Lee Shin Cheng
|Lee Shin Cheng
|Born||3 June 1939|
|Net worth||US$5.1billion (2017)|
|Lee Shin Cheng|
Tan Sri Dato' Lee Shin Cheng is a Malaysian business magnate, investor, and philanthropist. Tan Sri Dato' Lee Shin Cheng heads IOI Corporation Berhad, better known as IOI Group, as its executive chairman. IOI, which is listed on the Malaysian Stock Exchange, Bursa Malaysia, is a conglomerate managing oil palm plantations, producing specialty fats and oleochemicals, and developing property in Malaysia, Indonesia, the United States, and Europe. The IOI refinery in Rotterdam, 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 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 owned most of the plantations. Lee, who was then only 22, was undeterred by Dunlop Estate's rejection. He went on to get a field supervisor's job with at another palm oil company.
Twenty years later, Lee bought Dunlop Estate. In 2008, he recalled the happiest day of his life in an interview with the New Straits Times, saying, "My happiest day was in 1989 when I bought 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".
The tree talker
Lee adopted a hands-on managerial style and focused on maximizing palm oil yields. Lee's walkabouts on IOI's 152,000 hectares of oil palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia earned him the "tree talker" moniker among journalists, rival plantation companies, and bankers in Malaysia. In his words, "Each [tree] 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." If they fail to produce, he tells the tree, "I'm sorry darling. I will have to chop you down...."
In July 2009, while receiving an award on behalf of IOI Group at the Third Annual Best Financial Institutions in Southeast Asia Awards in Kuala Lumpur, Lee lent weight to his moniker, remarking that, "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".
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 by virtue of their presence on IOI's board of directors.
Contribution to society
Lee was bestowed FIABCI Malaysia Property Man of the Year 2001 award. In February 2002, he was conferred an honorary doctorate degree in agriculture by Universiti Putra Malaysia in recognition of his contributions to the palm oil industry.
Lee serves as a board member of Universiti Putra Malaysia, an adviser to the KL & Selangor Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a council member of the Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA), a member of the Malaysia-China Business Council, the honorary president of the Association of Eng Choon Societies of Malaysia, and the Federation of Hokkien Association of Malaysia.
Since 1998, Lee has provided scholarships and educational grants to outstanding young students via Yayasan Tan Sri Dato’ Lee Shin Cheng.