True-blue Planter

KLK boss Tan Sri Lee Oi Hian is hailed as a true-blue planter by many of his peers in the palm oil industry.

MALAYSIA, as the world’s authority on palm oil from R&D, agro technical services to superior planting materials, is now held as a reference point by developing nations that are keen to plant oil palm as a means to eradicate poverty and raise the income of their smallholders.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) and the industry players plantation companies, refiners, traders, exporters have been instrumental in the country’s success as the world’s second-largest producer and exporter of palm oil after Indonesia.

“We, the industry people, are all friends helping to build up the palm oil industry together with the Government. The past and current MPOC members have acted as a strong team that contributes to the industry (which in turn) helps to boost the country’s economy,” says Tan Sri Lee Oi Hian, the chief executive officer of plantation giant Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd (KLK).

Lee is this year’s recipient of the Palm Oil Industry Leadership Award. He received the award at a dinner hosted by the MPOC at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Kuala Lumpur last night, which was attended by Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok. The importance of the palm oil industry has led to the MPOC creating the Palm Oil Industry Leadership Award to recognise outstanding individuals for their leadership efforts and qualities in this sector.

Lee says credit must also be given to pioneers of the industry: former Primary Industries minister Tun Lim Keng Yaik, former Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia (Porim) director-general Tan Sri Dr Augustine Ong Soon Hock, the late oil palm king Tan Sri B. Bek-Nielsen of United Plantations Bhd, the late Toh Pang Huat who was chairman of the Palm Oil Refiners Association, former Felda chairman Raja Tan Sri Muhammad Alias Raja Muhammad Ali, and the current MPOC chief executive officer Tan Sri Dr Yusof Basiron. Lim, Alias and Ong received the same award in 2008, 2009 and 2011 respectively.

The global push for palm oil has become increasingly challenging since the 1980s when the oil palm sector had to debunk misinformation by the American Soybean Association that palm oil is high in cholesterol and bad for health, says Lee.

“The Government via the MPOB together with the Malaysian Palm Oil Promotion Council (MPOPC) then (before its name change to MPOC in 2010) as well as the industry players collaborated to strengthen the sector on many fronts,” he says.

Starting from marketing and promotional work in the 1980s, the group went on to deal with issues such as tax discrimation, trade barriers, new export markets, the introduction of the Palm Oil Credit and Payment Arrangement (POCPA) to countries without funds to buy palm oil, the setting up MPOB’s Technical Advisory Services offices overseas, and, holding international conferences and seminars to educate the public on the benefits of palm oil.

The MPOC, in a statement, lauded Lee for his commitment and sacrifices serving in various positions in the plantation sector despite his busy involvement in managing KLK, one of the country’s top plantation groups. Lee was MPOPC chairman from 1996-2009, Malaysian Estate Owners Association president from 1986-1990, and member of the Malaysian Palm Oil Growers Council, the Malaysian Palm Oil Board and the Malaysian Cocoa Board from 1993-1997. Described as a true-blue planter by many of his peers in the industry, Lee is the eldest son of the late Tan Sri Lee Loy Seng who brought KLK Group from Britain to Malaysia in the early 1970s.

Lee’s passion for agriculture started from childhood. As a young boy, he would tag along when his father visited the estates. After graduating from University of Malaya with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science (First Class Honours) degree in 1974, Lee joined KLK as an executive in the marketing division for a year before furthering his studies at the Harvard Business School in Boston, Massachusetts. There, he obtained his Masters in Business Administra-tion in 1977.

Lee returned to KLK in 1979 to head the production control division. He was appointed to the board of directors of KLK in 1985, and made the managing director in 1988. Following the passing of his father in 1993, he was appointed chairman and chief executive officer of KLK.

Being an advocator of good business ethics and best practices in corporate governance, Lee relinquished his role as chairman in 2008 but remains as CEO of KLK till today.

Under Lee’s stewardship, coupled with the solid foundation laid down by his late father, KLK is today regarded by the corporate world as a blue chip company with a reputation for sturdy management and strong earnings, with interest in various industries all over the world.

Source : The Star

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