Remembering Kwek Leng Joo: Property tycoon and avid lensman

Mr Kwek Leng Joo on a photo shooting trip in Egypt in 2005.
Mr Kwek Leng Joo on a photo shooting trip in Egypt in 2005. PHOTO: KWEK LENG JOO
Prominent businessman Mr Kwek Leng Joo died on Tuesday, Nov 16, 2015.
Prominent businessman Mr Kwek Leng Joo died on Tuesday, Nov 16, 2015. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Mr Kwek Leng Joo, one of Singapore's property titans, died of a heart attack on Monday (Nov 16) at the age of 62.

The deputy chairman of City Developments (CDL) was also an avid photographer and nature enthusiast.

Here's more about the younger of the billionaire Kwek brothers:

Second generation Kwek

 

Mr Kwek Leng Joo is the younger brother of Kwek Leng Beng, executive chairman of CDL and Hong Leong Investment Holdings.

They are sons of Mr Kwek Hong Png, who founded the Hong Leong Group.

The Kwek patriarch came to Singapore in 1928 from Fujian. Penniless at 16, he worked in a relative's store while studying part time.

By 1940, he started Hong Leong Company with $7,000 in savings. A few years later he invited his three younger brothers - Hong Khai, Hong Lye and Hong Leong - to join the business.

From trading goods, Mr Kwek progressed to investing in rubber plantations, the cement business, then property and finance.

The huge conglomerate split up in the 1980s.

Mr Kwek Leng Beng became executive chairman of the Hong Leong Group in Singapore while Mr Quek Leng Chan, son of Mr Kwek Hong Lye, heads their business interests in Malaysia.

In an interview in 1994, Mr Kwek Hong Png said that he groomed his elder son to be his successor.

Of Leng Joo, he said: "My younger son is trained in a different way. I think he will be a tremendous asset to his brother."

Business leader

In 1993, Mr Kwek Leng Joo made history by becoming the youngest president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry at the age of 39.

He was the the managing director of CDL, Hong Leong Group's flagship, from January 1995 until February last year.

The Kwek family is listed as the second-richest in Singapore by Forbes magazine, with a net worth of some US$6 billion (S$8.5 billion).

They come second to brothers Robert and Philip Ng of the Far East Organization and Sino Group property empire.

Avid photographer and nature lover

Mr Kwek's love of photography is well-known, and the nature enthusiast often takes photographs at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Mr Kwek's photographs of the Botanic Gardens were submitted as part of its recent successful Unesco bid.

He was in secondary school when he first picked up the hobby, but stopped when he started work at the family business in 1976.

Mr Kwek picked up a camera again when CDL was planning its 2001 corporate desktop calendar, according to an account in The Business Times.


Blossoming Splendour, an artwork on display at Soul And Sensibilities by photographer Kwek Leng Joo and painter Lin Lu Zai. 
PHOTO: KWEK LENG JOO AND LIN LU ZAI

Amid a cost-cutting exercise in the wake of the Asian financial crisis, he decided to be the photographer for the calendar.

Since then, he has raised some $2 million through sales of his photo works and photo art books for various charitable and environmental causes.

He told The New Paper in 2002: "A lot of people have the money to buy art. But to actually create something of your own, it's something that money just can't buy."

His last exhibition, Soul And Sensibilities, was a collaboration with painter and calligrapher Lin Lu Zai, who painted on Mr Kwek's photos of plants and insects.

It opened at the National Museum on Oct 22 to Nov 1, and is on display at the Galerie Belvedere in Hill Street till Nov 30.

Champion for sustainability and corporate responsibility

 

Mr Kwek was awarded the President's Award for the Environment, Singapore's highest environmental accolade, last month.

He was also president of Global Compact Network Singapore, which encourage businesses to adopt socially responsible policies.

CDL said that Mr Kwek had spearheaded CDL's sustainability strategy since 1995.

The property developer was one of the most sustainable companies in Singapore, according to a 2013 ranking announced at the Davos World Economic Forum.

The developer typically invests 2 per cent to 5 per cent of the construction cost of a new development on green design.

One of its condominiums, Tree House, set a record for the largest vertical garden in the world.

In his footsteps

The sons of the Kwek brothers both joined the senior management of CDL in 2014.

Mr Kwek's elder son Kwek Eik Sheng, 33, was appointed the chief strategy officer at CDL in April. Mr Kwek Leng Beng's son Sherman, 39, was named chief investment officer.

Eik Sheng, who joined CDL in January 2009, assists in investment analysis and formulation of CDL's business strategies.