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THE LATE Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Lee Shin Cheng A Visionary entrepreneur

Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Lee Shin Cheng was born in Klang, Selangor, Malaysia in 1939, with ancestry from Eng Choon, a Hokkien province in the Republic of China. He was the founder and Executive Chairman of the two public-listed companies IOI Corporation Bhd and IOI Properties Group Bhd. Through his entrepreneurial leadership and stewardships, strategic vision, guidance, wisdom as well as his vast experience, the two companies have grown to become leading global palm oil player and leading property developer in Malaysia

THE LATE Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Lee Shin Cheng

• Early Life

Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Lee grew up in an oil palm plantation estate in Jeram where his father ran a small sundry shop in a rubber estate. He had to stop schooling when he was 11 years old to help support his family. He rode his bicycle selling ice cream for four years before returning to finish his secondary school studies in 1960.

After leaving school, he started to work as a supervisor in a rubber estate. Having worked in the estates for several years, Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Lee applied for an Assistant Manager’s job in a plantation company, Dunlop Estates but was rejected because of his lack of academic qualification. After being rejected by Dunlop Estates, he went on to get a field supervisor job with another oil palm plantation company and diligently worked his way up to become a full-fledged estate manager. Some 25 years later, he bought up the entire Dunlop Estates company

• Journey to Entrepreneurship

Determined to make his entrepreneurial dream a reality, Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Lee has built vast businesses in the plantation, resourcebased manufacturing and property sectors. He positioned IOI into a leading global integrated plantation company and one of the largest property developers in Malaysia.

Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Lee’s achievements stemmed from his humble beginnings in the late seventies, where he founded Lam Soon Huat Sdn Bhd in December 1975 and ventured into his first housing project named Taman Mayang in Petaling Jaya. In 1983, he first ventured into plantation business by acquiring Bukit Dinding Estate and Sabai Estate in Pahang. In the following year, he acquired three property development companies and further expanded the property business. Subsequently, he embarked on his first township development named Bandar Puchong Jaya, Puchong in 1990. In the next few years, he acquired more estates for plantation and increased the landbanks for property developments.

Tan Sri Dato' Dr Lee explaning the harvesting process

• Significant Milestones in Life

In 1990, Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Lee acquired the entire plantation assets of Dunlop Estates Berhad from Multi-Purpose Holdings Bhd. The acquisition involved 13 palm oil estates of many times the size of the existing land held by IOI, and was considered a bold and unwise move by a new comer in the industry, especially at the time when the plantation business was viewed as a sunset industry. However, Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Lee said to the market analysts then; “today sunset, tomorrow sunrise”. This was truly a demonstration of his vision and foresight.

Another significant milestone of Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Lee was the acquisition of Pamol Plantations Sdn Bhd in 2003 from Unilever. Since the acquisition, the breeding and seed production operations of Pamol have been integrated into the IOI Research Centre which have made IOI as the only plantation company producing the highest crude palm oil yield in Malaysia. Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Lee’s vision and management capability extend beyond plantations. In 1997, he acquired a controlling stake in Palmco Holdings Berhad, a palm-based oleochemical company, later renamed as IOI Oleochemical Industries Berhad.Within one year of acquiring the struggling company, Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Lee turned it around and made it into a highly profitable business by expanding the market base of its products globally.

Following IOI’s acquisition of Pan-Century Edible Oils and Pan-Century Oleochemicals, IOI later became one of the largest vegetable-based oleochemicals manufacturers in the world. Today, IOI Oleochemical Industries Berhad is one of the largest oleochemical companies in Asia, and one of the most respected and innovative players in the industry.

Conferment of Honorary Doctorate Degree in Science from University of Malaya in 2017

• Global Venture

In December 2002, Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Lee’s entrepreneurial vision further steered IOI to extend its reach to the world by acquiring Loders Croklaan Group from Unilever. The acquisition provided IOI access to global specialty oils and fats markets in over 60 countries, with Western Europe being the world’s largest consumer of specialty fats. This, together with the investment in IOI Oleochemical Industries, completed the entire spectrum of the palm oil value chain, making IOI a leading global integrated palm oil producer.

IOI’s property development and investment businesses also spanned across countries in Malaysia, Singapore and the People’s Republic of China. In 2007, IOI first forayed into Singapore property market with a joint venture with Ho Bee Investment Ltd. In 2010, it first forayed into China property market in Xiamen with purchase of a 7.7-acre site for residential development named IOI Park Bay. Today, IOI has a total landbank of approximately 10,000 acres, IOI is well on its way to leave a stronger mark in the property industry, both locally and abroad.

• Awards & Recognition

  • 2001 – FIABCI Malaysia Property Man of the Year Award by International Real Estate Federation – Malaysia Chapter

  • 2002 - Honorary Doctorate Degree in Agriculture by University Putra Malaysia

  • 2006 - Fellowship of the Incorporated Society of Planters (FISP) by Malaysia’s Incorporated Society of Planter (ISP)

  • 2007 – Asiamoney’s Top Executive Malaysia Award

  • 2008 - Honorary Fellowship of the Malaysian Oil Scientists’ and Technologists’ Association (MOSTA) • 2008 - Exemplary Hokkien’s Awards by the Federation of Hokkien Associations

  • 2011 – Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA) Recognition Award

  • 2015 – Palm Oil Industry Leadership Award by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC)

  • 2017 – Malaysia Fujian Exemplary Leader Award by Federation of Hokkien Associations

  • 2017 – Honorary Doctorate Degree in Science by University Malaya

• Social Contributions and Philanthropy

Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Lee was regarded as one of the elder doyens in the Malaysian Chinese community. He was the patron and advisor of many Chinese community and business associations in Malaysia. He had contributed to many Chinese community causes. The two closest to his heart were the Kuen Cheng Secondary School and the Shin Cheng (Harcroft) Primary School.

Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Lee was the Chairman of the Board of Directors in Kuen Cheng Secondary School who led the redevelopment of the school buildings during the past 20 years. As the corporate founder of Shin Cheng Primary School, IOI Properties Group Berhad built the entire school and donated it together with the land.

Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Lee was also active in providing his advice and guidance to a large number of industry groupings, associations and social organisations. He serves as, among others, the Honorary President of the Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM), former Board member of Malaysian Palm Oil Board, and former Secretary General of Malaysian Hokkien Association. He was also a Council Member of the East Coast Economic Region Development Council (ECERDC) for the Government from 2008 to 2014.

• Work Ethics and Character

Tan Sri Dr Lee’s work ethics was legendary. He has high integrity, was hardworking and very hands-on in his work. His tenacity and enterprising spirit were unrivalled by many in the Malaysian corporate circle. Above all, his humility and down-to-earth demeanour have gained the friendship and respect among many whom he met. We salute Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Lee for his many achievements. His life story will be etched in the memory of those who have come to know him and his accomplishments will be an important chapter in the Malaysian corporate history.


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