132 years and counting: A true family business success story

Posted by watchmen
June 28, 2018
Posted in OPINION


Next in our longevity success stories is a brand called Royal Selangor, a 132-year old Malaysian pewter manufacturer and retailer and considered the largest of its type in the world.

Founded in 1885 by Yong Koon in his little shop called NgeokFoh, he handcrafted pewter objects mainly for ceremonial use, such as joss stick holders, incense burners and candle holders for altars of Chinese homes and temples.

Royal Selangor is a successful family business that has weathered global recessions, survived two world wars as well as the boom and bust of the tin industry, including a bitter family feud.

The company started out making Chinese ancestral worship items in the 1880s and later expanded to cigarette boxes and vases that appealed to European colonials. In the 1950s it began making souvenirs and corporate gifts after the Malaysian independence sparked a tourism boom.

The enterprise also experienced its own share of family conflict. With the Second World War and tensions in the family, the Yong family divided into three separate pewter companies, of which only Royal Selangor, the erstwhile Selangor Pewter survives to this day. It was run by Yong Koon’s third son Yong Peng Kai and his wife and partner GuaySoh Eng. Under their steady guidance and leadership, they expanded the business slowly. Despite the turbulent times that followed, they still managed to nurture their four children in an environment where work, family time and fun all intertwined. Soon, the business grew steadily and they expanded around Malaysia and opened stores in other countries.

Royal Selangor opened its first store abroad in the 1970s and now has 50 stores around the world in countries including Singapore, Japan and Australia. The brand is also found in stores such as Harrods and John Lewis in the UK.

For all these fame and fortune, “Thanks to proper succession planning and a family charter in place,” notes Yoon Li, who runs the business with cousin Chen TienYue, making them the fourth generation to do so.  Apart from the two, the company is run by a team of professional managers. “We rely on the heads of various departments to come up with strategies and execution plans,” says Yoon Li.

For the fourth generation family members, formulating a Family Charter was the best thing that ever happened to Royal Selangor. And to prevent a repeat of a damaging family feud, a six-member family council along with a family charter, were established in 2002 with guidelines to handle potential disputes.

Yoon Li says his family’s charter has gone through at least 30 iterations since it was implemented. It was put in place to ensure that the family business “was not considered a place of occupation for family members or an employer of last resort.”

This policy simply means that anyone interested in joining the family business is required to have worked outside the scope of the company for at least two years. The charter basically sets the ground rules and is the constitution for how the family engages with the business. For instance, things like who gets to have a physical office and who is allowed to use the resources of the business are specified in the charter.

“It is this foundation that has kept the family run entity in business all these years,” he adds.



Prof. Soriano is a National Agora Awardee for Marketing Excellence, an ASEAN Family Business Advisor, Book Author of two best-selling Family Business books and Executive Director of ASEAN-based Consulting group, W+B Strategic Advisory. He is also an International Business Lecturer, Professor and former Chair of the Marketing Cluster at the ATENEO Graduate School of Business/WDJ)

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