Asia’s First Modern Conglomerate
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.