UOL Group announced on Saturday that its chairman, Wee Cho Yaw, passed away at the age of 95. Wee, who also served as chairman emeritus of Singapore financial giant UOB, had run UOL since 1973 and helmed the bank controlled by his family since 1974.
“The Management and staff of UOL Group are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our Chairman, Dr Wee Cho Yaw at the age of 95. Dr Wee was a visionary business leader, pioneering entrepreneur and philanthropist,” UOL said in a statement.
Wee led UOB’s acquisition of what was then the Singapore-listed unit of Hong Kong’s Faber Union in 1973, when he was managing director of the bank controlled by his father, Wee Kheng Chiang, and built the company into one of the island nation’s biggest property developers after renaming it as United Overseas Land in 1975.
With a fortune estimated at $10.4 billion as of February, according to Bloomberg, Wee’s property empire grew from S$70 million ($52 million) in 1973, to a real estate and hospitality group spanning 15 countries with total assets of over S$20 billion, according to the company statement.
Built on Banking
In addition to his role as chairman, Wee was UOL’s controlling shareholder, with his son, Wee Ee Lim, serving as non-executive deputy chairman. The elder Wee was also the father of non-executive, non-independent director Wee Ee-chao and of Wee Ee Cheong, a substantial shareholder in UOL, according to a statement to the SGX.
Wee Cho Yaw also served as chairman emeritus and honorary adviser to the company’s Singapore Land unit, where he was controlling shareholder. His grandson, Jonathan Eu Zai Jie is an executive director of SingLand.
Born in Kinmen, an island near Fujian province which is now part of Taiwan in 1929, Wee was the child of businessman Wee Kheng Chiang and his second wife, Koh Geok Siew. Wee moved to Singapore in 1939, before relocating to Indonesia following the Japanese invasion of Malaya, according to his biography on Wikipedia.
Wee started working at the family trading business, Kheng Leong Co, in 1949 and was named as a director of his father’s United Chinese Bank in 1958. When the elder Wee stepped down as managing director of the bank in 1960, Wee Cho Yaw took over the top executive position at UCB. The bank was renamed to UOB in 1964 when it expanded in to Hong Kong.
With the Wee family continuing to be the largest shareholders in UOB and UOL, Wee Cho Yaw handed off the chief executive position at UOB to his eldest son, Wee Ee Cheong in 2007.
“My father has left an indelible mark in Singapore and the region,” Wee Ee Cheong said in a statement. “Whether it is through thinking for the long-term, the importance of deep relationships, doing the right thing or giving a helping hand to those in need, the influence of my father and his values will endure at UOB.”
UOL, which controls Pan Pacific Hotels Group and Singapore Land, continues to be led by group chief executive Liam Wee Sin, who was named to the post in 2019.