Tan Eng Joo
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Tan Eng Joo (b. 30 October 1919, Singapore - ), Chinese community leader and businessman, was a leading advocate of the Singapore rubber industry during the 1960s-70s. In 1964, he and his uncle Tan Lark Sye with rubber magnate Lee Kong Chian, formed the Rubber Association of Singapore, an organisation which gave local rubber merchants a say in the regulation of the rubber market for the very first time. He is also recognised, along with Tan Keong Choon, for their successful boycott of the shipping conferences' monopolistic practices on freight rates. Their victory brought about fairer freight rates for rubber traders. Tan is also the founder of the International Rubber Association where he was chairman in 1972. He has also served as the president of the Democratic Party, and chairman of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, where he is now Honorary Chairman.
Tans father, his third uncle and sixth uncle (Tan Lark Sye), came to Singapore from Jimei, Fujian province, to work for Tan Kah Kee's rubber company. They later started their own rubber remilling and trading business named Aik Hoe, which was managed by his sixth uncle, Tan Lark Sye. At an early age, Tan would follow his uncle during his inspection rounds at the rubber estates. It was during this time that Tan met rubber magnate, Lee Kong Chian.
Though his uncle Tan Lark Sye was a strong supporter of Chinese education, the younger Tan received an English education. He completed his Senior Cambridge education at the Anglo-Chinese School in 1937. Tan went on to pursue his Bachelor in Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States, in 1939, despite his father's wishes for him to run the family business. Tan graduated in 1943.
After graduation, Tan was keen to continue with his doctorate, but later decided to enter the workforce so as to conserve the family funds during the Japanese Occupation. He worked first worked at the Princeton University's National Defence Research Committee, experimenting with ballistics, then as a researcher with the Timber Engineering Company in Washington.
When the Japanese Occupation ended in 1945, he returned to Singapore and took up the position of Managing Director of Aik Hoe, the family business. While there, Tan felt he was hampered from introducing changes to modernise the company due to Tan Lark Sye's persistence in managing the company single-handedly. Tan eventually left Aik Hoe in 1965.
Besides Aik Hoe, Tan was also involved in other types of businesses. He started a factory manufacturing rubber belts and latex. Competition was tough so he turned to the bottling business instead. With Lien Ying Chow, they jointly set up Union Limited, a bottling franchise of Schweppes and Pepsi Cola. However, the industrial strikes of the 1950s and 1960s brought the business to a close. He was finally successful with Alliance Plastics, a company that he set up to produce lighting fixtures and signs. The company was later renamed Amco Electrical Industries. Tan also held directorships at Haw Par and Prima Flour Mill.
Though Tan had no political aspirations, he entered into politics in deference to his uncle, Tan Lark Sye, and other leaders of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. The elders had formed the Democratic Party to contest against the Progressive Party, which was largely made up of highly educated English-speaking professionals, in the Legislative Assembly General Elections of 1955. Tan was found to be a suitable candidate because he spoke fluent English and was thus appointed as the President of the Democratic Party. While Tan agreed with agenda of the Democratic Party, he was unprepared for politics and was relieved when the party lost.
Advocate of the Singapore Rubber Industry
Tan will probably be most remembered for his instrumental role in setting up governing bodies of the rubber industry in Singapore. In 1964, he and his uncle Tan Lark Sye with rubber magnate Lee Kong Chian, formed the Rubber Association of Singapore, an organisation which gave local rubber merchants a say in the regulation of the rubber market for the very first time. The previous association, the Chamber of Commerce Rubber Association, was dominated by the subsidiaries of British merchant houses which represented the interests of London. The efforts of the group paid off when the association was given statutory rights to make and enforce by-laws and regulations relating to the rubber trade in 1967. With these changes, the rubber trade industry in Singapore burgeoned, and the centre of rubber trading activities soon shifted from New York and London, to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. In 1968, Tan was made Chairman of the Rubber Association of Singapore, a post which he held for the next 18 years.
When Lee Kong Chian retired from the International Rubber Study Group, Tan took over to lead its international meetings. This led to the formation of the International Rubber Association which he was appointed chairman in 1972.
Tan also made significant contributions, along with Tan Keong Choon, 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, were set up as alliances by shippers to 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.
In 1989, Tan was elected chairman of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI), where he is now honorary chairman.
Wife: Yang Tai Ying
Children: Two sons and four daughters.
Chan, K. B. and Chiang, C. (1993). Stepping out: The making of Chinese entrepreneurs (pp. 324-330). Singapore: Simon & Schuster.
(Call no.: RSING 338.04089951 CHA)
The Friday Interview - Tan Eng Joo - Please, I am not a tycoon. (1999, January 1). The Straits Times. Retrieved on March 7, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Low, K.T. (Ed.). (2006). Who's who in Singapore 2006 (p. 464). Singapore: Who's Who Pub.
(Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
Loh, G. and Lee, S. Y. (1998). Beyond silken robes: Profiles of selected Chinese entrepreneurs in Singapore (pp. 71-77). Singapore: Times Academic Press.
(Call no.: RSING 338.0409225957 LOH)
Menon, J. (1989, November 1). Tan Eng Joo elected new SCCCI President. Business Times Singapore. Retrieved February 3, 2009, from Factiva database.
Visscher, S. (2007). The business of politics and ethnicity: A history of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (pp. 204-205). Singapore: NUS Press: International Institute for Asian Studies.
(Call no.: RSING 381.0605957 VIS)
The information in this article is as valid as at 2009 and correct 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, Eng Joo, 1919-
Rubber industry and trade--Singapore
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Agriculture, fishing and forestry