Gardens By The Bay, Jewel Changi Airport, MRT stations and shopping malls are likely images that pop up in the minds of people when Singapore is mentioned.
These globally acclaimed landmarks — and many more — are the work of one family-run company that has been around for almost a century.
Woh Hup Holdings was founded by Yong Yit Lin in 1927, back when Singapore was still under British colonial rule.
The Chinese immigrant arrived in Malaya in 1913 at the age of 16, and took on odd jobs before venturing into construction.
His big break came in the 1920s when he was hired to build fences and garden gateposts for the British Resident of Negeri Sembilan, Ernest Wolff.
Ernest was impressed by his workmanship, who asked Yong to tender for government construction projects in Singapore.
Since then, the company has grown and evolved with the city, and has helped shape the Singapore landscape every step of the way.
From Prisons To Tourist Attractions And Luxury Condominiums
According to Woh Hup Holdings, some of its first major construction projects include Clifford Pier in 1933 and Changi Prison in 1936.
The pier has since ceased operations in 2006, and was replaced by a restaurant under the Fullerton Bay Hotel.
However, many of the other constructions projects by the Yong family is still standing strong today.
In 1974, the construction giant completed the 17-storey Golden Mile Complex, one of Singapore’s earliest mixed-use developments.
It also built Great World City which houses a shopping mall, office towers and apartment units.
As the company entered the 2000s, it started constructing more luxury developments such as Reflections at Keppel Bay, Gardens by the Bay, and Jewel Changi Airport.
Woh Hup also has bases in Myanmar and Indonesia, and has been taking on overseas projects since the 1950s.
Its current ongoing projects include luxury condominiums, and new MRT stations in Singapore.
Beating The “Third-Generation” Curse
Since its founding in 1927, the privately held company has been solely run by the Yong family.
Woh Hup’s executive director Eugene Yong joined the business since 1980. His father, Yong Nam Seng, is the company’s chairman, while his older brother, Kim Yong Tiam Yoon, is the deputy chairman.
Today, the fourth generation is preparing to take over the reins and helm the business.
According to a 2016 PwC Global Family Business Survey, only three per cent of family businesses make it to the fourth generation, which brought rise to the “third-generation curse“.
Michelle Yong, one of the fourth generation new leaders of the company, was intrigued by the “curse”, and wrote a thesis on the topic while completing her master’s degree in economics at the University of Oxford.
The third generation has done incredibly well; they (have) beat the curse. So those of us from the fourth generation better not drop the ball. I want to help us grow in lots of different areas.
Michelle Yong, Head of Aurum, in an interview with Tatler
Her interest in the topic has served her well, as she was tasked by her father to head Aurum, a fully-owned subsidiary that focuses on boutique residential properties.
Aurum is part of Woh Hup’s strategy to diversify its markets and ensure a lasting longevity in the business.
Beyond property development, Aurum now also includes a venture capital fund — Aurum Investments — and Core Collective, a collaborative fitness and wellness community and co-working centre.
She has also launched co-working space Found8, as a collaboration between Collision 8, the co-working brand she launched under Aurum, and Found.
Going Beyond Property Development
According to The Straits Times, Woh Hup’s revenue in the year through June 30, 2018 was $$1.1 billion and its net income totalled $51.8 million.
More recent data is unavailable, but early this year, Bloomberg estimates the family is worth around US$600 million (S$800 million).
The company also contributes to various philanthropic causes.
The Woh Hup Trust was founded in 2011 and provides financial support for the elderly and underprivileged children.
It also has various sustainability initiatives to help build an environmentally conscious culture.
According to Eugene Yong, business values such as integrity and social responsibility are strong factors that has helped it achieve its success today.
“Most businesses, of course, want to grow, but nowadays especially, circumstances are really difficult to predict. So you have to be prudent and not over-extend yourself,” he said in an interview.
Featured Image Credit: Visit Singapore,
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