Wealth Magazine, March 2008 issue
By Bee Ong in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore
All seven children in the third generation, of whom Tan Sri Dato' Francis Yeoh is the eldest, hold executive positions in the YTL group. Together with their father, Tan Sri Dato' Seri Dr Yeoh Tiong Lay, they take eight seats on the 12-seat board of YTL Corporation and own more than half of the listed company.
All seven siblings were educated in the UK, and hold degrees in civil engineering, structural engineering, electrical engineering, accountancy and law. Their eldest brother had specified a university degree as a prerequisite for working at YTL.
"I had to set a very strong bar forthem.1 insisted on an honours degree in engineering or similar degrees related to our industry and our business, and there's to be no compromise. I didn't want any molly-coddled sibling coming in that's trouble. I didn't want nepotism, cronyism and all that stuff,” Tan Sri Francis says.
Dato' Victor Yeoh Seok Kian, three years younger than his eldest brother, is YTL's Deputy Managing Director. Dato'Yeoh Soo Min, the elder of two sisters, established YTL's travel division in 1990 and was responsible for setting up the group's finance and accounting systems.
Dato' Yeoh Seok Hong, a brother who is five years younger, is an Executive Director heading the group's construction business. Dato' Michael Yeoh Sock Siong, six years junior, is responsible for the manufacturing division, which makes cement, ready-mixed concrete and other building materials.
Dato' Yeoh Soo Keng, the younger sister, is YTL's Purchasing Director and is responsible for bulk purchases of building materials. She also headed major projects such as the building of the British High Commissioner's residence in Kuala Lumpur and the Selangor Medical Centre in Shah Alam.
Dato' Mark Yeoh Seok Kah, the youngest, is an Executive Director who oversees YTL's hotels and resorts unit. He also serves on YTL Power's mergers and-acquisitions team and was involved in the acquisitions of ElectraNet in Australia, Wessex Water in the UK and PT Jawa Power in Indonesia.
The Fourth Generation
Members of the next generation are starting to join the enterprise. Tan Sri Francis' two elder of five children, Ruth, 24, and Jacob, 23, are currently in the finance and infrastructure divisions, respectively.
The requirements of entry for the fourth generation have been raised by one degree: While their parents needed at least one university degree, the youngsters must have two degrees before they can work at YTL. "It's not easy for the fourth generation, who has tasted some wealth, to continue to understand the values we set forth. So, the bars are higher and they have to face it squarely, they can't run away. Much is given, much is expected," Tan Sri Francis explains.
Ruth graduated with bachelor's in architecture and a master's in management from universities in the UK and spent a year interning as a researcher at Credit Suisse in Singapore before joining YTL. Jacob graduated from Imperial College with a master's in engineering and interned at UBS in Singapore. His brother Joshua, the third of three boys, is currently undertaking a master's in engineering at Cambridge.
Several of Tan Sri Francis' nephews and nieces are also pursuing two degrees at institutions like Oxford. The new entrants spend about a year in every role and are rotated throughout the group over time. Ruth, for example, started out as a Finance Director at the holdings level and is now Director of Investments at the corporate level. The person who evenually gets the job of Group Managing Director will be the one who proves himself or herself most capable, Tan Sri Francis says.
There is still a preference for the family's men to take leading roles. It is apparent in the minimum standards Tan Sri Francis has set for two generations of Yeohs: "You have to be good in technology, you have to be relevant to the industry. And of course, the ladies can do economics or law. It is realistic for an Asian family. After the ladies marry, their husbands may want them to work for their family business instead, and we understand. But if the ladies want to stay in the YTL group, they are very much welcome.”
His eldest child, Ruth, who is also the eldest in her generation, felt compelled to join the family's business because "my grandfather built the company from scratch. My father, uncles and aunts laboured to bring this company up even more and now we have so many subsidiaries and activities. They've built a legacy. It's a shame for one to let it go. European families may hand over the reins to a non-family member, but it's different in Asia. For me, it's not like a golden spoon. I have a lot of responsibilities to shoulder, a lot like what my family went through in the past.”
She foresees an infusion of new blood into the group, which currently employs about 6,300 people. "I see us employing a lot more intellectual capital and we need younger blood as well. The newer generation, like my brother and I, we know that employing the next generation of leaders will be very important. My brother's done a great job winning some Malaysian talent back from overseas; many of our friends are really bright first-class honours from Oxford and Cambridge and some of them are working for our company now. We definitely see new talent as a way of moving forward."
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