When the British pulled out of Singapore in 1963, many companies established by the colonialists were put up for sale. One of these was Straits Trading, a tin mining and smelting company that owned many tin-rich deposits across Peninsular Malaysia. The company came under the control of the late Tan Chin Tuan, philanthropist and former chairman of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp, who saw value in the company and acquired its shares.
More than half a century later, Straits Trading is led by Tan’s granddaughter, Chew Gek Khim, who is the executive chairman. Under her leadership, the company has diversified and expanded beyond the tin mining and smelting business, which had seen better days. It is now involved in property development, investment holding and hospitality — sectors that have been booming in the last two decades. As such, the company has grown to derive most of its earnings from property-related sectors.
The story of Straits Trading is also the story Singapore’s miraculous rise from Third World colony to First World country. Like Singapore, which was forced to fend for itself after being booted out by Malaysia in 1965, the company, too, was forced to evolve after the collapse of tin prices in the 1980s. But unlike resource-poor Singapore, the company was able to monetise and securitise many of its properties and land assets under its tin mining and smelting business, and from acquisitions made over the years.