Asia’s First Modern Conglomerate
The Oei Tiong Ham Concern



The Oei Tiong Ham Concern

Kian Gwan Thailand was a subsidiary of Asia’s first modern conglomerate and one of the oldest Asian firms in the region, The Oei Tiong Ham Concern.

The group’s history dates back to 1863 to Semarang in the Dutch East Indies (Java), when Oei Tjie Sien, a young immigrant from China set up a trading firm called Kian Gwan, (“Source of all welfare”) where he sold teas, herbs, incense and silks from China, then later exported Javanese products such as rice, sugar, tobacco and gambier to the region. But it was his enterprising son, Oei Tiong Ham, who took the business to new heights by turning it into the largest business empire in South East Asia at the turn of the 20th century. By using modern technologies and embracing Western methods of business, Tiong Ham transformed Kian Gwan into the first modern conglomerate in Asia. At its peak, his sugar factories supplied roughly sixty per cent of the domestic market and exported a similar tonnage. It was this formidable presence in the global sugar trade that earned him the name “Sugar King of Asia”.

Outside of the Dutch East Indies, Tiong Ham was known by another name – Rockefeller of Asia. His personal wealth was on par with the financial magnates and business titans of America – comparable to that of Charles Schwab, JP Morgan,Vincent Astor and Daniel Guggenheim. Tiong Ham also diversified his wealth and resources into banking, shipping, real estate and trading businesses with a global representation in Asia, Europe and the Americas. His business genius has been a matter of debate among scholars for over half a century with most agreeing that it was his “modern approach” to doing business that was crucial to his success.

Gergadji, the home of Oei Tiong Ham in Semarang
which once entertained royalty and dignitaries.
Today, it is owned by PT Rajawali Nusantara Indonesia.
When Tiong Ham passed away in 1924 at age 57, his business empire was handed to nine male heirs. Of his children, the most well-known was Oei Hui-Lan, his daughter from his first wife, who became one of the most celebrated Chinese women of her time. Described by the American press as “Western to the fingertips”, Hui-Lan’s greatest contribution was the role she played as wife to Wellington Koo, China’s first Ambassador to the US. 
After World War II, the global business and political climate began to change. Rising nationalism in both China and Indonesia led to the confiscation of major asset holdings and operations of the group. Oei Tiong Ham Concern eventually became fragmented, resulting in a few offices operating independently across different continents. What remains of Tiong Ham’s legacy is Kian Gwan Thailand, a company once helmed by Dr. Hervey Oei, Tiong Ham’s second son from his seventh wife -Madam Oei Tiong Ham née Lucy Ho.
After Dr Hervey Oei’s passing in 2016, the company is under the management of Ronald Tanner, Oei Tiong Ham’s grandson, and his wife, Nunthinee Tanner.
Kian Gwan Thailand
Kian Gwan’s history in Thailand goes back to 1932 when a branch office was set up in Bangkok as part of its diversification program launched after World War I. Other branch offices were in Amsterdam, Calcutta, London, Melbourne and New York.  The local office in Thailand was first located at the Yip In Tsoi Co. building on Mahapruetaram road. At first, the firm traded in rice, tapioca flour, teak and rubber which they sold to their own affiliates in Europe and the United States. Subsequently, they diversified into office equipment, industrial supplies and automobiles.

Kian Gwan House I & II, 1972


From an initial strength of 30, Kian Gwan’s headcount surged to over 1,000 by the 1960s. With such phenomenal growth, the company was faced with the need for better and larger offices. Towards the end of 1960s, they ventured into property development with the launch of the first modern high-rise office tower in the country - the 12-story Kian Gwan House on Wireless Road.
Commemorating the opening of Kian Gwan Building by His Excellency Pote Sarasin,
prominent statesman and ex-acting Prime Minister of Thailand, May 1972
“Kian Gwan House symbolizes the long, fruitful and beneficial association between Kian Gwan and Thailand.”
— Pote Sarasin
Kian Gwan was the first to introduce the National Cash Register (NCR) office and business machines as well as General Motors cars to the country. These two products remained the firm’s core business and helped establish its reputation in Thailand.
In Thailand, Kian Gwan was well known for their distributorship of automobiles. They represented several well known car manufacturers including General Motors.
Kian Gwan's automobile assembly plant 1950s.
 Dr. Hervey beat Prince Bira with his Mercedes Gullwing 300SL on the racetrack at Don Muang Airport in 1938.
 Kian Gwan's Vespa showroom.

Dr. Harvey Oei won the European Championship at Circuit Zandvoort, Netherlands in 1951.


Over the next two decades, Dr. Oei and his team erected two other first class office buildings on the same location, then entered the UK real estate market by restoring a landmark heritage building in Camden, London. What was previously known as the Carreras cigarette factory (now known as Greater London House), Kian Gwan Thailand restored the 1920s art deco gem to its former glory. Today, the building remains a city landmark and coveted corporate address. Other real estate activities include the development of a commercial complex on St. John’s Street in London.


Greater London House previously known as the Carreras Cigarette Factory

140 Wireless - a new building that has carved out its own identity and adapted to changing times - is Kian Gwan Thailand’s latest undertaking.

140 Wireless, October 2021