Sat, Dec 13, 2008
The Straits Times
'King of cloves' Ng Bok Eng dies at 92

By Judith Tan

BUSINESS mogul and philanthropist Ng Bok Eng, whose integrity and generosity stretched beyond the business community, died on Sunday; he was 92.

Mr Ng was survived by his wife of 68 years, Madam Ho Gim Tee, four children, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His son, Mr Ng Cheong Bian, 61, said his father died of 'old-age-related diseases'.

Mr Ng, better known as the 'king of cloves', was the epitome of the rags-to-riches story.

When he was 12 years old, he left his hometown of Jinmen, China - arriving six weeks later with his mother and two siblings in Bagan Siapi-api in Indonesia.

His first job was at a rubber plantation, and then he sold peanut soup by the roadside before becoming a coolie for $6 a month. Mr Ng then gave in to the lure of the sea - a decision that turned out to be a turning point in his life.

When he came across a hilltop village perpetually short of daily provisions, he hit upon the idea of supplying it with necessities, driving him to collaborate with the owner of the ship he was working on.

During World War II, Mr Ng seized the opportunity to start an import-export business with friends and, within two years, established himself as a prominent merchant in the Strait of Malacca region.

He migrated to Singapore in 1947 and founded import-export firm Bian Bee Company, which mainly dealt in cloves, coffee and pepper.

In 1969, he started Ng Bok Eng Holdings, concentrating on property and securities investment.

Despite his success, one value remained central to Mr Ng's life, his son told The Straits Times: integrity.

'Growing up, he always told us to invest within our means. If we have $1, then $1 is what we use to invest with. He often drummed into us that 'greed is the downfall of every man' and he told us never to give in to it,' he said.

It was this honesty that allowed Mr Ng and his business to endure difficulties.

The magnate's only regret was not having any formal education. Mr Ng had only four years of informal education and placed great importance on education.

In 2004, he donated $5 million to the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to establish scholarship and professorship programmes under his name. It was matched dollar for dollar by the Government to bring the total to $10 million.

His son said Mr Ng also helped friends and strangers financially when they could not afford their children's school fees.

'Mr Ng will always be fondly remembered for his generosity and his firm belief in the value of education,' said NTU president Su Guaning.

He will be cremated at the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Temple at noon today.


This article was first published in The Straits Times on 11 Dec, 2008.


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'King of cloves' Ng Bok Eng dies at 92