Chew Gek Khim, is among the very few women in Singapore heading a public-listed company. She is executive chairman of The Straits Trading Company, which is part of the Tecity Group founded by her late grandfather Tan Sri (Dr) Tan Chin Tuan, one of Singapore’s most famous bankers and philanthropists, who was also Chairman of Straits Trading for more than 20 years since 1965 and set up the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation in 1976 to help the poor and needy.
The founding history of The Straits Trading Company Limited can be traced to the 19th century, when James Sword, a Scottish businessman, and Herman Muhlinghaus, a German entrepreneur formed a partnership to undertake tin smelting. The company was incorporated in Singapore on 8 November 1887 with a capital of S$150,000 and eventually rose to become one of the largest tin smelters in the world.
By the late-20th century, The Straits Trading Company began diversifying into hotel and property management, and financial investment. In 2008 it was acquired by The Cairns Pte Ltd, a member of the Tecity Group. Mining and smelting operations that the Straits Trading Company was originally engaged in were eventually carried out by its 54.8%-owned subsidiary, the Malaysia Smelting Corporation Berhad, that is dual listed on Bursa Malaysia and SGX-ST.
Backed by more than 120 years of prudent and astute business management, Straits Trading today is an investment company with stakes in real estate, hospitality, resources and investments that span the Asia Pacific region. It owns an 89.5% stake in Straits Real Estate, a co-investment vehicle that seeks out real estate related investments & opportunities globally. It also owns a 20.95% stake in ARA Asset Management Limited, one of the largest real estate fund managers in the region and has a 30% interest in Far East Hospitality Holdings, an established international hospitality owner and operator.
Chew Gek Khim, a lawyer by training, was born in Singapore in 1961 and grew up alongside her grandfather Tan Chin Tuan. She studied at the National University of Singapore and graduated in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in law before joining law firm Drew & Napier where she specialized in corporate law. After practicing for three years she left because of the "internal politicking" and decided to take up her grandfather's offer to join the family business,Tecity. She eventually became the executive chairman of Tecity and oversaw the company's takeover of Straits Trading in 2008.
Chew has been Chairman of The Straits Trading since 24 April 2008, first as Non-Executive and Non-Independent Chairman and then as Executive Chairman since 1 November 2009. She is also Executive Chairman of Tecity Group, which she joined in 1987. She is Chairman of Malaysia Smelting Corporation Berhad and ARA Trust Management (Suntec) Limited, and sits on the Board of ARA Asset Management Holdings Pte. Ltd. and Singapore Exchange Limited.
Chew is also Deputy Chairman of Tan Chin Tuan Foundation in Singapore and Chairman of Tan Sri Tan Foundation in Malaysia.
Chew was voted Singapore's Businessman of the Year in 2014 and 2015. She clearly loves the thrill of business as she transformed the staid colonial-era tin smelter into a modern firm with robust cash flow. In a recent interview with The Straits Times when asked what she wants to be remembered for she said "I want to feel my life wasn't a waste".
"You don't want to say she lived and died and she did nothing, right? I used to joke, 'What does your epitaph say? She had beautiful skin and afternoon tea?' I do not want that" she added.
Chew and her family are listed as No. 23 in Forbes' 2017 list of richest people in Singapore, with a net worth of US$1.4 billion (S$1.85 billion).