UOB’s Wee clan, Singapore’s richest banking dynasty, grapples with succession

BUILDING a multibillion-dollar empire is one factor. Keeping it within the household is one other matter.

By the time Wee Cho Yaw died earlier this month at 95, his 5 kids had firmly established roles inside Singapore’s richest banking dynasty that solid a US$10 billion fortune. His eldest son, Wee Ee Cheong, 71, has led United Overseas Bank (UOB) since 2007, whereas his different two sons and two daughters, throughout 60, maintain administration roles elsewhere within the empire.

Still, his greater than a dozen largely millennial grandchildren have largely pursued their very own passions in enterprise, from a three-star Michelin restaurant to co-founding a dry cleansing chain and a web site promoting Asian art work.

Asked at a briefing final week about succession planning, Ee Cheong hinted that he’s open to an outsider taking on. UOB’s chief government officer mentioned he’s rising his “timber” of youthful colleagues, an expression that interprets to constructing the financial institution’s personal expertise pool of execs.

At stake is the clan’s long-term management of UOB, one of many final main household lenders in Singapore, in addition to different jewels of the empire. Cho Yaw’s father, Wee Kheng Chiang, based UOB in 1935 and it’s now value greater than US$35 billion, whereas the household’s UOL Group is certainly one of Singapore’s greatest actual property builders.

“The family needs to get used to a new type of decision-making, moving from a central family leader to a sibling partnership,” mentioned Marleen Dieleman, professor of household enterprise at IMD Business School in Singapore. “Wee Cho Yaw’s children are already of retirement age themselves, suggesting that another leadership succession is in the cards soon.”

For a minimum of 20 years, Cho Yaw’s 5 kids have been main house owners of the household holding firms, Wee Investments Pte and C Y Wee & Co, underscoring how Cho Yaw paved the way in which for his succession early on. He retired as chairman of UOB in 2013.

But the elder Wee, often called Singapore’s final banking titan who crossed paths with Xi Jinping when he was get together secretary of Fuzhou, stayed closely concerned in different household companies till his demise. Even in his later years, he continued his six-day week at UOB’s tower on the banks of the Singapore river, whose building he had personally overseen within the Nineteen Nineties. At the time of his passing, he chaired six firms, together with UOL and Tiger Balm-maker Haw Par and held a stake in UOB value US$3.2 billion that’s but to be inherited.

Cho Yaw’s want, he wrote in his 2014 biography, was that his grandchildren would take a distinguished function within the household companies. So far, that has not occurred.

‘Need passion’

“If the family members are interested they’re more than welcome,” Ee Cheong mentioned of who would possibly succeed him on the head of the financial institution. “But I think they need passion, they need love, they need the desire to be part of the team.”

At Singapore-based rival Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC), the billionaire Lee household withdrew from day-to-day administration of the financial institution some years in the past. Lee Seng Wee, the previous chairman of OCBC, died in 2015, and his son Lee Tih Shih now sits on the board.

For the Wee clan, there’s not a scarcity of potential heirs to the fortune. The late Wee had 16 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren, in line with an obituary revealed after his demise. While any stress round succession is but to make itself felt in public, his grandchildren have largely gone their very own manner.

Ee Cheong’s eldest son, Wee Teng Wen, is the managing associate of The Lo and Behold Group, which owns and operates Odette, certainly one of a handful of three-star Michelin eating places within the city-state, and Tanjong Beach Club, a well-liked beachfront hang-out for expat executives and Instagram fashions.

His different son, Wee Teng Chuen, left UOB’s company banking unit in 2020 to affix a boutique actual property administration platform that has since shut down. He additionally co-founded along with his brother a dry cleansing chain, For the Love of Laundry.

Another of Cho Yaw’s grandchildren, Alexandra Eu, married a scion of the Kuok household, whose palm oil billionaire patriarch, Robert Kuok, is Malaysia’s richest individual. After a stint on the administration affiliate programme after which in personal banking at UOB greater than a decade in the past, she now co-owns a espresso bar together with her husband and co-founded a web site promoting Asian art work.

Property billions

Outside of banking, Cho Yaw instigated the takeover of UOL’s predecessor within the Seventies, serving to construct a property portfolio unfold throughout a number of firms that is still beneath the household’s management. UOL now oversees greater than S$20 billion in property and is Singapore’s second-largest listed developer, behind City Developments. He additionally helped rescue Haw Par, which manages an aquarium in Thailand, Underwater World Pattaya, owns varied properties in Singapore and is most well-known for being the producer of Tiger Balm, an iconic pain-relief ointment that dates again to the occasions of the Chinese emperors.

A distinguished scion can also be making his manner up the ranks by way of the true property facet of the empire. Jonathan Eu, one other Cho Yaw grandson who’s a Wharton School graduate, heads Singapore Land Group, a roughly US$2 billion UOL subsidiary. At a press convention on Tuesday (Feb 27), Eu mentioned the Wee household’s stake within the property agency will stay the identical for now.

“As the only Singapore bank now run by family, this makes UOB somewhat unique among its peers,” mentioned Sarah Jane Mahmud, a banks analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “With few of Wee’s grandchildren working in financial services, there is a chance that UOB could end up being managed by so-called outsiders in the future.”

UOB declined to touch upon the worth of Cho Yaw’s UOB stake that’s to be inherited. Teng Wen didn’t reply to a request for remark by way of LinkedIn, whereas Bloomberg News was not in a position to attain Teng Chuen.

Cho Yaw, who honed his enterprise abilities using a growth in commodities buying and selling in Fifties British-ruled Malaya, was nicely conscious of the difficulties in protecting a household enterprise collectively. In 2004, he needed to fend off an try by state investor Temasek Holdings to purchase out his household’s stakes in UOL. Before his demise, Cho Yaw held about 30 per cent within the developer.

In his biography revealed in 2014, Cho Yaw mentioned he invited his prolonged household for a meal each Sunday to be in contact, and organized for his kids to stay near his mansion in Jalan Asuhan, a rich cul-de-sac north of Singapore’s Botanic Gardens. Three of them – Wei Chi, Ee Cheong and Ee Lim – every personal adjoining luxurious bungalows in a close-by enclave, Camden Park, in line with property data. Houses within the space are among the many city-state’s most extremely valued. A so-called good class bungalow on Jalan Asuhan offered for about US$30 million final yr.

Cho Yaw mentioned he didn’t know whether or not the fourth era would take over the empire, he wrote within the e-book. “I can only hope they do,” he mentioned. BLOOMBERG

Ageing heirs management household enterprises