UOB patriarch looking for a successor
Siow Li Sen
Tue, Jun 01, 2010
The Business Times

(SINGAPORE) Wee Cho Yaw, United Overseas Bank (UOB) chairman is looking for his successor - which means that for the first time in its history, the 75-year- old bank could have a chairman from outside its first family.

Mr Wee, 81, disclosed his succession plan during an interview with BT last month in connection with the Singapore Business Awards. Ideally, he wants a Singaporean to take over the chairmanship from him.

'Since the family (members) cannot be the chairman and CEO at the same time, I have to plan ahead. If I find a suitable guy to take over the chairmanship, I'll pass it to him. That's the succession plan. I have to do it, whether in two or three years, I don't know, it depends,' he said.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore had in March proposed that financial institutions be barred from appointing an immediate family member of the chief executive officer (CEO) as board chairman. But this would not affect existing chairmen who do not meet this requirement, such as at UOB where Mr Wee is the father of CEO Wee Ee Cheong.

The interview was to mark yesterday's 25th anniversary of the Singapore Business Awards. Mr Wee, whose name is synonymous with UOB, has won the Businessman of the Year Award, its most prestigious award - twice. He is only one of two businessmen to do so in its 25 year history, the other being Creative boss Sim Wong Hoo.

Mr Wee said it won't be easy to get the right candidate but it has to be done as a succession plan is important for the organisation.

'Certainly, we're looking for suitable, reputable people to take over from me. I cannot be permanent. It's not easy but I will definitely try very hard,' said Mr Wee.

His father, Kuching-born Wee Kheng Chiang founded the United Chinese Bank (UCB) together with six other Chinese businessmen in 1935. UCB changed its name to UOB in 1965.

Mr Wee joined the bank in 1958 and took over the day-to-day operations in 1960. He became chairman and CEO in 1974 and gave up his position as CEO in 2007.

The Wee family own 17.39 per cent of UOB, according to the 2009 annual report.

Mr Wee said the next UOB chairman should ideally be a Singaporean given that it is a local bank.

'I think we should get a Singaporean as this is a Singapore bank. It would be ideal to get a Singaporean to be CEO, to be chairman. Unless you cannot find one, then we have no choice but to go into the region,' he said.

Mr Wee also said that after he steps down as chairman he might not even remain as a director on the bank as positions are not important to him. But he intends to continue playing a role in the bank as either honorary chairman or adviser.

In Singapore's other family controlled bank, OCBC Bank, two members of the Lee clan remain as directors on the board.

'Positions are not important to me because everybody recognises me, I have contributed to this bank. I can be honorary chairman or adviser to the bank, I still can monitor the operations of this bank. I still can give advice to the management, that is good enough for me,' said Mr Wee.

In the hour long interview, he also said UOB is not done with acquisitions and that he saw potential in Indonesia.

'I'm still looking into expansion but it must be good risk. In any acquisition there is a risk, so you must know your limitation and your appetite.

'Indonesia, I think, there's a lot of potential but they are all very small banks. But they are good banks, worth acquiring, and we should look into them.'

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