Initiative, perseverance and the foresight to seize on the right opportunities were the foundations on which Yeap Chor Ee, our founder, built the Heng Lee Group. These values remain the cornerstone of our business philosophy to this day.
In 1885, a 16-year-old boy left his home in China. From the small Sia Tua village in Nan’An, Fujian, Yeap Chor Ee sailed to Penang, an island off the west coast of the Malayan peninsula. In the first five years after his arrival, he worked as an itinerant barber shaving and plaiting the tow-chang (queue) of workers in the Weld Quay area of George Town earning him the nickname of Thi-Tau-Ee (Barber Ee).
In 1890, Chor Ee started a small provision shop called Chop Ban Hin Lee (Translated as the Firm of Ten Thousand Blessings to Prosperity), which formed the foundation of the Heng Lee Group. From his merchandising roots, Chor Ee branched out into financing. As a trader, he had become adept at discerning the creditworthiness of his customers and he used this skill to great effect. Chor Ee established Ban Hin Lee Bank in 1918 using his own capital. To this day, he remains the only individual in Malaysian and Singapore to have single-handedly funded the establishment of a bank.
The Heng Lee Group emblem touches on the Group’s trading roots. Believed to have been designed by Chor Ee himself, it depicts two merchant junks in a background set amidst scenic landscape reflecting the natural elements of wind, water and earth. In the foreground are pinang (betel nut) trees found in Chor Ee’s adopted hometown of Penang.
The story of Yeap Chor Ee’s life, his business and his philanthropic legacy is chronicled at The House of Yeap Chor Ee, a museum set up by his descendants. A tour through the museum provides glimpses of the bustle of activities at Penang’s docks in the late nineteenth century. Artefacts and furniture from Chor Ee’s stately home, Homestead, are also on display.