Keppel's journey in a book

The Straits Times business editor Lee Su Shyan (above) spent 11/2 years working on Strength To Strength (below).
Keppel Offshore & Marine completed the world's first converted floating liquefaction vessel, Hilli Episeyo (left), last year. PHOTO: KEPPEL CORPORATION, STRAITS TIMES PRESS

Keppel Corporation's 50-year rise from small shipyard to global conglomerate is chronicled in Strength To Strength

From a small Singapore shipyard to a burgeoning global multi-business group, Keppel Corporation has been taking the Singapore name around the world for half a century.

These 50 years are chronicled in Strength To Strength, a new book by The Straits Times business editor Lee Su Shyan that was launched yesterday at Keppel's anniversary dinner at Shangri-La Hotel, where Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was the guest of honour.

There is more to Keppel than oil rigs, says Ms Lee, 48, who has been reporting on the company since the early 2000s and was commissioned to write the book.

Keppel has ventured into the heat of Qatar's desert to design and build waste-treatment facilities for an entire country, and into the Arctic, where its icebreakers cut through the ice so ships can follow.

Ms Lee recalls going to Brazil to see Keppel's shipyard and rigs there.

"There were thousands of workers and then you saw this behemoth rising from the sea. It was really something to know that it was a Singapore company that built all that."

She spent 1½ years working on the book, for which she interviewed more than 20 people - ranging from chairman Dr Lee Boon Yang to chief executive Loh Chin Hua to Keppel Shipyard senior yard manager Chua Chee Wah, 66, who joined the company as a 16-year-old apprentice in 1969.

"I was keen to find out what made them tick," says Ms Lee of Keppel's team. "Their famous phrase was the 'can-do spirit' that espoused their wholehearted commitment to the business. Now Keppel is transforming itself into a provider of sustainable urbanisation solutions. I wanted to tell that transformation story too."

  • The Straits Times business editor Lee Su Shyan (above) spent 11/2 years working on Strength To Strength (below).

In a foreword to the book, PM Lee says: "Keppel's journey is a story of entrepreneurship, grit and pride, much like the story of Singapore. Our pioneers had to build from scratch, and succeeding generations built and improved on what they inherited."

Keppel began in 1968 as a shiprepair yard, using the old British Royal Navy docks and facilities at Keppel Harbour. It takes its name from Captain Henry Keppel of the Royal Navy, who sailed into Singapore in 1848 and found deep water close to shore at the southern tip of the island.

Today, Keppel has a presence in more than 20 countries, more than 20,000 employees and a solid market capitalisation of about $13.4 billion as of the end of last year.

It has made its mark in Singapore, with buildings such as luxury residential complex Reflections at Keppel Bay becoming landmarks on the southern waterfront.

Abroad, the company led the Singapore consortium that was responsible for developments such as the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park. Keppel also developed the International Centre, Hanoi's first modern office building, built in the 1990s.

The company's rise has not been without scandal. The book touches on corruption allegations surrounding Keppel's former agent in Brazil.

Last year, Keppel Offshore & Marine was fined US$422 million (S$578 million) by the criminal authorities in the United States, Brazil and Singapore.

The book quotes Keppel chief executive Mr Loh: "We will still take legitimate business risks for which we expect to be rewarded with appropriate returns. But there are bright lines that we must never cross."

Correction note: In an earlier version of this story, we attributed the final quote to Dr Lee Boon Yang. It should have been attributed to Mr Loh Chin Hua. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2018, with the headline 'Keppel's journey in a book'. Print Edition | Subscribe