A New Beginning
Dato Teo Hang Sam
Dato Teo Hang Sam was born in 1897 in Kang Tow village, in the Teo Yeonh subprefecture of Guangdong province in China.
Armed with a strong will to succeed and determined to make a name for himself, Dato Teo left Guangdong, China, and headed for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, around 1930. He started a small grocery business in Central Market selling chicken and duck eggs with a relative.
Later in 1933, his son, Soo Chuan arrived in Kuala Lumpur via Singapore, to help his father. Together, they experienced long days at the store often starting at 5 am and ending after midnight. They ensured there was always a fresh supply of eggs; those that did not meet their standards were then salted by the Teo men.
In 1939, Dato Teo decided to incorporate See Hoy Chan and place all their business interests into the company. Mr. Teo Soo Chuan continued to manage the family’s finances as he had done before the incorporation. Funds were obtained from the Indian Chettiars and eventually from OCBC. Mr. Teo Soo Chuan became well-known at OCBC; everyone from the cashier to the Bookkeeper and Branch Manager knew him as a trustworthy businessman and a man of integrity.
When World War II arrived, the Teo family initially escaped to the Malaysian countryside to avoid the bombings and atrocities of war. But with eight mouths to feed, the $400 savings that they had was not going to last the family. There was Dato Teo Hang Sam and his wife, Goh Soon Heang, Mr. Teo Soo Chuan, and his wife, Goh Siok Cheng, their children – Chiang Boon and Joo Choo, as well as Mr. Teo Soo Chuan’s siblings – Mee Eng and Soo Cheng. Mee Eng came at the same time as Soo Chuan’s betrothed wife in 1937. Soo Cheng arrived in Kuala Lumpur just before WWII.
With funds dwindling, the family decided to move back to the Cecil Street shop to sell rice and sugar. They took a risk opening for business during the Japanese Occupation but in fact, their timing was excellent as the business flourished during this period. They then diversified into cooking oil and continued to make a name for themselves.
After WWII, Mr. Teo Soo Chuan came to Singapore and realised that the country had a bright future. He opened a See Hoy Chan branch in Singapore which slowly but surely began to prosper. Initially, they set up at 23/25 Robinson Road, but the family eventually moved to 183 Cecil Street when the landlord wanted the shop back. In 1955, the See Hoy Chan offices moved to Carpenter Street which was closer to many local and foreign banks.
In Malaysia, in the 1950s, the family bought its first residential property at 374 Circular Road. But the business was hampered by the Communist insurgency and political and economic instability.
The second half of 1950, with the Korean War having started, marked a turning point for See Hoy Chan. During this period, the old towkay for Soon Heng Lee, a rice miller, and exporter from Thailand, shipped 1000 bags of Thai rice to Hong Kong but had difficulty selling the rice. Soon Heng Lee then shipped the unsold rice to Singapore, and See Hoy Chan was instrumental in the sale of the rice locally. The seeds of the business relationship with Soon Heng Lee started from here, with favourable terms offered by them, and marked the beginning of See Hoy Chan’s rice business.
Establishing See Hoy Chan
Through his entrepreneurship and sheer hard work, Dato Teo established himself in a short span of time. With great foresight, he then aggressively expanded into the region. By the late 1950s, he had built businesses in Singapore, Malaya, Hong Kong, Thailand and Myanmar.
Dato Teo was also an avid supporter of charity works and cultural activities and served in many organisations. He was the Chairman of the Singapore General Rice Importers Association, President of the Singapore Sugar Traders Association, President of the Kwangtung Hui Kuan (广东会馆), Vice-President of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Vice-Chairman of the Thong Chai Medical Association, first President and later Honorary President of the Nanyang Moral Uplifting General Society and Chairman of the Singapore Che Sen Khor Moral Uplifting Society (德教会紫新阁).
Giving back to the Teochew community
Dedicated in serving the Teochew community, he participated in various Teochew organisations. He was the President and later Honorary President of the Teo Yeonh Huai Kuan (潮阳会馆) and played an instrumental role in starting the Huai Kuan’s Chao Yang School.
In addition, he was the President of the Ngee Ann Kongsi and served as the Chairman of the management committees of Tuan Mong School as well as Ngee Ann Girls’ School, and also became President of the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan.
His single-minded efforts to improve the well-being of society did not go unnoticed and he was conferred the title Justice of Peace by the Sultan of Selangor in 1958. In 1963, he was conferred, again by the Sultan, the title of Dato Bahagia. The same year, he was also awarded the Public Service Medal (BBM) in Singapore.
Over the decades, the company branched out into insurance, banking and finance, property and hotel development. Mr. Teo Hang Sam continued managing See Hoy Chan, and played a major role in the philanthropic foundation of the Teochew community, before his demise in 1965 at the age of 68. Today, his children and grandchildren carry on with his work in his business as well as in the various community and charitable organisations he had devoted much of his time and energy to.