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Passing the Boustead baton

Jeffrey Tan
Jeffrey Tan9/11/2020 07:00 AM GMT+08  • 4 min read
Passing the Boustead baton
But as Wong turns 77 this year, his time at the helm of the company may be drawing closer to the end.
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Since taking control of Boustead Singapore in his early 50s, chairman and group CEO Wong Fong Fui has transformed the conglomerate and taken it to greater heights. From a company valued at just $80 million, it now has a market capitalisation of about $341 million. Its pivot into industrial properties and downstream energy-related engineering solutions, as well as retaining the geospatial technologies business, have anchored much of the company’s fortunes.

But as Wong turns 77 this year, his time at the helm of the company may be drawing closer to the end. Wong is aware of that as the company has been putting in place a succession plan over the last few years. In fact, if he were to retire now, Wong is confident that all the company’s businesses can survive without him.

So who is likely to succeed him as Boustead’s CEO? While Wong has stopped short of naming his eldest son Wong Yu Loon as his successor, he has hinted that the latter is a frontrunner. “I’m sure you can guess the market has speculated that my eldest son [will succeed me]. He has been groomed by a few of my colleagues and the board members,” Wong says in an interview with The Edge Singapore.

Yu Loon, 46, is currently executive director and deputy group CEO. He is responsible for assisting Wong in overseeing the company’s strategic execution, business development and day-to-day management and operations.

Yu Loon has a bachelor’s degree in law and another in commerce from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). He is also a chartered financial analyst. He joined Boustead in 2003 as a corporate planning manager and was subsequently promoted to group investment director. In 2013, he was appointed to the board and, in 2016, was promoted to his current management position.

But with the Covid-19 pandemic, has the timeline of the succession changed? After all, it would be in everyone’s interests for the leadership transition to happen when the company is on a steady footing. Wong says the succession plan is on track and offers only a vague response on the succession timeline. “You will know about it soon,” he says.

Meanwhile, Wong has a younger son, Yu Wei, who is currently deputy chairman and executive director of Boustead Projects, the real estate arm of the company. Yu Wei, 44, is responsible for growing the real estate business, including developments, investments and fund management endeavours. He also oversees Boustead Projects’ legal matters, overseas business expansion and execution of strategic partnerships and joint ventures.

Yu Wei has been with Boustead Projects since 2009. He began as deputy managing director and was subsequently promoted to senior deputy managing director. He was appointed to the board in 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from UNSW.

As part of a broader succession plan, will Yu Wei assume a bigger role at Boustead Projects? Wong says there has never been any intention now for Yu Wei to take over the helm of the real estate division. Rather, Thomas Chu, the current managing director, will continue to lead Boustead Projects. But if Chu chooses to resign or retire, the board of Boustead Projects will then decide on a successor, he adds.

For now, Wong remains at the helm of Boustead, and by extension, Boustead Projects. He was previously CEO of food company QAF and was instrumental in turning it around before selling it to Indonesia’s Salim group. Subsequently, he and some partners acquired a 65.4% stake in Boustead in 1996.

Wong initially wanted to use Boustead to build another food empire, but later abandoned the idea to avoid a confrontation with his business associates in that field. Instead, he went into industrial properties, water treatment and paging services. The paging services provider, EasyCall International, which owns a college in China, has since been sold.

Today, Wong holds a 42.25% indirect stake in Boustead. He indicates that when he steps down, he hopes that he can still contribute to the company. “But I don’t really need to hold an executive position,” he says.

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