Singapore banking titan Wee Cho Yaw of UOB dies at 95
UOB chairman emeritus Wee Cho Yaw, the billionaire businessman that is one of the most famous names in Singapore’s banking industry, has passed away at the age of 95, around 1 am on Saturday (Feb 3).
Wee played a pivotal role in the growth of the UOB banking empire founded by his father Wee Kheng Chiang in 1935.
During his term as UOB’s group chairman and chief executive, the bank’s network expanded from 75 to more than 500 branches and offices globally.
UOB’s assets also increased from S$2.8 billion to more than S$253 billion during this time.
He took over the reins of the bank, then known as United Chinese Bank, in 1960 – two years after he became the youngest director on the board.
As managing director of UOB, Wee helmed a series of acquisitions of rival banks, including Chung Khiaw Bank in 1971. But his most high-profile deal was when he acquired Overseas Union Bank (OUB) in 2001, beating rival DBS in a takeover battle.
Wee’s offer, which valued OUB at S$10 billion, was seen as “friendlier” than the competing bid. Wee also won the support of the OUB board, management and founder Lien Ying Chow.
He stepped down as UOB’s chief executive in 2007, and was succeeded by his eldest son Wee Ee Cheong.
Wee’s net worth was estimated at US$10.4 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index as at Feb 2.
He was named Singapore’s Businessman of the Year twice – first in 1990 and again in 2001 – at the annual Singapore Business Awards, organised by The Business Times and DHL. Wee is the only banker to have won this award twice.
In a Facebook post, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong wrote that he was saddened by the passing of Wee. “His transformative leadership made UOB a regional banking powerhouse,” he wrote in the post, adding that Wee’s vision and ethical standards had set a lasting benchmark and that he will be remembered for his contributions to Singapore’s financial centre and more.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said Wee was passionate about uplifting other businesses. He also admired and learnt from Wee’s drive and business acumen, as well as his commitment to serving the community.
At the helm of the bank, Wee’s achievements include:
- Opening the bank’s first overseas branch in Hong Kong in 1965
- Acquiring a majority stake in Chung Khiaw Bank in 1971
- Acquiring Lee Wah Bank in 1973
- Acquiring majority interest in Industrial & Commercial Bank in 1987
- Becoming the first Singapore bank to set up office in Vietnam in 1992
- Acquiring Westmont Bank in the Philippines and Radanasin Bank in Thailand in 1999
- Acquiring OUB in 2001
Apart from his role in UOB, Wee was chairman of Singapore-listed UOL Group and Haw Par Corporation, as well as chairman emeritus and honorary adviser of Singapore Land Group, formerly known as United Industrial Corporation.
He was president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce from 1969 to 1973, and president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) from 1977 to 1979.
Wee was also founding president of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA) from 1985 to 2010, and headed the Hokkien Huay Kuan from 1972 to 2010.
In a statement from UOB, chairman Wong Kan Seng noted that Wee was “without doubt, one of Singapore’s most successful entrepreneurs”.
“Through hard work, determination, decisiveness and strong Asian values, he built UOB into one of the world’s most admired banks,” he added.
Wee’s son Wee Ee Cheong, current deputy chairman and chief executive of UOB, said the late Wee has been a source of inspiration for him in all aspects of his life.
“Much will be said about his business acumen and deal-making, but it will be the values of honour, enterprise, unity and commitment that will be the legacy he leaves us at UOB.
“Whether it is thorough 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,” the younger Wee said.
The funeral will be held on Feb 7.
Tan , N.L. (no date) Singapore banking titan Wee Cho Yaw of UOB dies at 95, The Business Times. Available at: https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/companies-markets/singapore-banking-titan-wee-cho-yaw-uob-dies-95 (Accessed: 05 February 2024).