The Life of Wee Kheng Chiang: Founder of UOB

On this day, July 22 in the year 1890, the founder of United Overseas Bank was born in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. His name was Wee Kheng Chiang, one of the most outstanding Chinese entrepreneurs in Singapore and Sarawak.

Wee Kheng Chiang and UOB
Wee Kheng Chiang and UOB (Credit: unig.co.th)

Datuk Wee was the second of three sons of Chinese immigrants. After his father died when he was 6, his mother sent him to China to live with his father’s first wife. He returned to Sarawak at the age of 15. The next year, he started going to school. Luckily, In Sarawak, there was no restriction as to what age one can be admitted in school. At school, he gave special attention to his lessons in English which he was able to master. He became one of the few Chinese who spoke both English and Mandarin. Thus, he was able to secure a job at the Borneo Company, then the most prestigious institution for employment.

Yet even with only a primary school diploma, he was able to marry the daughter of the wealthiest person in Kuching. He was soon put in charge of the family-owned bank and using the connection of his father-in-law, he established one business after another. He also became president of the local Chinese Chamber of Commerce for 16 years.

In 1935, Wee set up the United Chinese Bank with six other partners. Its name was changed to United Overseas Bank (UOB) in 1965, the year it opened its first overseas branch in Hong Kong. The bank was listed in the then joint Stock Exchange of Singapore and Malaysia in 1970. In 1974, the chairmanship of the bank passed on to his son Wee Cho Yaw.

At present, UOB is one of the largest banks in Southeast Asia with operations in 19 countries.

Wee died in 1978 in Kuching. He married twice and had 15 children.

Reference:
Lam, Chee Kheung (2012). “Wee Kheng Chiang of Sarawak: Entrepreneur Extraordinaire” (PDF). Malaysian Journal of Chinese Studies.

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