THE Tan brothers – who co-founded IGB Corp Bhd – made their early fortunes from trading. However, according to some corporate veterans, the duo learnt the ropes of trading from “sugar king” Robert Kuok Hock Nien.
Datuk Tan Chin Nam and the late Datuk Tan Kim Yeow came from a family of 12 siblings. Both started from humble beginnings, working as roadside vendors selling vegetables, chicken and fruits in their teens before striking a long-term friendship about seven decades ago.
It was during this period that an alliance was formed between the two Tan brothers and Kuok. It was one built on friendship and trust.
Later, both the Tan brothers went their own way to start a trading company – Wah Seong (Malaya) Trading Co Sdn Bhd – in 1955. The firm specialised in the distribution of rice, sugar and Rothmans cigarettes.
Interestingly, one report claims Chin Nam got the seed money to establish Wah Seong with his brother after winning a cash sweep.
In the early years of their trading business, the Tan brothers, along with Kuok, expanded their alliance to include Ang Toon Chew, the Ang family patriarch who founded Petaling Garden Bhd after Malaysia gained independence; and Ho Yeow Koon, the Ho family patriarch who founded the Keck Seng Group in the early 1940s.
The four families were said to be close and helped each other’s business and had interests in each other’s companies.
Through Ang, Chin Nam had his first chance to be involved in property development. He invested in Petaling Garden in 1959.
A few years later, Chin Nam led his brothers to acquire 200 acres in Ipoh to develop a housing project. The project, driven by property developer Datuk Yap Lim Sen, became known as Ipoh Garden; and thus Ipoh Garden Sdn Bhd, the forerunner of the IGB group, was incorporated in 1964.
Four years later, the Tan brothers, together with Kuok, Ang and Ho acquired a piece of land in Singapore to develop the Shangri-La Hotel in the city state.
It is believed that the Tan brothers then had an interest in the Singapore Shangri-La project, while Kuok owned a 40% stake, and the Ang family and the Keck Seng group held 10% each.
“At some point, Chin Nam was managing the construction of the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore,” says a seasoned corporate hand.
It is widely known that Kuok – whose business interests span shipping, sugar, flour milling, edible oil, property, hotel and finance – likes to invest with others. And Chin Nam has always been one of his few favourites.
Meanwhile, the Tan brothers’ property business continued to grow.
It is noted that Yap – IGB group’s first managing director and one of the co-founders of a company that eventually evolved into what is today Perusahaan Otomobil Kedua Sdn Bhd or Perodua – played a crucial role in driving the growth of the business.
In fact, it was Yap who led the group to acquire the land in Mid Valley City, Kuala Lumpur, under distress from another contractor, Lim Pak Tow, during the 1985 property recession.
It is the plot on which the Mid Valley Megamall and The Gardens stand today, the crown jewel of the group.
The seasoned corporate hand says that the land was originally secured by Lim from KL City Hall as part of a privatisation project. The project was developed by MK Sen.
“Sen retained the Hindu temple as a sign of good fortune for the Mega Mall. It is still there as part and parcel of the whole complex,” says the seasoned corporate hand.
Even as IGB’s business was growing through the early years of its establishment, Chin Nam and Kim Yeow formed another property unit, then known as Tan & Tan Sdn Bhd, in 1972. This unit changed its name to Tan & Tan Developments Bhd and was subsequently listed in 1993, acting as IGB’s holding company.
Chin Nam built Tan & Tan, while Kim Yeow built IGB.
Chin Nam retired from the corporate world in the early 1990s, while Kim Yeow passed away in 1997.
Under the second-generation leadership, Tan & Tan was managed by Chin Nam’s daughter Tan Lei Cheng, while IGB was helmed by Kim Yeow’s son Datuk Seri Robert Tan Chung Meng.
In 2000, IGB and Tan & Tan announced a massive merger and rationalisation exercise that has now resulted in IGB assuming the property assets of parent Tan & Tan, which then transferred its listing status to a new vehicle Goldis Bhd, another entity controlled by the two Tan families.
Lei Cheng, Chung Meng and their siblings are substantial shareholders in both Goldis and IGB. They own substantial stakes in both the companies directly and through various private vehicles.
IGB owns a 51.4% stake in IGB Real Estate Investment Trust, which wholly owns the Mid Valley Megamall and The Gardens Mall.