Yong Yoon Li, 4th Generation at Royal Selangor Pewter
When Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon handed the baton to his son, Yong Yoon Li to be Managing Director of Royal Selangor International Sdn Bhd (Royal Selangor) in late 2019, it was a grand moment in the family business world of Malaysia. Yoon Li would be holding the torch as the 4th generation to lead the world’s largest pewter company. His father, Tan Sri Yong, has led Royal Selangor in its growth trajectory since 1968 to become a global exporter of luxury pewter gifts.
It has not been easy to evolve the brand over time, but the success is evident in the accolades given to this 136-year-old company. Everyone knows Royal Selangor here and the world no less. It is an iconic brand. Ensuring that family squabbles do not repeat itself as it did in the second generation of the Yong clan is probably the harder thing to do but the venerable Tan Sri Yong pulled it off in a very noble way. You will find out more below.
Being the youngest of 4 siblings and the only one to be educated overseas while the elder ones had to work in the pewter business with their parents, Tan Sri Yong was always grateful for the opportunity that he singularly had. There was no hitch in him taking on the lead in Royal Selangor when he returned from Australia because his siblings acknowledge his academic prowess and the family business had to grow with the times. It was natural for him to helm the company. Besides that, eldest brother Yong Poh Shin was based in Singapore while sister Yong Mun Ha in Australia. They looked after their region of business. Tan Sri Yong and his other sister, Datin Paduka Yong Mun Kuen were running the pewter manufacturing business at the main factory and Visitors’ Centre in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur. Datin Paduka Yong Mun Kuen passed away in July 2019 from cancer. Her son, Chen Tien Yue, is an Executive Director at Royal Selangor.
Few remember that a painful struggle in the family business happened among the children of the founder, Yong Koon who started Malayan Pewter Works in a small shophouse in Pudu Road in 1885 with his wife Loh Pat. They had four sons, Peng Pow, Peng Sin, Peng Kai and Peng Seong who all worked hard in the family business. The succession feud between Yong Koon’s sons led to the parting of ways and the splitting of the family pewter business into three other pewter companies — Tiger Pewter, Selangor Pewter and Lion Pewter. Selangor Pewter was run by Yong Peng Kai, father of Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon. It was the only one that survived to become the Royal Selangor brand.
The painful scars of the family struggle remain as a reminder to the Yong siblings that it should never happen again.
The Yuhe (L) Foundation
Yong Peng Kai gave all his four children equal shares in the ownership of the family pewter business which was held under Kai Holdings Sendirian Berhad and Royal Selangor International Sdn. Bhd. Unlike other family businesses where the sons have a larger stake while daughters take a minority stake, Yong Peng Kai felt all of them had contributed to build the business and so each one should have an equal share in it.
This kind of testamentary disposition usually has its own problems because no one is in control. Yet being well brought up with the right values of family relationships being more important than money and concurring that the scars of the past must heal in this generation, the four siblings did something most noble and unprecedented we think, at least in this country. See below.
In 2018 Poh Shin, Poh Kon, Mun Ha and Mun Kuen, the four siblings transferred their entire shareholding of 12,480,000 shares each in Kai Holdings to a Labuan registered foundation called the Yuhe (L) Foundation. They are then left with zero shares in Kai Holdings while Yuhe (L) Foundation now holds 49,920,000 shares. The Foundation is not in their father, Yong Peng Kai’s name. What does “yù hé” mean in Chinese? The answer is “To Heal” - interesting isn’t it?
In Royal Selangor International Sdn. Bhd the single largest shareholder is Kai Holdings with a stake of 7,110,820 shares while the four siblings each own 2,222,295 shares. There is no need for war since the Foundation is the biggest shareholder.
There is no shortage of write ups on the history of Royal Selangor and the 21 reference links below would give any avid reader an enjoyable read. A book titled “The Royal Selangor Story” was written by Chen May Yee, niece of Tan Sri Yong and daughter of Datin Paduka Chen Mun Kuen in August 2007. The book documents the history of Royal Selangor over 125 years beginning from the time Yoon Li’s great grandfather, Yong Koon, a pewtersmith, came to Kuala Lumpur because of the booming tin mining industry.
The evolution of the Royal Selangor brand makes for interesting study. It morphed to what it is today, a luxury pewter brand, by responding to changes in the market place. It did not start that way though the common denominator was and still is the emphasis on fine craftsmanship. The company was making pewter incense burners and candle-stands for the altars of rich tin miners and for Chinese temples of worship. Later it produced tankards which kept beers cold longer and also teapots and trinkets. When Tan Sri Yong took over the helm in 1968, the company entered a new era of expansion, not just crossing international borders which Poh Shin played an important role but also in diversifying its range of offerings by acquisitions and collaborations with international brands and museums.
Selberan, a Malaysian fine jewellery brand was set up in 1973 between Royal Selangor and two European master jewellers. Selberan specialises in creating 18 carat gold and diamond jewellery with a distinctive European approach to craftsmanship. In 1979 the company received a royal warrant from the Sultan of Selangor which was a stamp of recognition for the family run company. But it was only in 1992 that the company changed its name to Royal Selangor International Sdn Bhd. In 1987 Royal Selangor acquired Englefields London Ltd which owned the prestigious Crown & Rose hallmarks and later in 1993 Royal Selangor took over silversmith Comyns.
The future of Royal Selangor now rests with the 4th generation. Yoon Li is working together with his cousin Chen Tien Yue who is Executive Director of Royal Selangor at the helm. Yoon Li holds a Masters in Manufacturing Engineering School from the University of Birmingham, UK and an MBA from IMD, Lausanne, Switzerland. He was formerly a design engineer in Formula One with Team Lotus International and NIssan Motorsports, both in the UK. After 10 years in the automotive industry, he joined the family business. Chen Tien Yue graduated with a degree in Engineering, Economics and Management from Oxford University’s Balliol College. He worked with management consultancy McKinsey & Co Kuala Lumpur before joining the family business in 2003.
The Yong family is of Hakka origin and makes the Hakka community terribly proud of them.
- Market Screener. Business Leaders. Poh Kon Yong. https://www.marketscreener.com/business-leaders/Poh-Kon-Yong-08GYH9-E/biography/
- Forbes. 27 July 2011. https://www.forbes.com/global/2011/0808/life-royal-selangor-pewter-chen-tien-yue-yong-yoon-li-shine-on.html?sh=adf68bc4df3d
- Financial Times. 26 September 2013. Jeremy Grant. Royal Selangor among Asian groups using fresh business model. Royal Selangor among Asian groups using fresh business model | Financial Times (ft.com)
- Malaysia Tatler. August 2018. Elizabeth Soong. Royal Selangor's Yong Yoon Li Talks About Heirlooms & Millennials And Why They Are Not Mutually Exclusive | Tatler Malaysia (asiatatler.com))
- Malaysia Tatler. 2015. Karmun Ng. How Royal Selangor became the largest pewter maker in the world | Tatler Malaysia (asiatatler.com)
- IMD. March 2015. Emeritus Profession Joachim Schwess and Willem Smit. Royal Selangor: Brand Evolution Over Four Family Generations | IMD
- CNBC. Managing Asia. 25 September 2014 .Christine Tan. See Kit Tang. World's largest pewter maker eyes China expansion (cnbc.com)
- Yahoo! News. 2 October 2019. Tan Mei Zi. All brains: Royal Selangor head Yong Poh Kon on starting the Malaysian Mensa Society and its future (yahoo.com)
- ResearchGate. March 2015. Kee-cheok Cheong, Poh-ping Lee and Kam-hing Lee.The internationalisation of family firms: case histories of two Chinese overseas family firms. The Kuok Group of Companies and Royal Selangor. ResearchGate
- Robb Report Singapore. 24 August 2020. https://www.robbreport.com.sg/running-a-family-business-cousins-yong-yoon-li-and-chen-tien-yue-tell-us-what-its-like-to-join-the-royal-selangor-empire-in-malaysia/
- Royal Selangor. Yong Yoon Li. Managing Director of Royal Selangor. https://www.cnetg.com/clients/CnetG_2018_692DBA05-47AE-49E6-907A-2948E6B9CD47/contentms/img/Profiles%20Online%20Panel%20Session/Bio%20-%20Yong%20Yoon%20Li.pdf
- FBN Asia. Yong Yoon Li. https://fbnasia.org/en/yong-yoon-li/
- The Star. 8 April 2015. Nasa Maria Entaban. https://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/people/2015/04/08/royal-selangors-yong-yoon-li-talks-about-his-greatgrandfathers-pewter-legacy
- The Edge Malaysia. 20 June 2017. Pathma Subramaniam. https://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/family-business-family-charter-pivotal-royal-selangors-longevity
- The Edge. 12 September 2011. The Editor. https://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/royal-selangor-continues-thrive-family-business
- Options. 20 December 2019. Mae Chan. https://www.optionstheedge.com/topic/culture/taiwanese-master-chiang-partners-royal-selangor-recreate-famed-confucius-sculpture
- The Peak. https://thepeak.com.my/art-culture/royal-selangors-celestial-wisdom-collection-an-ode-to-confucius/
- The Peak. 17 January 2020. Christy Yoong. https://thepeak.com.my/art-culture/royal-selangors-celestial-wisdom-collection-an-ode-to-confucius/
- Dr Cuthbert Teo Eng Swee. Born and Bred in Pewter Dust. Interview with Datin Chen Mun Kuen. https://news.sma.org.sg/4211/Datin_ChenMK.pdf
- The Star. 22 May 2018. Nasa Maria Entaban. https://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/life-inspired/2018/05/22/royal-selangor-history-treasures