UOB chief open to a successor from outside

UNITED OVERSEAS BANK CHIEF EXECUTIVE WEE EE CHEONG
UNITED OVERSEAS BANK CHIEF EXECUTIVE WEE EE CHEONG

United Overseas Bank's chief executive said he is comfortable going outside his family for a successor to run the lender his grandfather founded more than eight decades ago.

"I will always, as I said, take in people with the right values," said Mr Wee Ee Cheong, 66, who took the reins from his father in 2007. "If they can do the job, why not?"

UOB is the only Singapore bank that is still run by a family after OCBC Bank and others either merged or chose outsiders as their CEO.

Under Mr Wee's billionaire father, UOB emerged from the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s strong enough to benefit from later consolidation that left the country with three major banks.

With only one of his three children in banking, Mr Wee said he would not force any of them to enter the industry. A stance that differs from his own career path, which started at the bank in 1979 and was more like an "arranged marriage", he said.

"Maybe those days, about 40 years ago, you had limited choices," Mr Wee said. "You just go in, your father says try, and you just try and make it happen."

THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB

I will always, as I said, take in people with the right values... If they can do the job, why not?

UNITED OVERSEAS BANK CHIEF EXECUTIVE WEE EE CHEONG, on going outside his family for a successor to run the bank.

Despite his openness to outside succession, Mr Wee does not rule out keeping it in the family either.

His son Teng Chuen, 35, is a first vice-president at UOB and is learning the ropes from other managers, he said. Teng Wen, the oldest child, runs a local hospitality empire, while Grace, the youngest, is in consulting.

Mr Wee's grandfather Wee Kheng Chiang founded the bank in 1935 before passing it on to his son Wee Cho Yaw in 1960. Now 90, Mr Wee Cho Yaw embarked on a series of takeovers that included 10 banks. The family owns more than 20 per cent of UOB, according to the CEO.

Asked whether there's room for further bank consolidation in Singapore, Mr Wee said it would not necessarily make sense because the three banks are more focused on their own expansions abroad and compete with foreign firms at home. "We are actually fairly outward looking," he said. "It's not like we are all in Singapore."

Mr Wee said he will continue running the bank as long as he is healthy to ensure a strong team that values stewardship is in place for the next phase of UOB.

"To me, it's the responsibility," he said. "I have to make sure there's a proper succession."

According to a 2014 biography, Mr Wee's father was proud that his children worked for family-related businesses. But Mr Wee Cho Yaw also lamented that his grandchildren were not as involved in the financial group, and expressed the hope that might change in the future - something his son described as "wishful thinking".

"The wealth you have inherited; at the end of the day, if you have good judgment, you trust it to the individual," Mr Wee said. "You get the right people in to manage it for you."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2019, with the headline 'UOB chief open to a successor from outside'. Print Edition | Subscribe