Tan Keong Choon
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During his early years, Tan would follow his father, Tan Keng Hian - the younger brother of rubber magnate and philanthropist, Tan Kah Kee, on his work trips. His father traveled to many places to help Tan Kah Kee with his rubber business, and to build and manage schools in China. Hence Tan had a rather checkered primary school education. He went to school in Chip Bee (Jimei), Japan, Hangzhou and Shanghai. In 1935, he was admitted into the Amoy (Xiamen) University. During the vacation break of 1937, he decided to visit his relatives in Singapore. When the Sino-Japanese war broke out, he remained in Singapore to study English from 1937-1939. When the situation improved, he returned to China to continue his university education. However, the unrest in China forced him to switch schools from Kunming to Hong Kong, and then to Jinan University, Shanghai. Continued turmoil eventually led him to forego his studies to enter into business.
The Japanese Occupation
Growth in Business
Around 1950, China approached Tan to supply them with rubber. Because the quantity of rubber requested was too large for South Seas to handle, the business was contracted out to Lee Rubber, with South Seas acting as an agent. South Seas reaped handsome profits from the commissions until the British placed an embargo on rubber trade with China from 1951-1955. With the ban, Tan took his business to Japan and Indonesia. In 1957, Tan entered into another business relationship with the Lee family with the setting up of Tropical Produce Co. (Yan Fang), where he was managing director. The company started off by buying rubber from Indonesia and then re-exporting them to other countries. A rubber mill business was later added.
Contributions to the Local Rubber Industry
In those days, the quality of rubber was determined with the naked eye and not assessed according to technical standards. This often led to disputes between the buyer and seller. Malayan rubber was also often rejected on grounds that it was of inferior quality. In 1962, the Rubber Research Institute (RRI) was formed to study and control the quality of rubber, and the outcome was the introduction of the Standard Malaya Rubber. Tan was one of the few businessmen in the rubber trade industry who complied with its specified superior grade of rubber. He even sent his employees to the RRI to learn rubber processing techniques while he read up on ways to improve the mechanical aspect of rubber production. Tan went on to design machinery that could process more rubber in a shorter time. To promote his quality rubber, Tan approached leading rubber-consuming companies such as Marumeni, Bridgestone and Goodyear in Japan and America, and sold them limited quantities of his rubber at cheap prices. He believed that the companies would return to him for more once the rubber was found to be of good quality. His hardwork, foresight and investment paid off. His factory was soon producing large quantities of rubber, and his success led to international acceptance of the Standard Malaya Rubber.
Tan also made significant contributions, along with Tan Eng Joo, towards better freight rates for rubber traders. At that time, shipping conferences, such as the Far East Freight Conference (FEFC) and the Straits New York Conference, helped shippers control freight rates. Both men worked tirelessly to convince rubber traders to use non-conference shippers. The successful boycott of conference shippers broke these monopolistic practices for the first time and opened the way for traders to negotiate for fairer freight rates.
Introduction of Incentive Wage Scheme at the National Iron and Steel Mills
Other Business Achievements and Community Involvement
In the mid-1970s, Tan set up Nassim Mansions, a property development firm. Tan also held directorships at the Chung Khiaw Bank, Overseas Union Bank and Wheelock Properties (formerly known as Marco Polo Developments), and took on many leading posts such as President of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Founder and Vice-Chairman of the Singapore Shippers' Council, Vice-President of the Singapore Rubber Packers Association, Member of the Rubber Association of Singapore, Chairman of the National Parks Board, Chairman of the Chinese High School and Hwa Chong Junior College Management Committees, Vice-Chairman of the Hokkien Huay Kuan, and Chairman of the Singapore Science Centre. He was twice awarded the Public Service Star (Bar) at the National Day Awards in 1978 and 1989 for his role as Chairman of the Singapore Science Centre.
Government Gazette (p. 3582). (1978, August 9). Singapore: Singapore National Printers.
Government Gazette (p. 6000). (1989, August 9). Singapore: Singapore National Printers.
Lam, J. (1993, January 28). My big mistake: Clever people learn from advice. The Straits Times. Retrieved on March 7, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Lim H. S. (Interviewer). (1981, September 20). Oral history interview with Tan Keong Choon (transcript of Cassette Recording No. 000052). Retrieved March 18, 2009, from National Archives of Singapore Web site http://www.a2o.com.sg
Loh, G. & Lee, S. L. (1998). Beyond silken robes: Profiles of selected Chinese entrepreneurs in Singapore (pp. 66-71). Singapore: Times Academic Press.
(Call no.: RSING 338.0409225957 LOH)
Low, K.T. (Ed.). (2006). Who's who in Singapore 2006 (p. 472). Singapore: Who's who Pub.
Menon, J. (1989, November 1). Tan Eng Joo elected new SCCI president. Business Times Singapore. Retrieved Febuary 10, 2009, from Factiva database.
NParks head retires. (1998, June 10). The Straits Times. Retrieved on March 7, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Shimizu, H. (1999). Japan and Singapore in the world economy: Japan's economic advance into Singapore, 1870-1965 (p. 169). London; New York: Routledge.
Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan. (2005). Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan 39th Term of Council. Retrieved February 10, 2009, from http://www.shhk.com.sg/aboutus/members.html
Visscher, S. (2007). The business of politics and ethnicity: A history of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (pp. 200-201). Singapore: NUS Press: International Institute for Asian Studies.
The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
Tan, Keong Choon, 1918-
Rubber industry and trade--Singapore
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Agriculture, fishing and forestry