Monday, 31 May 2010

History: Yeap Chor Ee's secret

My fascination with the Yeap Chor Ee story continues here. About a week ago, I reproduced an old newspaper story that reported on the death of this Penang multi-millionaire who founded the Ban Hin Lee Bank. Sadly, I can't find any news about his funeral itself but I managed to dig up a follow-up story on this old Towkay that appeared on the day of his big, ceremonious send-off. There are two brief comments of mine in the story, which I've marked in red. The year in question, by the way, is still 1952.

Towkay Chor Ee's secret yielded him $100 mil.
(wrote Gunn Chit Thye in The Straits Times on 31 May 1952)

PENANG, Saturday: When the Penang banker, Mr. Yeap Chor Ee, goes to his final rest at his Bukit Gambier Estate tomorrow, it will mark the passing of a one-man dynasty in Penang. (This would be on 1 Jun 1952, seven days after his passing.)

For this towkay, with the touch of Midas, who came to Malaya without a cent at the age of 17, has now departed the richer, it is estimated, by more than $100,000,000.

Towkay Chor Ee called his firm Ban Hin Lee - the "business of a thousand successes." (When I was still with the bank, I've also heard the term translated as "ten thousand prosperities" which I think is closer to the original meaning as the word "ban" means "ten thousand".)

And so it has proved to be. From the humblest of beginnings, Ban Hin Lee has expanded so with the years that, in course of time, it became, inevitably, a bank.

What was the secret of this man of success?

Did it lie in his supreme confidence, his dogged and persevering spirit, his faith in this country? Or was it sheer luck?

Whatever Towkay Chor Ee's secret was, one thing is certain. And no-one will deny his credit for it: Throughout the 70 years he toiled in Malaya, he had never been known to take a holiday.

"We will never see the like of him again," one Chinese leader said.

"We simply haven't got men of this type any more. Times have changed and the present generation is too pleasure loving to be able to get up that early and work late into the night, day after day, without a rest."

Towkay Yeap Chor Ee was orphaned when he was only three months. When he came to Penang at 17, he was like most Chinese immigrants - penniless, having used all his money for his passage.


But he worked hard and, within six years of his landing, was able to open his own firm of Ban Hin Lee in Prangin Road.

With his foresight, which had by now become proverbial, Towkay Chor Ee dealt in the sugar trade and when the big rubber boom came early in the century, he was quick to realise the potentialities of the industry and, with characteristic enterprise, staked on it. It paid and young Mr. Yeap was soon a millionaire.

He next turned to rice, tapioca and other commodities. Everything he touched turned to gold.

With all his wealth, Towkay Chor Ee hardly ever relaxed. He was up early in the morning when younger men were still rubbing their eyes in bed.

Regularity in habits and at work simplicity in life, moderation in food and self-denial in everything -- these were his creed, his life.

Although in recent years his health had been failing him, Towkay Chor Ee still went to his bank every day. He made his last call on the Friday two days before he died at the age of 85.

There was nothing pretentious about the millionaire with the Midas touch. One would have expected a veritable merchant prince to be cold, haughty and calculating, but Towkay Chor Ee was pleasantly the reverse -- a humble, genial self-made man, unspoilt by success.

Other Ban Hin Lee Bank stories here

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