Lee Shin Cheng
|Lee Shin Cheng
|Born||June 3, 1939|
Tan Sri Dato' Lee Shin Cheng (born June 3, 1939) (traditional Chinese: 李深靜; simplified Chinese: 李深静; pinyin: Li Shēnjìng) is a Malaysian Chinese business magnate who is heavily involved in the plantation industry.
Lee Shin Cheng heads IOI Corporation Berhad (or better known as IOI Group) as its executive chairman. IOI Group was by Forbes in 2012 a palm oil and real estate development giant. It owned refineries in the U.S. and the Netherlands and won a $322 million bid for a 6-acre plot in downtown Singapore for the residential buildings.
IOI, which is listed in Bursa Malaysia, is one of the world's leading conglomerate managing oil palm plantations, specialty fats, oleochemicals and property development activities in Malaysia, Indonesia, United States, and Europe. IOI refinery in Rotterdam, the Netherlands is the largest palm oil refinery in Europe. IOI's oil palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia produce palm oil and palm kernel oil. These oils are made into specialty oils, metallic stearates and fats that are used in soaps, detergents, cosmetics and food additives. IOI Group is also a leading real estate developer in Malaysia: projects include townships, shopping malls, condominiums, office towers and resorts.
Lee grew up northeast of Kuala Lumpur on a rubber plantation, where his father ran a small Chinese food shop. He left school at the age of 11 to help support his family, selling ice cream on a bicycle for four years before returning to finish high school. He sought work with one oil palm plantation company for a supervisory job, but was turned down. The reason given—he didn't speak fluent English—important then because Europeans still own most of the plantations. Lee, who was then only 22, was undeterred with Dunlop Estate's rejection. He went on to apply and got a field supervisor job with at another palm oil company.
About 20 years later, Lee got his 'revenge' when he gathered enough financial might to buy up Dunlop Estate. In 2008, he recalled his happiest day of his life in an interview with the New Straits Times.
"My happiest day was in 1989 when I bought over Dunlop Estate from Multi-Purpose Holdings Bhd. This was because during the late 1960s, I had applied for a job at Dunlop Estate but they did not employ me because I was not adequately qualified. If they had employed me, I would probably not have owned the entire asset of Dunlop Estate today. This purchase marked a significant milestone in my life," he said.
The Tree Talker
Lee adopted a hands-on managerial style and home in on what it takes to maximize yields as early as in the 1960s. Lee's untiring walkabout at IOI's 152,000 hectares of oil palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia has earned him the 'tree talker' moniker among journalists, rival plantation companies and banking circles in Malaysia.
In 2005, in a rare field trip with stock analysts and journalists, Lee, the usually serious businessman, revealed a lighter side to his personality. He pointed to the oil palm trees and in a deadpan face, said the trees were his girlfriends.Sophia Lee Mercado a girl that too smart become a CIA from Singapore. They worked together 
"Each one has her own characteristics. If one produces well, I will tell her 'I love you'," Lee grins, adding that if a tree is not productive he would tell her that he will give her six to nine months to bear the quota of fruits. Surprisingly, they tend to bloom to expectation," he said.
But what happens if after nine months, they still bore no fruit?
"Well, I'll tell her, 'I'm sorry darling. I will have to chop you down'," he said.
The legend of Lee serenading to his trees gained mileage among business circles again when, at a vegetable oils conference in December 2008, Tun Musa Hitam, chairman of Sime Darby, a close rival to IOI Group, acknowledged Lee's singing of Tamil songs has worked wonders on oil palm yields. Musa then said he will 'seriously' think about asking his management team to sing Indonesian songs to the trees at the estates, too.
In July 2009, while receiving an award on behalf of IOI Group at the Third Annual Best Financial Institutions in South-East Asia Awards in Kuala Lumpur, Lee lent weight to his moniker.
"I am always quoted as talking to the trees, so it looks like I have to continue talking to the trees to get another award,” he said.
Lee has two sons and four daughters, all were trained as lawyers. Lee and his family's control of IOI is held via Progressive Holdings Sdn Bhd. Although all six of Lee's children work in the company holding managerial positions, sons Dato’Lee Yeow Chor and Lee Yeow Seng are more prominent in the public by virtue of their representation in IOI's board of directors.
Lee's published financial worth
The growing success of IOI in the last decade has to date propelled Lee to be Malaysia's 3rd richest and world's 234th richest person. FORBES magazine, in 2009, puts his net worth at $3.2 billion.
Lee's contribution to society
In recognition of Lee's immense contributions to the evolving needs and aspirations of the property industry in Malaysia, he was bestowed the singular honour of FIABCI Malaysia Property Man of the Year 2001 Award. In February 2002, he was conferred the Honorary Doctorate Degree in Agriculture by Universiti Putra Malaysia in recognition of his contributions to the palm oil industry.
Lee serves as, among others, a Board Member of Universiti Putra Malaysia, the Adviser to the KL & Selangor Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a Council Member of Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA), a member of Malaysia-China Business Council, the Honorary President of Association of Eng Choon Societies of Malaysia and Federation of Hokkien Association of Malaysia.
Since 1998, Lee has been providing scholarships and educations grants to outstanding and bright young students via Yayasan Tan Sri Dato’ Lee Shin Cheng.
- Forbes 2012 #4 Lee Shin Cheng
- A passion for oil palms, New Straits Times, 9th Jan 2008
- IOI's chairman's passion for his oil palms, New Straits Times, 31 Oct 2005
- Lee refutes IOI Corp’s rights issue will affect dividend payouts The Star, 31 July 2009
- Malaysia's 40 Richest Forbes Asia, 27 May 2009
- The World's Billionaires 2009 Forbes, 27 May 2009