Thursday, 23 May 2024

In memory of Wee Cho Yaw, chairman emeritus of UOB—embodied honour, enterprise, unity

5 min read

Wee, the respected honorary adviser of renowned Asian institution, United Overseas Bank, passed away at age 95 after a remarkable life in the industry spotlight spanning over five decades

Known for leadership, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy, Wee Cho Yaw, chairman emeritus of UOB, led the bank’s growth from a single branch to a regional powerhouse, with assets soaring from SGD 2.8 billion ($2.08 billion) to over SGD 516 billion ($383.3 billion) by 2023, with top ratings from Moody’s, S&P Global Ratings, and Fitch Ratings.

Coming from humble origins in China, Wee started his banking journey in 1958 when he joined the board of directors of the United Chinese Bank, rebranded as United Overseas Bank in 1965. Under his leadership, UOB grew significantly, culminating in landmark mergers and acquisitions that solidified its position as Southeast Asia’s second largest bank by assets in 2009. At that time, it had branches in Singapore, Myanmar, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand.

One of Wee’s major accomplishments was merging UOB with Overseas Union Bank in 2001, making it the largest bank by assets and capitalisation in Singapore and ASEAN at the time. As chairman from 1974, succeeding his father, he expanded UOB globally to 19 countries and 500 offices by 2022. Assets had surged to over SGD 253 billion ($187.9 billion) by the time he retired as chairman in 2013.

Wee’s stewardship was characterised by his deep-rooted connection to the local community, keen understanding of competition, and unwavering commitment to the core values of banking. His decisive nature and hands-on approach enabled him to seize opportunities swiftly, ensuring the bank’s continued growth and success.

In recognition of his outstanding contributions to the banking industry and broader community, Wee was honoured with The Asian Banker Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009,  a prestigious accolade highlighting his exemplary career and lasting impact.

Beyond his professional accomplishments, he was known for his philanthropic endeavours and dedication to family, friends, and society at large. Wee believed in education and community service. He led organisations like the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations and Hokkien Huay Kuan for many years. He also started the Wee Cho Yaw Singapore-China Banking Forum to connect Singapore and China. In 2015, UOB launched the SGD 50 million ($37.1 million) Wee Cho Yaw Future Leaders Award scholarship programme to help needy students.

His son, Wee Ee Cheong, deputy chairman and CEO of UOB, remarked: “My father’s impact on Singapore and the region is profound. He has been my inspiration in every aspect of my life. While much will be said about his business prowess and deal-making, it is the values of honour, enterprise, unity, and commitment that will be his legacy at UOB. Whether it’s his long-term perspective, emphasis on building strong relationships, ethical conduct, or extending a helping hand to those in need, my father’s influence and values will endure at UOB.”

Wee leaves behind five children, 16 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren. His legacy will inspire generations to come in Southeast Asia and beyond.

Keywords: Legacy, Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Philanthropy, Mergers And Acquisitions, Regional Powerhouse, Assets, Ratings, Award
Institution: UOB, Moody’s, S&P Global Ratings, Fitch Ratings
Country: Singapore, Malaysia
Region: South East Asia
People: Wee Cho Yaw, Wee Ee Cheong
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