better.
The information provided is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be personalised investment or financial advice. Motley Fool Singapore contributor Alison Hunt doesn’t own shares in any companies mentioned.