Chua Chor Teck

In Memory and Tribute

As re-counted by his wife and brothers, friends, fellow apprentices and university students, teachers, peers, colleagues, union leaders, customers and suppliers.

I remember Chor Teck as a master ship-repairer. I was then working in Neptune Orient Lines. We sent some of our ships to his Keppel Shipyard for repairs. Chor Teck always ensured that the workmanship was excellent and reliable.

I remember him as a true friend. I liked his simple unassuming ways, his warmth and ready smile, and his sincerity and humility. Everybody who knew him liked and respected him.

I remember him as the proverbial Singapore boy, who came from a poor family, apprenticed himself, studied and worked hard, rose to become the head of a large company, and gave his time and knowledge selflessly to society to benefit others. He was an admirable role model for young Singaporeans

 Goh Chok Tong 
Senior Minister, Singapore (12 Aug 2004 – date)

Mrs. Alice Chua, Andrew and Cindy, members of the Chua and Mok family. I count it a privilege to be allowed to speak at this service for Chor Teck and to express on behalf of all the friends and colleagues of Chor Teck, our heartfelt condolence to you and your family.

Chua Chor Teck had a very humble beginning. He was the eldest son of a family of 4 sons and 2 daughters. His parents were farmers in Lim Chu Kang. Chor Teck had to leave school without completing his secondary education because the family was too poor to see him through school. He joined the HM Dockyard as an apprentice at the age of 16. His income as an apprentice helped to support the family. Chor Teck continued to study at night school and took several City & Guilds certificates. He excelled in his studies, obtaining first-class results in all these exams.

On his return, Chor Teck joined Keppel Shipyard as a ship-repair manager. Chor Teck’s energy and leadership soon came to the notice of those in charge of Keppel. When the Swan Hunter contract expired, Chor Teck became the natural choice as General Manager and later Managing Director of Keppel. Chor Teck was totally dedicated to Keppel. Under his leadership, it become a billion-dollar group with wide interests. Yet Chor Teck found time to play an active role in SASAR. He was its president forom 1973 to 1980. He served on the boards of the EDB, the Ngee Ann Polytechnic and the former Industrial Training Board. He was Chairman of the Singapore Polytechnic form 1980. For his dedication and public service, Chor Teck was awarded the Public Service Star by the Nation in 1976.

Chor Teck will best be remembered by his friends and colleagues as an honest, sincere and unassuming gentleman. I have known Chor Teck for slightly over 4 years. He was Chairman of Singapore Polytechnic. As Minister-in-charge of the Polytechnic, I met him from time to time to discuss Poly matters. I formed a very clear impression of him as an honest and straightforward man. He was without guile our malice. His whole concern was always for the good of the organisation, which he headed and served. It was easy to discuss difficult problems with him. His staff got on well with him. In my association with Keppel Union, they always spoke of him with respect and high regard for his fairness and openness towards them. Likewise, at the Poly, the Principal and his staff held Chor Teck in very high regard. He gave them clear leadership without imposing himself upon them. Chor Teck was always concerned for others. When he learnt that 20 of his staff at Keppel were ready to donate blood for him, Chor Teck insisted that they came to his hospital room so that he could thank them individually.

As a husband, brother and father, Chor Teck was very close to his family. His brothers said of him: He was like a father to us. We owe our education to him in the early years because he worked to provide for us even though he was struggling to improve himself. His children knew that their father was a very busy man. Chor Teck felt that he did not see enough of them. He made use of every opportunity he had to be with them. He drove them to school daily so that he had the change to talk with them in the car. During his hospitalisation, he was surrounded by his family. There was not a day when Alice, the children and other members of the family were not with Chor Teck.

Over the last 2 months, I came to know Chor Teck as a friend. He knew the seriousness of his illness from the very start. He told the doctors that he wanted to know the diagnosis. He did not want anything kept away from him. This was entirely in keeping with his character, which was one of robust courage and quiet strength. When I first saw him a few days after his was admitted into hospital, he told me what the diagnosis was – tumour in the liver, possibly malignant. He told me of the suddenness of the attack. Before I left, I asked him if he would mind if I prayed for him. He said he was not a Christian abut he had no objection.

Tan Boon Chiang and I saw Chor Teck a few days later. He told us that the doctors had confirmed that the tumour was malignant. We said that we would like to continue to pray for him. He said that he felt bad that he should only come to see the Lord when he was in trouble. He said that he had lived essentially without the need for God most of his life although he tried to live a good life. Chor Teck was an honest man. He wanted to be sure that he could accept the Lord in spite of his earlier lack of knowledge or interest in God.

A few days later, Boon Chiang rang me to say that Chor Teck had requested for baptism for himself and his family. He witnessed his baptism in his hospital room several days after that. Chor Teck made up for lost time very quickly. He read the Bible and other books a great deal. He and his wife prayed together daily. It was wonderful to see how their faith grew. Chor Teck told me that he regretted he missed so much in not coming to know the Lord earlier.

The doctors gave him strong doses of chemotherapy. They caused him painful reactions. But never once did he complain about his condition. He never complained of pain although he spoke about the discomfort he felt. It was characteristic of him to continue to take a keen interest in everything going on outside the hospital. He requested to be kept up-to-date with Keppel’s business. He was always positive and strong in spirit whenever I met him. He acquired a very strong faith in God. He knew the seriousness of his illness and followed the progress of the treatment closely. But he had no fear of the consequences. He had no fear of death. Instead, he spoke often of how the Lord was providing for him and his family. He derived great satisfaction when he learnt how member after member of his and Alice’s family came to accept Jesus. He saw good coming out of illness.

On Monday morning, after a peaceful night, Chor Teck listened intently as his daughter read to him the Shepherd Psalm (Psalm 23) several times. He said to his family who were beside him that he felt that God had prepared a banquet for him. Shortly after that he passed away peacefully at 8 am.

I feel that I have witnessed that passing of a good man. He was a good husband to Alice and a good father to his children, Andrew and Cindy. They will miss him. But they have found the same faith that sustained him throughout his illness. He will be missed by all his friends and colleagues. We can take comfort that Chor Teck is now with his Lord and Saviour. He has been freed from his body of pain and sickness. I praised the Lord for what He has done in the life of Chor Teck and in his family.

– Dr. Tay Eng Soon 
Minister of State for Education and Minister in charge of the Singapore Polytechnic (1986)

It started with a complaint.

Years ago the then Ministry of Communications was located in Cable Car Tower along side Keppel Shipyard in Telok Blangah Road.

One day the shipyard was sandblasting a ship under repair in one of the drydocks. The noise was so great it was difficult to get any work done in my office. I was then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry. I telephoned Chua Chor Teck and asked him if he could lower the noise level.

The next time I got to know Chor Teck was when I became Chairman of the Keppel Group in 1985. Little did I realise that he was a workaholic and a much-loved leader among his men. He often spent Sunday mornings or afternoons walking around the yard just to get a real feel of how things were getting on.

Working late until evening and then having a shower and change in the office before attending the obligatory Captain’s reception in one of the newly-repaired Russian ships in the yard happened often to him. With liquor and spirits flowing freely, it took an iron constitution to survive these events.

Early in my tenure as Chairman, I was startled one morning to be confronted with a large pile of telexes (there were no e-mails or faxes then) and was told that these were copies of daily correspondences between the yard and its many clients and that the MD (Chor Teck) would flip through them to keep himself informed. I thought this was carrying it to the extreme but this is simply an illustration of how far Chor Teck stretches the concept of devotion and dedication to job.

When I hinted that he ought to spend some time with his family, he said the only quality time he spent with his son was when he sent him to school every morning. Even the golf, which I persuaded him to take up, had to go when Singapore followed Malaysia and added one more hour of daylight saving time and everyone had to start work an hour earlier.

Throughout the early difficult years when the Keppel Group was in the doldrums, he showed great fortitude and cheerfulness, always puffing away at his pipe. He tried exceedingly hard to inculcate in the organisation the “Keppel culture” of loyalty, thrift and hard work. To this day, Keppel is not known among large companies to be a generous employer. When he was ill in hospital, he insisted on having papers on Keppel matters be sent to him until I put a stop to it.

Chor Teck is among that rare breed of CEOs who founded and nurtured a great organisation without much thought of self-interest or gain.

 Sim Kee Boon 
Chairman, Keppel Group (May 1984 to 31 Dec 1999)

His contributions to the Singapore Polytechnic

Mr Chua served as Chairman of the Singapore Polytechnic Board of Governors form 1980 to 1986. During his term of office, he oversaw two major developments, the physical expansion and corporate development of the Polytechnic.

In 1980. Government decided to step up the output of technical manpower in Singapore. This meant a need to increase the capacity of the Polytechnic from 6,000 to 9,000 students. Detailed planning under the guidance of Mr Chua though his chairmanship of the Development Committee took place in 1981. The funds from Government came in 1982 and the physical expansion commenced on the same year.

The expansion was much more than mere construction of additional buildings. The Development Committee was most receptive to new ideas. These included the grouping of facilities into clusters, the introduction of large group teaching, open offices, major upgrading of curriculum, manifold improvements to practical training facilities, provision of study areas for students, landscaping, computerisation and organisational changes. In other words, traditional practices were re-examined and changed where appropriate. A few ideas did not work out, for example, open offices for teaching staff. The Committee was quick to accept the results and revert to smaller closed offices. Through Mr Chua’s able leadership, the expansion progressed smoothly and is now almost completed. It is most sad that he could not live to see the results.

With the physical expansion well underway, Mr Chua saw that it was time for qualitative developments. In 1984, he initiated a Corporate Planning exercise to steer the Polytechnic’s development up to 1990 and beyond. During the past 18 months of planning and training, extended to all levels of staff, people have become more clear of what is expected of them. There is a new mood – one of a clear sense of purpose and direction and what needs to be done to achieve excellence in the education and training of technologists needed by the country.

His contributions to the Singapore Polytechnic

Mr Chua grew up in a farm in Lim Chu Kang. With three brothers and two sisters, he helped his father with the usual dawn to dust work of growing vegetable and raising poultry. At an early age, he entered into apprenticeship as a shipwright with HM Dockyard. Through night school, he improved himself academically and at the same time, progress up his career ladder.

In 1965, he was awarded a scholarship to pursue a Naval Architecture degree at Newcastle University. At that time, he was already married to his childhood sweetheart, Alice. With a modest stipend and a non-traditional start, he spent long days and nights on the drawing board or with his books, living on standard fish-and-chips lunches and Alice hammering at he typewriter to supplement the family income. It was no surprise that he completed his studies in 1968 with 1st Class Honours. In fact Chor Teck did so well that his excellent results are still referred to as unsurpassable. His teachers in Newcastle will also remember him similarly and as the “father “ of the “hordes” of young Singapore scholars who came afterwards; providing them with a listening ear, friendship, guidance and comfort in a strange land.

On his return to Singapore, and into the formative years of the Shipbuilding and Repair Industry, he carried on his long days and long nights throughout the year with Keppel Shipyard. His talents, dedication and human qualities were recognised early and he progressed rapidly from Ship-Repair Manger in 1969 to Managing Director in 1973. Many will remember that he often had simple packet lunches in his office while he worked. The next 10 years were boom years and Mr Chua was instrumental in building up Keppel into what it is today, a billion dollar group with very wide interests.

During his career, he served in various capacities in the EDB, SDF, Singapore and Ngee Ann Polytechnics, ITB, SASAR, SNAMES and ABS. His contributions were valued by all and he was awarded the Bintang Bakti Masharakat (Public Service Star) in 1976 and the Friend of Labour Award in 1980.

Those who were fortunate to work with Chor Teck were quick to find him unassuming, approachable, honest and sincere. On closer association, they would come to realise how steady, caring and committed to high quality work and odd leadership he was. Invariably, all would come to respect and trust him.

Despite his heavy work schedule and responsibilities, Chor Teck had tried to devote more time to his family and friends. It was only in recent years that he took some leave to vacation with his close and loving family, swim or play squash with his friends.

His illness struck so unsuspectingly and suddenly that it shocked his friends initially. On reflection, his high-geared working life may have taken its toll. His death is a tragic loss to his family and all who know him.

 Mr. Khoo Kay Chai 
Principal of Singapore Polytechnic (1986)

We were 18 when we went to Newcastle for our studies. Though his scholarship did not pay him very well and though Alice (his wife) was not working, he went out of his way to make us feel at home. I remembered the many occasions that he had invited us to his house for dinner. And I remember the house well. It was not pretentious and I could still see the dining table, which was a piece of plywood over a bathtub that he has installed in his kitchen. Simple meals, simple house, but the fellowship and the brotherly care for us were from his heart.

I remember also that he could only afford self-rolled cigarettes. I could of course afford Dunhills (at the beginning of the month before my money ran out) and was so happy to be able to offer him some. He was a man of simple means, but a great heart and we owed much to him in helping us 18 year-olds through what were tumultuous years.

 Alan Bragasam 
Fellow student, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK (1968)


One of the most intelligent, hardworking and modest men

I first met Chua Chor Teck in 1964 while studying on a Naval Architecture Diploma Course at what was then called the Sunderland Technical College located on the North East Coast of England.

Teck as we came to know him had been sponsored by the Keppel Shipyard to study Naval Architecture in England.

My recollection of Teck was that he was the eldest child in his family and was self taught up to the age of fourteen.

He was an extremely hardworking student, very diligent in his studies and spent little time enjoying the social side of student life, however, we became friends and he attended my 21st. birthday celebration.

This was the last time we saw Teck and Alice and we were later very sad to hear of Teck’s death from cancer at such a young age. He was without doubt one of the most intelligent, hardworking and modest men it has been my privilege to meet.

It was soon apparent that the Naval Architecture Diploma Course was not for Teck, because due to his dedicated work ethic and high level of intelligence his first year exam results in ten subjects were to say the least quite outstanding. His lowest marks in two subjects was reportedly 92%. The College Principal and lecturers at the Sunderland Technical College encouraged Teck at the end of the first year of the Diploma course to transfer to Kings University in Newcastle to take a degree in Naval Architecture. On attaining his degree Teck was also awarded the Professor Burrell Silver Medal for being the top student of his term.

We occasionally still met socially and when his future wife Alice arrived in Newcastle they were married at Newcastle Registry Office with my fiancee Daphne as one of the required witnesses.

A party after the wedding was held that evening in their flat in Newcastle. All food was prepared by Teck and Alice with a helping hand from a few friends who were joined later in the evening by many friends of different nationalities to wish them every future happiness.

When Daphne and I married in September 1966 Teck and Alice attended our wedding.

As our lives moved on contact with Teck and Alice was tenuous especially after their return to Singapore. At this point I should mention that the shipyard I was working at in Sunderland ceased to exist and I moved into the marine paint industry. A number of years later when I was now working in London we did meet Teck and Alice again when Alice was the Patron for the Institute of Marine Engineers Annual Conversazzione and Dance held at the Grosvenor House in London, which was a fund raising exercise for the Institutes “Guild House” which looks after aged seafarers in need.

They came to our home for dinner and we heard about their son and daughter Suitong and Huikhoon or Andrew and Cindy and of Teck’s outstanding successful career with the Keppel Shipyard being at that time the Managing Director.

This was the last time we saw Teck and Alice and we were later very sad to hear of Teck’s death from cancer at such a young age. He was without doubt one of the most intelligent, hardworking and modest men it has been my privilege to meet.

 Alan Coates 
chou char tecks classmate at sunderrland technical collage (1968)

From Tutor to Husband

In 1961, Chor Teck gave free tuition to my brother, Kim Tng (also a shipyard apprentice). He also tutored me Maths while I helped him with his English. It was my mother who saw Chor Teck as “though poor but unpretentious, hardworking and has a good heart” and made me see him as more than a tutor. Thus by 1965 we got engaged when it was clear that he would be leaving to pursue his studies in the UK on a Singapore Harbour Board scholarship.

He wanted me to be with him and I wondered how we could live on his scholarship stipend of 40 pounds a month. His solution was to find me a job! Thus a few months later, I left my Singapore job with a construction company and found myself in Sunderland working as a Secretary at the J C Thompson shipyard

After a year in Sunderland, we moved to Gosforth when Chor Teck was transferred to Newcastle University to do his degree on the recommendation of his tutors at Sunderland Polytechnic. We got married in the spring of 1966.

The pay at J C Thompson was good but the yard was a long way from our flat and after a few months, I found myself a job as a Stenographer for a building developer, Associated Land and earning 12 pounds a week. To supplement our family income, I typed the thesis for students including Chor Teck’s. And he was my most difficult customer. He was a perfectionist and expected zero error, consistent margin widths and so on – and I was not paid!Anyway, those were bliss and memorable years including our ejection from our flat! It happened in the winter of 1968 when we gave a dinner to 8 Singaporean students! The party was boisterous and ended at midnight. The next morning, the landlord gave us one week to get out. I shared this predicament with a lady I met at our bus stop and she was furious enough to spur into action. Thanks to her, she found us a flat across the road!

Anyway, those were bliss and memorable years including our ejection from our flat! It happened in the winter of 1968 when we gave a dinner to 8 Singaporean students! The party was boisterous and ended at midnight. The next morning, the landlord gave us one week to get out. I shared this predicament with a lady I met at our bus stop and she was furious enough to spur into action. Thanks to her, she found us a flat across the road!

Chor Teck did extremely well at the university and we returned to Singapore in 1968. The rest of his life and career, I will leave it to the many friends my husband made to share with you.

 Alice Chua 
As told to Cheng Huang Leng by his wife, Alice (2005)

Sensitive to the effort put in by the other guy

When I was teaching, I would occasionally visit Keppel to salvage scrap (a pressure gauge or control valve), which I could dissect and turn into a teaching aid. On one such visit in the late1970s, I dropped into Chor Teck’s office to say hello.

It was about lunchtime and I found eating his char kway teow at his desk behind two piles of documents. He was signing a document while eating

Cheng : What are you signing?

Chor Teck : Singapore Polytechnic diplomas. One of the jobs I did not foresee is that I got to sign all these (he pointed to a pile of about 2,500 diplomas) as Chairman of the Singapore Polytechnic Board of Governors. I’ve got to get it done in 3 days!

Cheng : Wow! Why don’t you get a signature stamp made and get it done for you? You need to control the stamp of course.

Chor Teck : The thought did cross my mind, however, I have decided that I should sign each one with my own hand. It takes about 5 seconds and that’s nothing when you know that these students took 3 years to get one of these.

 Cheng Huang Leng 
Deputy Principal, Singapore Polytechnic (1982)

Be thrifty, spend company $ as if it’s your own

In 1977, when I joined Singapore Slipway, one advice he gave to me which I now give to all our Officers is; if you spend company money as if it is your own money, as thrifty as you normally are, you cannot do wrong. Hence even today one of the features in Keppel is Thrift. As a good leader he had walked the talk and he told me that a small ship owner friend, whom Keppel Shipyard gave credit to, was a bit bashful when he walked out of the First Class section on a common trip to KL when Chor Teck walked out of the Economy Class. Today our policy at KOM and SPC is for short trips, everyone including myself will travel economy.

 Choo Chiau Beng 
Chairman & CEO, Keppel Offshore & Marine (2005)

We were farmers and there just wasn’t enough for all of us to go to school, so he stopped at 15 so that we could go to school.

I was about 10 then and even at that age, we understood the sacrificed he made for us. Luckily, his teacher was kind and helpful. He got Chor Teck to be accepted as an apprentice at the British Naval Dockyard in Sembawang. He was extremely thrifty and gave our Dad what he saved. He studied very hard and did well to support all of us – 3 brothers and 2 sisters. It is through him that we all made it this far.

 Chua Choo Meng 
Chor Teck’s younger brother (2005)

Humble Beginnings

Like many Singaporean parents, my Dad came from China before World War 2 to seek his fortune. He found work with Poh Heng Goldsmith, learnt to make jewelry and rose to master craftsman level. When the War broke out, he was already married with one child (Chor Teck was born in 1939). He hid our family in the Hougang area where we survived on whatever fish he could catch from the swamps. After the War, he moved to Lim Chu Kang and become a farmer on rented land. He was daring because he knew nothing about farming. Through trial and error and a large dose of common sense, he raised pigs and chicken and grew vegetables on rented land. Though he was not a carpenter, he also built the pigpens, chicken coops and our house!

A farmer’s life was not idyllic. It was back breaking but honest work and through his sweat raised us 5 children (3 boys and 2 girls). We of course helped with whatever chores assigned to us. And we at our peak raised about 50 pigs and 2,000 chickens. However, our Dad’s bitter experience with farming put us off this profession when we grew up. To raise pigs and chicken, he needed capital, which he had to borrow with the promise to pay when the livestock is sold. This arrangement was fine provided there was no misfortune during the intervening months and the price of livestock was good. We still shudder at the memory of waking up one morning to find our pigs and chicken dead or dying from disease. We still feel the injustice of the poor prices we fetched for our livestock when all farmers did well and end up with a glut situation! Our Dad due to circumstances beyond his control got into this debt trap with the inability to pay off his loan. To make ends meet, he sold household items – soap, brushes and utensils on the back of his bicycle to folks living in our kampong and those living as far as Chua Chu Kang. This he did after tending the farm in the morning. And he did well for the income from this “sideline” was larger than what we could earn from the farm.

Despite the two incomes, there just wasn’t enough for all of us to go to school, so Chor Teck, our eldest brother decided to stop going to school at 15 so that we could go to school. I (Chor Meng) was about 10 then and even at that age, we understood the sacrificed he made for us. Luckily, his teacher was kind and helpful. He got Chor Teck with 6 years of education in Chinese and 3 years in English, to be accepted in 1959 (at the age of 16 years as a student at the Dockyard Technical College, Singapore while serving his 5-year Apprenticeship at the H. M. Dockyard.

Chor Teck was extremely thrifty and gave our Dad what he had saved from his apprenticeship pay and what he got from teaching Maths part-time at the Vocation Institute. He studied extremely hard and did quite well. He completed his 5 years of apprenticeship, finished top of his batch and went to work for United Engineers for a year (July 1961 to July 1962) as a Junior Ship Draughtsman. He then joined Vosper Thornycroft for a short spell before joining the Singapore Harbour Board (later renamed Keppel Shipyard).

During his apprenticeship (1956 to 1960) years, he must have studied at night like a man possessed. There were times when he would drink water to stem his hunger so that the money saved could be used for his books and pay for his examination fees. As a private candidate, he got 6 “O” (3 of the subjects were done twice!) and 2 “A” levels plus an awesome total of 5 City / Guilds certificates (see full list in appendix).

To cap it all, he topped the Commonwealth for the City & Guilds of London Institute Full Technological Certificate (1st Class) in Shipbuilding examinations. We believe that because his award was made through the Ministry of Education, Chor Teck was “spotted” by the then Education Minister, Mr. Yong Nguk Lin who probably had a significant influence over the award of the Harbour Board scholarship to Chor Teck. By this time we were totally dependent on Chor Teck for our livelihood, as our father had stopped working – he was ill and was about 50 when he died of kidney failure. And we knew that Chor Teck was unwilling to accept the scholarship unless the scholarship terms included a stipend for us to live on during his absence. The Harbour Board agreed to this condition and gave our family $300 and we attribute this to Mr. Yong’s influence.

Thus in 1965, Chor Teck was able to go to Sunderland Polytechnic in the UK to do a Higher National Certificate in Naval Architecture. His tutors found him “over qualified” with his array of City & Guilds certificates and recommended him to Newcastle University to pursue his degree. Chor Teck graduated top of his class in 1968 and worked for Keppel Shipyard until his untimely death in 1986.

As told to Cheng Huang Leng by his brothers, Choo Meng and Chor Tien (1986)

Being thrifty, hard on self but generous to others

In 1977, Chor Teck spent several months in the Harvard Business School attending the AMP Programme. Although he was already the Chief Executive of a major corporation, he was clearly delighted to go back to school. I remembered he was particularly happy sampling the simple fare at the Yenching Restaurant in Harvard Square. One Sunday after lunch, not long after his arrival to Cambridge, he said that he needed to buy a pair of new shoes. Not knowing Boston well, he asked me to come along with him.

We went from one good shoe shop to the next, but nothing met his approval. Eventually, we ended up in the basement of a discount store, where there was a small crowd rummaging through a pile of ‘odd lot’ shoes. Joining the crowd, he soon emerged delightfully holding a pair. Clearly, he was very pleased with the cost effective solution, which he found.

Later, when I saw him with this bargain basement find on his feet, I thought it no way reduced the stature of this; rather, it enhanced my respect for him. Truly, Chor is one who, in the words of Rudyard and Kipling’s “if”, ‘Can talk with crowds and keep his virtue, or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch’.

 Chung Chee Kit
Manager, Keppel Shipyard (1977)

It was so sad that just before he died, there were doubts about the diversification of Keppel that he and Mr. Bogaars embarked on. Keppel will not be what it is today, if not for their foresight.

David Chin 
Marketing Manager, Keppel Shipyard (1986)

His vision and guidance to us all kept the Keppel family together. The daily management meetings where he balanced the Marine Manager, the Commercial Manager and the Works Manager and their respective work roles (they were all very individualistic characters) with wisdom, tack and decisiveness and that kept Keppel moving ahead. As the junior Marketing Manager in those daily meetings, I watch with amazement his dedication to the viability and growth of Keppel, as well as his care and concern for his colleagues and customers.

David Chin 
Marketing Manager, Keppel Shipyard (1980)

Service to Nation & the Marine Industry

In 1985, 5 years after leaving Keppel, I moved to the Department of Trade (later TDB). When Chor Teck heard of this, he called me to see him. I arrived in his office at 6.00 pm one evening and he immediately told me how glad he was that I’m working in Department of Trade. He remembered that he “introduced” me to the Department of Trade in 1974 when he sent me to support the then Director-General of Trade, Mr Ridzwan Dzafir’s first Trade Mission to Russia. Keppel was by then, the largest trading partner the Russian had in Singapore and his instruction to me in 1974 was to do all I can to help the TDB. Chor Teck was visibly pleased and told me that working in TDB is like working in Keppel, as we are all serving Singapore.

David Chin 
Assistant Director, Department of Trade

His favourite song was Bobby Goldsboro “Honey” — whenever I hear the song, it is a reminder of his warm friendship.

When he was appointed Managing Director of the Keppel Group, I had asked him about his expanded responsibilities. His reply, “David, the world is moving very fast. So all of us must also adapt just as fast.” is a most invaluable piece of advice for everyone and for all times.

David See Leong Kit 
Fellow student, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK (1968)

A friend, mentor, uncle and role model – all rolled into one

I remember a stretch of 8 months when I worked night shifts and somehow on ships that Mr. Chua was in charge as SRM. Even at 4.00 am he would turn up to Anchorage to check the progress of work and find out if we need help.

On one occasion, I told him that I needed more “laskas” and a few minutes later, he showed up to help out himself and together we removed a sand pump from a dredger.

On another occasion, he found me fitting a bearing. He told me that he was not an engineer and asked me to teach him to do it on the spot.

Fok Swee Yin 
Trainee Technician (better known as “Ah Meng”) (1968)

From 1983 to 1986 I was posted to the Philippines. Chor Teck would visit us as part of his responsibility. He could have met us in Manila but he would insist on taking that pot-holes ridden road all the way to Batangas to our yard to “see the boys”. When time permitted, we would stop at one of the roadside stalls for lunch. He loved the freshwater “Japanese” fish barbequed or fried till crispy. “Reminds me of my childhood days,” he would tell us. Sitting at our lunch, no one would believe that he is MD of a very large company!

His care and concern for people was always high and I did not realise how high until the Aquino crisis. Business was down by 60% but Chor Teck decided that we should not shut down operations. We were to continue, dispense with subcontractors and keep our people by doing all work ourselves. There should be no retrenchment. Normal attrition was the only labour reduction acceptable. If there was no work for 3 weeks in a row, we would lend our workers up to a week’s pay to help them tide over till the situation improved. The union and our workers were quick to see that we would not desert them and gave their full cooperation. Chor Teck was proven right again – we got through that crisis with a tiny profit while other MNCS pulled out of the Philippines or suffered heavy losses due to industrial actions and strikes.

On the 2nd day of one Chinese New Year, I had to call him to meet an important Filipino customer. While it was a holiday in Singapore, it was a working day in the Philippines. He did not get upset or tried to change the date. Instead, he agreed to the meeting and turned up the next day with mandarin oranges and ang pows for all of us!

Chor Teck was a caring boss and had the interest of his men and the company at heart. Even during the recession in the 80s when he was seriously ill in hospital, he kept reminding us not to carry out any retrenchment exercise and to save jobs for the older staff whose experience would be of great value to the company during the next upturn.

Working with him was a great pleasure. He would spell out the objectives and leave you to work at it without breathing down your neck. He was comforting when you were facing difficulties and failure despite all the efforts you put in and generous in his compliments when you succeed.

– Fong Ying Yew 
Executive Vice President, Keppel Philippines Shipyard (1986)

One evening at about 9.00 pm, our SRM, Mr. Chua could not find the Duty Maintenance Chargehand (we knew he was AWOL!). He did not get angry and asked me if I could fire up the potable oil-fired boiler – we needed steam to heat up and remove a propeller boss. Though I was an Electrical Chargehand, I told him that I could do it having seen it done before. (Mr. Chua is so nice that it’s hard to say no to him) I was however concerned with safety as I did not know how to control the firing – to what pressure and temperature? I shared my concern with Mr. Chua. I was surprised that he did not order me to proceed knowing that he would be in trouble for failing to get the job done on time. Instead, he listened to my explanation and decided that we should wait until the next Maintenance Chargehand come on duty even at the cost of a delay of at least 8 hours.

– Goh Chee Seng
Electrical Section Chargehand, Keppel Shipyard (1986)

Tribute from his Professor

The staff of the Department of Naval Architecture and Shipbuilding at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne were greatly saddened to learn of the death of Chua Chor Teck. He was the first of a line of very able students to come to Newcastle from Singapore to study naval architecture. After three years he graduated in July 1968, and it was no surprise to those who knew his work that he achieved a First Class Honours degree.

He was determined to obtain the fullest value from this opportunity to study in England and to learn as much as possible about both the science and practices of shipbuilding. It was not easy to arrange sponsored practical experience, but in his determination to learn shipbuilding ‘from the inside’ he enlisted during one vacation as a labourer in a Tyneside shipyard rather than waste time in activities unrelated to his ambitions. These were difficult times for Chor Teck, and the support of his wife Alice, through those early days and cold northern winters, was something that he often spoke of later with great warmth.

To the many students from Singapore who succeeded him at Newcastle, he became both a ‘father figure’ and an example to strive to follow. In setting his high standards of commitment and achievement he thus clearly contributed not only to the success of many later students (amongst whom the class of degree obtained as enviably high), but also through them and his own outstanding work, to the remarkable growth of marine industry in Singapore through the nineteen-seventies.

During those years, to those of us from Newcastle who were able to visit Singapore, it was always a great pleasure to meet him again, as he progressed in responsibility and eminence. He enjoyed the gatherings at which he and his wife were such excellent hosts to the Newcastle graduates.

The University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne is proud to have been associated with a naval architect of such character and distinction. His life and work have been an example to us all.

– Professor J B Caldwell
Head of Department of Naval Architecture and Shipbuilding, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK (1986)

I’ve been Keppel’s representative in the United States and Canada for more then 25 years. When I think how such a large portion of my life has been spent with a single employer I realize how this could not have been possible without knowing Chor Teck and the legacy he left with Keppel.

I first met Chor Teck in 1978. I had just transitioned from the marine dept of a major oil company to an agency that represented Keppel at that time. Shortly after joining that agency it became apparent Keppel’s interests had to be served in a more focused fashion. The process of choosing another alternative began in earnest. All the US agencies were vying to capture Keppel.

Seeing this as a major loss for my employer, I was naturally concerned about my own security. At this time I was approached by oil major and felt for my family’s sake I should again shift.

Having more or less determined my next direction, I was suddenly and unexpectedly called by Chor Teck who asked if I’d be interested in opening their new US office. Frankly I was stunned. Not only because it was about 0600hrs but also wondering why he hadn’t talked to all the other worthy candidates. He called from London and said he could be in New York later that day and would call. After running this through a more awakened mind I thought I and/or he was mistaken about his arriving in New York that same day and that I was a candidate.

Sure enough Chor Teck did make it to New York that same day via the Concorde. He left an industry meeting and all the other candidates who flocked there to register their interest. He asked for a discreet place to meet. The only secure site I could think of was my home which at the time was overtaken by three young children. You can imagine trying to convince my wife this whole chain of events was for real.

As it turned out our meeting and family dinner has become a memorable event in my family’s life. Chor Teck’s warmth, honesty and love of family overwhelmed us all. His talk of his children and ours getting together someday in Singapore as well as his ability to relate to all of them didn’t make my decision an easy task. Frankly I wondered how he could have boxed me in such a situation and if this was how he intended to persuade me. It must be appreciated how this contrasted with the approach of American industry where personal and professional lives are rarely mixed.

Somehow we did get down to business that day. After the deal was struck, the rest is history. The years at Keppel bear witness to Chor Teck’s legacy. Yes there’s complete dedication expected but the return in caring for each employee is the spirit he so carefully nurtured and left behind. It has become the Keppel way. In all the 35 years I’ve spent in the industry it’s the last 25 that make me grateful I was available to answer the phone that early morning and to put my faith and trust in Chor Teck as he did with me.

– John J Bajor
Keppel’s US and Canadian Representative (2003)

My recollections of Chor Teck are many, as I was a member of the team of the five who prepared the paper to localise Keppel Shipyard from the British Swan Hunter Management. We used to work on the paper after office hours at the Singapore Slipway office in Tanjong Rhu. We succeeded in our mission.

I would say that Chor Teck contributed to my career when he transferred me from the position of Marine Manager (then the head of operations of Keppel Shipyard) to the position of Commercial Manager. This enabled me to experience the commercial side of the business rather than just doing the operations and technical side of the business.

The last time I met up with Chor Teck was in the hospital after he returned from China. Although he was in pain, he was still cheerful, and his thoughts were still about Keppel Shipyard. He had contributed much to the marine industry in Singapore. Our LORD has called him home, and may he rest in peace.

 Khor Teik Lin
Commercial Manager, Keppel Shipyard (1986)

He gave his life to Keppel. He would not leave any problem referred to him unresolved. I think he died of stress rather than liver failure.

– Kung Yew Hock 
Marketing Manager, Keppel Shipyard (1986)

Indeed he and Alice were more than our elder brother and sister. They adopted us as their “children”!.

I remembered that he ate fish and chips every day at the University, because it was the cheapest meal one could have at the time

When we returned from Newcastle, I remember Chor Teck and Alice invited us over from time to time. In one of the first get-togethers, he gave us advice. One that is firmly etched in my memory is his advice not to rush into getting “4 wheels” i.e. a car. He said to give priority to putting money into a house. A house appreciates in value over time, but a car depreciates and the expenditure is used up. Very wise advice, even now!

 Lim Boon Heng 
Fellow student, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK (1968) – Minister, Prime Minister’s Office (2001 – date)

In the early eighties when recycling was not the buzz word it is today, Chor Teck would make sure a used envelope was reused a couple of times before it ends up in the trash can. Old furniture had a new lease of life with a coat of varnish. The decade old office in Telok Blangah got a makeover every once in awhile. He was not penny pinching. He just was ahead of others in protecting the environment. This waste-not want-not discipline percolates down the line and became a part of the corporate culture. Foremen in the shops took pride in saving pieces of plates off cuts, bits of copper, short lengths of pipe, which would have otherwise gone to the scrap heap.

 Lim Soon Heng 
General Manager Keppel Industrial Engineering(1983)

My most vivid memory of Chor Teck occurred at the foot of Benjamin Sheares Bridge where Singapore Slipway once was. There one evening as I walked Chor Teck to his car I confessed my depression at trying to cope with the sea of red ink, which was drowning the company as a consequence of a loss making contract to supply a series of 12 vessels to a Norwegian client. My predecessor who had entered into the contract had left. I was carrying his baby. I did not like it. I pleaded with Chor Teck for repatriation back to the parent company.

I was ready to be chewed for letting him down. But the man smiled. “Why are you taking it so seriously? Do the best you can.” I was taken aback. The Board meeting an hour earlier had mulled over the dismal balance sheet. The company was losing millions but the man was so calm and reassuring. If the man was disappointed with me he did not show it. That gave me more resolve to do what I was assigned to do than if he had said, “Look I put you in charge. I want to see you finish it.”

 Lim Soon Heng 
General Manager, Singapore Slipway (1985)

Chor Teck never hesitated when it came to letting his staff and their families have a good time. The spouses and children of Keppelites of the 80’s will remember the Christmas and Chinese New Year parties at 7 Holland Hill where Alice and Chor Teck treated them to their brand of hospitality. Those children are adults now but they will carry with them the memories of the magic shows, the endless supply of food, the tantalizing swimming pool, and of course the “ang pows”.

 Lim Soon Heng 
General Manager, Keppel Industrial Engineering (1981)

In those days, when the shipyards in Indonesia were ill-equipped to repair their sea-going vessels and ship-owners were looking to Singapore for such services, Eagle Engineering was already then well established in afloat repairs, with a strong presence in Indonesia and understanding of the market there. Chor Teck had the foresight to recognize a very favourable joint venture capitalising on Eagle’s strengths and Keppel’s family of shipyards, comprising the complete range of slipways and dry-docks to cater to all types of ships. I was easily persuaded to collaborate not only by Chor Teck’s vision but also by his integrity and humble nature. Chor Teck skilfully combined the strengths of Eagle’s connections with Keppel’s facilities, and successfully captured the lion’s share of the lucrative Indonesian ship repair business. Suppliers, ship chandlers, surveyors and the marine industry in Singapore also benefited from the presence of so many more Indonesian vessels coming here because of this venture.

– Loke Mun Chong 
Founder, Eagle Engineering Co Pte Ltd (1986)

In 1956, to get into the apprenticeship scheme, we got to have a minimum Primary 6 education level to pass a qualifying examination. Chor Teck and I were among hundreds assembled in Beatty School hall one morning. We were among the better (and at that time the “luckier”) ones – the top 40 plus to be selected.

Thus at age 16, we became apprentices at the Naval Base Dockyard. Chor Teck was trained to be a Shipwright and myself an Engine Fitter/Turner. We were also allowed to enroll in the Dockyard Technical College. Thus our week comprised 2 days in class and 3.5 days in the workshop. We were paid $15 a week during our 1st year with increments every year to about $21 per week in our 5th year

From Year 1, it was clear to all of us that Chor Teck and three others including Foo Hee Liat and Kwan Choon Seng were the brighter ones, taking the top positions for our batch. For Year 2, I did well in the examinations – scoring an average of 75%+ for my papers. I thought I would be among the top 3 based on past results. But alas I was proven wrong because Chor Teck and the brighter ones returned with averages of 90%+ scores! He was so good that when we were stuck for answers to a problem, we would ask Chor Teck class and he never refused us. This was very much to the annoyance of one instructor who threw chalk at us during one such consultation. As you all know by now, Chor Teck went on to top our batch.

It was a long way from Chua Chu Kang to Sembawang, so Chor Teck rented a room just outside the Dockyard. There were times when he would let me bunk with him instead of the long journey to my home in Newton. After a long day, I would be sound asleep by 10 p.m. while Chor Teck would still be poring over his books. There were also times when I woke up late at night to find him still with his books. It was a few years later that we knew that he was studying for his GCEs, O-levels and City & Guilds courses at the same time! In sports, he was quite good at table tennis and I am proud to record that we won the “Apprenticeship Sports Club Table Tennis Doubles” in 1957.

We became good friends and he would invite some of us to his family farm. The faded photographs I still keep brought back fond memories of the good times we had. His parents were kind to us all and she always saw to it that we leave with some eggs for our families.

– Long Sey Hai 
Fellow Apprentice at Naval Dockyard (1956)

One of the most memorable time working for Chor Teck was when I led a team to Moscow to bid for the conversion of 2 Russian whaling ships into fish factories. It was the largest contract at that time and we had no experience. He could have left us to the job but Chor Teck as MD showed up on the final critical days in Moscow to give his personal support and participated in the negotiations to conclude the contract which valued at about US$50 million for the conversion of two vessels, “Dalnyvostok” and “Vladivostok”. (See also Wong See Heng’s account in this booklet). He helped by reviewing our figures and calculations until very late at night. What many might not know was that that contract was won in the nick of time – it saved us from what would have been a poor year in terms of revenue. Consequence of our good performance, it also led to a string of other contracts from the Russians in at least 10 subsequent years. The vessels repaired included whaling ships, tankers, cable layers, research vessels, salvage vessels, cargo ships and ice breakers.

He rose rapidly up the ranks but always had our respect because he treated us as equals. He cared for us and made us feel as part of a family. One of the ways he achieved this was through the Chinese New Year and Christmas dinners he gave in his home to us, our wives and children. He would also include us for special occasions laid out for groups of Surveyors, Superintendents and Customers. And at other times, we felt very welcomed when we use his swimming pool and squash court that he made available to us.

– Long Sey Hai 
Commercial Manager, Keppel Shipyard (1980)

Support for workers and treating as equals

Mr. Chua got on well with the workers He was approachable with no airs about him. He introduced the Annual Family Day so workers and their families could get the chance to visit places like the Zoo, Sentosa Island for free. He also started scholarships for the workers’ children. When he became the MD of Keppel he started a training centre in the company to equip local workers to take on the more skilled jobs.

Mr. Chua was very supportive of the union. The union leaders could always walk into his office to talk with him if they had any difficulties that could not be resolved. It was his idea to allow the union to run the Keppel canteen and the profits to be channeled into the union fund. He allowed the union office to be housed in the company premise.

– M K Jabbar
President, Keppel Employees’ Union (1974)

Mr. Chua was even-tempered and was not easily ruffled even when faced with difficult problems and unreasonable behaviour in human relationships. He was a gentleman of humility who dealt with people very well. He led by earning and showing people respect. Although a workaholic, his wife Alice and two lovely children were his pride and great joy. The beautiful memories of being his Personal Assistant will always linger in my heart.

Mr. Chua got on well with the workers He was approachable with no airs about him. He introduced the Annual Family Day so workers and their families could get the chance to visit places like the Zoo, Sentosa Island for free. He also started scholarships for the workers’ children. When he became the MD of Keppel he started a training centre in the company to equip local workers to take on the more skilled jobs.

Mr. Chua was very supportive of the union. The union leaders could always walk into his office to talk with him if they had any difficulties that could not be resolved. It was his idea to allow the union to run the Keppel canteen and the profits to be channeled into the union fund. He allowed the union office to be housed in the company premise.

– Noni Chin 
Personal Assistant to Mr. Chua Chor Teck at Keppel Shipyard (1985)

Taking care of colleagues & friends

Though I worked for Mr. Chua for only a few months, he gave me an “ang pow”. When I refused, he insisted that I must accept, “My wife says it’s a tradition and you cannot refuse.”

He used to work until very late and before he leaves, he would take a walk around our building, turned off the lights when no one is about and when he saw me or anyone of us still working, he would say, “It’s late and you should go home.” I have not told anyone till now – after he died, there were times when I heard his footsteps at night! Of course it’s scary but at the same time I could not help admiring his dedication even after his death.

His daughter once called me, “Auntie Ching Bee, my Dad called from overseas and asked me to ask you to buy a birthday cake for my mother.” She must be about 4 or younger at the time. It’s amazing that he remembered despite being so busy.

 Quah Cheng Bee 
Assistant PA to Mr. Chua at Keppel Shipyard (1984-5)

“Not only did he achieve a First Class Honours in ’68 but if was one of the best performances ever in this Department by an undergraduate.”

 Dr. R L Townsin 
Faculty Professor, Department of Naval Architecture & Shipbuilding, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK (1968)

Chua Chor Teck – Marine Professional Extraordinaire

We first met in early-1970; Chor Teck had just been appointed General Manager of Singapore Slipway & Engineering and I was in my third year as a non-exclusive Marine Surveyor. Singapore Slipway & Engineering had contracted to build a twin screw 800 BHP Tug and 140ft. flat-top Barge, for the carriage of granite from a quarry in Pulau Ubin to destinations in Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia and Chor Teck had designed both vessels for construction at the SS&E yard in Tanjong Rhu. I had been appointed by the Quarry Owners to superintend the construction and delivery of both vessels.

As both vessels were not classed and being issued with trading certificates by the Singapore Marine Department, the responsibility for producing functional vessels, for the purpose of carrying granite from the quarry to the customers, fell on our young shoulders; I was barely 29 years old and Chor Teck, a few years older. Shortly after, the shipbuilding contracts were signed; I was sent the drawings for review. This initiated an almost-daily dialogue over the phone or at the SS&E office; to modify and improve certain aspects of the Tug and Barge.

During our discussions and meetings, I was always impressed by Chor Teck’s professional manner ; he was always ready to discuss his designs and receptiveness to suggestions; never defensive or adopting a strong stance in order to show that he was right. Whilst the vessels were being built, I would attend at least twice a week; spending the first part of my attendance inspecting the vessels and the latter part of the time in Chor Teck’s office discussing my findings. On numerous occasions, we went back to the vessels to look into the issues I had brought up; in order to ensure that the construction work would not be delayed

I was constantly impressed by Chor Teck’s humility and open-mindedness during that yearlong construction project and when the Tug went out on sea trials and was found to be vibrating abnormally in way of the engine room, he personally attended in order to resolve the problem. I suggested that the main engine girders should be extended to connect with the after bulkhead of the engine room. I remember him giving me a whimsical look, but after some thought he agreed that it would solve the problem. Happily, the extension of the engine girders to connect with the engine room after bulkhead did solve the vibration problem and the tug and barge were satisfactorily delivered to the ship owners.

Shortly after, Chor Teck was promoted to General Manager of Keppel Shipyard and although we occasionally bumped into each other at Keppel Shipyard, we did not work directly with each other again. Around 1980, I was approached to join the Society of Naval Architects, Singapore (SONAS); as Chor Teck, who had been the President for many years wanted to include Marine Engineers as members of the Society. I was then the Honorary Secretary of the Institute of Marine Engineers (Singapore Branch) and at the SONAS Annual General Meeting, held shortly after I joined, he proposed that I also become the Honorary Secretary of SONAS.

Thereafter, we worked together again with regards to the formation of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, Singapore. He approached twelve Naval Architects and Maine Engineers, whom he personally knew and requested them to form the pro-tem committee of SNAMES and draft the constitution for submission to the Registrar of Societies, Singapore. Under his guidance, SNAMES was formed in 1982 (He declined to be the 1st President, as he wanted the younger Marine Professionals to lead the Society) and at the inaugural meeting of SNAMES; Cheng Huang Leng was elected as the 1st President.

After 1982, I saw Chor Teck occasionally at Keppel Shipyard and maritime functions and was deeply saddened in early-January 1986, to hear that he was severely ill and had been hospitalised. Shortly after, he passed away and I was only able to say farewell at his wake and funeral.

As a fellow Marine Professional, Chor Teck had a profound influence on my conduct as a Marine Professional. In all our dealings, he was always fair, open-minded and willing to discuss the pros and cons of any issue; a true professional and an exceptional human being. Singapore’s fledgling Marine Industry lost a Great Leader when he left us suddenly in January 1986.

 Ron Pereira 
Marine Engineer, 1986

One day he saw me looking down. He said, “Why don’t you see me after work? My door is always open.” We met at about 5.30 pm and he listened, helped me analyse my problem and gave good advice. I did not leave till well after 6.00 pm. Such a busy man and he was prepared to listen to my personal problem! He was that caring and I know he always find time for his officers.

 Seow Tiang Keng 
Works Manager, Keppel Shipyard (1986)

Mr. Chua was a man of good character and a very good employer. He was always willing to help workers with their problems. Workers and union leaders could go and see him anytime. His door was always open. If he was busy, he would arrange to meet them on another day.

He never rejected them. When there was a problem, he would slowly and patiently talk to union leaders. He was very supportive of the union.

 Sito Kwan Hong 
General Secretary of Keppel Employees Union (1974)

I remember the story of an English student in South Shields when asked if he heard of Lee Kuan Yew said no but he knew of a Chua Chor Teck.

Chor Teck won a Port of Singapore Authority’s (PSA) scholarship to study Naval Architecture at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. He graduated with 1st Class Honours in 1968, topped his class and also won the university Gold Medal for Merit performance.

 Tan Cheng Hui 
Fellow student, University of Newcastle- upon-Tyne, UK (1968)

His word is good enough

I first met Mr. Chua Chor Teck when the first ship built under my supervision was dry-docked at Keppel Tanjong Pagar Yard in 1972. It was my first job as a Technical Assistant with Vosper Thornycroft Pte. Ltd. The vessel, a supply vessel, was docked for bottom cleaning and painting prior to the sea trials. I was the shipbuilder’s representative at the dry-docking. It was supposed to be a simple straightforward job of not more than two days. It was the first time I ever sent a ship for dry-docking.

However, during the inspection of the ship’s bottom the owner’s representatives made many demands that threatened to extend the dry-docking period, postponing the sea trials and the delivery date of the vessel with financial consequences. The demands from the owner’s representatives included re-checking of all the draft marks, rechecking the straightness of the keel of the vessel, renewal of many pieces of underwater shell plating, which had pitted as a result of stray welding current while the vessel was afloat after launching. I suspected that the owner’s representatives were using delaying tactics, as the vessel had not found a charter as yet. For some peculiar reasons our management gave in to the owner’s demands but without giving me additional days to complete the job.

As a conscientious young man I was really worried and worked tirelessly to get my vessel undocked. The vessel had already exceeded the scheduled two days in dry-dock and my management was pressing me daily for the ship to be undocked. Life was really miserable when the control of the vessel was under the charge of another shipyard.

One late evening when I was all alone, feeling miserable and down-hearted at the progress of the vessel, Mr. Chua Chor Teck came and introduced himself to me at the bottom of the dry-dock. I was taken aback that I was talking to the man himself. I took the opportunity to pour out the problems I had with my ship. Mr. Chua was a good listener. He empathized fully with my problems. I felt really good after talking with him. He probably realised that I was young, inexperienced and required encouragement. He assured me that my ship would be delivered at the quickest possible time despite the many extra work orders. I was really touched by his personal interest, assurance and his help. The vessel was eventually undocked, had a successful sea trial and delivered to the ship owner.

– Tan Kim Pong 
Technical Assistant, Vosper Thornycroft Pte Ltd (1972)

He would invite all of us to his house for Chinese New Year. I went on Day 1 but felt uncomfortable because I was a small fry among many big people. The following year I did not show up. On the morning of the next day (Day 2) Mr. Chua came to my workshop and demanded, “Give me one good reason why you did not turn up yesterday.” I told him of my discomfort and he said, “Come in the evening, after 5.00 pm.” From then on, all of us junior officers would turn up in the evening and enjoyed ourselves tremendously. What touched me most was that there were at least 100 of us and he had noticed my absence.

Tan Kwai Phian 
Electrical Section Manager at Keppel Shipyard (1986)

I first met Chor Teck in 1968 when I joined the then Dockyard department of The Singapore Habour Board. I was a young accountant and he a trainee manager. Until I left Keppel Corporation Ltd in 1985 we had a good 17 years of working relationship that also developed into a family friendship that last till this date.

The Dockyard department of the Singapore Harbour Board was incorporated into a private company in 1968 and named Keppel Shipyard Pte Ltd with Swan Hunter as the managing agents. In 1971 Chor Teck and I were the first local managers picked to replace the expatriate directors. He replaces the General Manager and I the Financial Controller. A few years latter he became the Managing Director of the company thus completing the management localization programme.

He and me worked hand in gloves under the guidance of the then Chairman of the company, George Edwin Bogaars. We planted the seeds and form the base for Keppel to be developed from a simple ship repair company into a conglomerate corporation of today. I remember that after the oil crises of 1973 he saw the need to stabilize the cyclical effect of a pure ship repair company. The board was convinced to diversify into other related business. The first action was to invest in a small barge-building shipyard that had just embarked into building of oilrig call Far East Livingston Shipbuilding Company Pte Ltd. Keppel FELS as is now known has now grown to be the leading oilrig builder in the world.

His foresight goes beyond domestic expansion. Keppel was one of the foremost pioneers in investing in ASEAN regions notably Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. By mid 80’s Keppel not only has the shares floated in the Singapore Stock Exchange, its core business has expanded to ship repair, ship building, oilrig building, banking and finance, industrial engineering, property ownership and development. She was no more a simple ship repair outfit but has grown to be a conglomerate.

The most exciting task Chor Teck and I undertook was the purchase of Straits Steamship Ltd. now known as Keppel Land. Chor Teck and I went to U.K. to negotiate the purchase from the majority owner, Ocean Transport Ltd in 1984. It was then the biggest corporate acquisition in Singapore Stock Exchange. It was also hailed as the most spectacular deal. Little did we know that it was to be our swan song!

– Tay Kim Kah
Finance Manager, Keppel Shipyard (1985)

Chor Teck’s favourite song in Newcastle begins with the words “See the tree, how big it’s grown….”. And then he would stop. He said he could never remember the rest of the lyrics. But whenever I hear that song, it reminds me of how much we have lost.

I shall always remember Chor Teck and Alice for their sincerity and warmth in opening their house to us in Newcastle (and subsequently in Singapore too). Although things were pretty basic back then, there was no mistaking their hospitality, friendship, generosity and compassion. Their home was our home-away-from-home.

Notwithstanding his brilliant achievements in Newcastle University and Keppel Corp, Chor Teck was an inspiration in humility. No airs and with an ever-ready smile, he was always willing to lend a sympathetic ear and share his wise counsel.

– Tay Kiong Pang
Fellow student, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK (1968)

I first met Chor Teck at Newcastle University, about 40 years ago, and although at that time we were not close friends (he was my senior by 1 year) I, as all others in the Naval Arch. Dept. had the highest respect for him. He was very intelligent, hard working and the best student in the department.

I really got to know Chor Teck well from the early 1970’s (Dec.1973) when we did our first repairs/dry-docking at Keppel. He immediately requested to see me. When we met he was extremely warm and friendly. We talked about Newcastle, our student days and the friends we made there, at the end of our meeting, even though he was already General Manager of Keppel, he told me his door was always open in case I needed assistance either in the yard or otherwise. He took me to lunch the next day and to dinner with Alice a few days afterwards, just to show me that he really meant what he said about being there for me.

During 1970’s I came to Singapore every year and naturally always at Keppel Shipyard because of Chor Teck. By the end of the decade we had become very close personal as well as family friends. In 1979 I spent 2 months in Singapore overseeing major repair works at Keppel. Because of the length of my stay and since it was during July and August I had brought over my family. My wife already knew Chor Teck and Alice from the previous years “Posidonia Exhibition” in Piraeus, but I was pleasantly surprised as to how quickly and easily my two elder sons hit it off with Sui Tong and Hui Khoon. Their family was so warm towards me and my family that I will always cherish the time we spent together. One must not forget that by then Chor Teck was the No.1 man at Keppel yet he was as approachable and friendly as always.

One of the worst moments of my life was at the end of 1985 when Alice advised me that Chor Teck was very seriously ill and did not have long to live. My immediate reaction was that this could not be true. God could not be so unfair. People like Chor Teck made the world a better place, from every aspect. He was highly intelligent, hard working, a dedicated family man and a really decent human being. Since then I have always felt that if in the world we had a few more Chor Tecks it would be a much much better place.

– Theodore J Triphyllis
Fellow student, University of Newcastl- upon-Tyne, UK (1968)

A Team Builder & Coach

As a trainee manager he would not shy from dirtying his hands to help us with the repairs. He was eager to learn from us. He is the type who could not sit still or idle. He would make himself useful. He treated us as equals. And we were only too happy to work with him.

– Toh Siong Hoe & Fong Ying Yew
Foreman Engineers, Keppel Shipyard (1975)

A considerate and helpful host

After a family gathering in Chor Teck’s home, I discovered that my son had left my car key in the car. Chor Teck took the trouble to drive my family home which was on the other end of Singapore. He even stayed on for a drink. When he drove me back to get my car, Chor Teck did not show any sign of displeasure. His only concern was that I might punish my son

I was accepted into the Harvard Business School’s PMD programme, upon Chiau Beng’s recommendation. I then wrote to Chor Teck asking for the company sponsorship. He replied immediately with words of encouragement that he would consider the application. A few days later, my direct boss told me that the company has approved the sponsorship. He did not impress upon me that I would then have to be beholden to him or the company. Such was his character which I emulate to this day.

– Tong Chong Heong
Ship Repair Manager, Keppel Shipyard (1985)

In 1986, when I visited him in hospital and Mr. Ang Kong Hua came in. I knew he was a big guy at NatSteel. Mr. Chua introduced me to him as “my colleague”.

You remember the Eniwetok? The rig caught the cable car cables on the evening of 31st Jan 1983 when it left the yard after repairs. I called Mr. Chua who came down straight away. The rescue operation took 3 nights and 2 days and Mr. Chua did leave our yard until it was all over.

– Wong See Heng
ShipPlanning Manager, Keppel Shipyard (1986)

In 1980, we were in Moscow to meet a Russian customer to tender for the conversion of two whaling ships into fish factories. After the meeting, we found ourselves with large amounts of documents and drawings to hand carry back to Keppel. As our limits were exceeded, we suggested that we leave our company brochures behind. Mr. Chua said, “No. Brochures cost money to print and since I am not carrying much, I will carry them with me.” With that he collected the brochures and stuffed them into his hand luggage.

In 1980, Mr. Chua (MD), Long Sey Hai (Commercial Manager), Tan Peng Pong (Engineering Manager), Tan Ah Bah (Estimator) and I (Planner) were in Moscow for 4 days to pursue a conversion contract. After 3 days of understanding the requirements for converting 2 whaling ships into fish factories, we were required to present our offer the next morning.

After a quick meal, we gathered in Mr. Long’s hotel room at about 5.00 pm. We worked non-stop till 2.00 am. I did not realised how long we worked until we finished the job, neither did I felt tired! The secret was – Mr. Chua treated all of us as equals, each an expert in our respective areas. I never felt so motivated and happy despite the tight dateline. He directed the preparation, asking each of us for inputs. He served us the Chivas Regal he bought at the duty free. Till this day, it’s my favourite drink!

When we stumbled on a problem, he would light up his pipe and think. He might not realised this, watching him puff gave me a calming effect!

I am proud to report that the Russians give us the contract (worth about US$50 million) and we made money!

In 1972, I was a planner with hardly any training. I could draw bar charts but I did not know how to cater for uncertainty. And there were many when it comes to planning a ship repair. When I presented my plan to Mr. Chua, he asked me how confident I was on whether the plan would work. I admitted to him that I was not confident because of the uncertainties. He said, “Mark those bars that you are not sure off with dotted lines”.

He also taught me how to improve my reports. He would write comments and suggestions on the margins of my weekly reports on how to present my arguments better or to re-arrange the phrases to improve clarity. Sometimes, I made so many mistakes that he just wrote, “see me” to offer his comments face-to-face. Such a busy man and he bothered to do all this! No other bosses I had have ever returned my reports with comments or even criticisms. I am not even sure that they read my reports.

Through feedback we improve. Feedback also motivates us to do better the next time. I will remember Mr. Chua foremost as my teacher.

When Mr. Michael Aloysius was Safety Manager and Mr. Kung was Commercial Manager, they could not get along. In fact, they appeared to us like bitter enemies! Somehow Mr. Chua got them to share rooms, work together and became friends.

Taking responsibility as Leader

One evening at about 5.00 pm, Mr. Chua asked me to accompany him on a launch to meet a Chinese ship owner at the Western Anchorage. Mr. Chua explained, “I want you to come along because you understand Mandarin and I may need you to interpret in case I do not understand fully what they say. Just listen and speak only when I ask you to.”

It turned out that Mr. Chua was there in person to be scolded for our company’s failure to keep a promise! In those days, the guy with the power was the commissar and he gave Mr. Chua such a scolding that needed no interpretation. He was abusive and rude and made a lot of threats. The more I listened, the more I boiled. It was so unfair that I just could not stand it anymore and blurted out a protest. On the way back, Mr. Chua just kept quiet. He did not scold me for disobeying his instructions and was not angry at my outburst.

Taking care of Customers

I remember one customer who came to Mr. Chua for help. The engineering consultant hired by the customer made a mistake and the repairs needed would incur additional costs that were not budgeted. Mr. Chua waived the charges. He told us, “We must help our customers. Make them our friends.”

There was a German superintendent (I think his name was Bugner) of the OSA Line. He dropped in one day to see, “the 1st SRM, a Mr. Chua Chor Teck”. Mr. Chua met him, discussed Keppel’s offer and listened to what he wanted done for his ship. At the end of the fairly long meeting, Mr. Chua called in Mr. Kung, the Marine Manager, and introduced him to the visitor”. It was only then that the German realised that he was talking to the MD and not the SRM! He was most impressed that the MD could be bothered to give him time

It seems that he got to know Keppel through Mr. Kung in a hotel toilet. While peeing, Mr. Kung gave him his business card. But he lost the card and thought Mr. Chua was Mr. Kung because in those days, the MD signed all quotations and tenders. The German was so impressed by Mr. Chua that for the next 5 to 6 years OSA ships always came to Keppel for repairs.

Taking care of Family

Instead of deploying his driver, he always drove his son to school before coming to work. He told me, “He’s asleep by the time I get home. Need to spend quality time with kids. When were are alone, we can talk.” After that, I followed his example.

– Wong See Heng
ShipPlanning Manager, Keppel Shipyard (1980)

I cannot recall Mr. Chua ever losing his temper or his cool. One day at his office, we were interrupted by a phone call. It was from a very important customer who arrived and was not met at the airport. I overheard the tone of voice and it was clear that the customer was not happy because somebody forgot to meet him. Mr. Chua apologized to the customer and immediately asked his PA to arrange for transport. We then continued with our meeting. I was surprised that he did not haul up the errant officer for a scolding.

At the Chinese New Year parties, Mr. Chua would take the trouble to speak to our wives – he would ask about our children and explain to them the nature of our business. He was in his own way apologizing for having to require us to work hard and long at the yard!

Whenever we meet, he would ask, “Any problem with safety?” And I would tell him; “None” and during the many years when he was in charge, we did not have any problem because of his support and commitment to safety at our yard.

Yeo Beoy Chua
Safety Manager, Keppel Shipyard (1986)

I cannot believe it that just a few weeks into my new job (I was transferred to be the Confidential Secretary to the General Manager) in 1975, Mr. Chua, who was then the Managing Director, dropped into my room to invite me to his Chinese New Year Open House at 7 Holland Hill. His Secretary subsequently told me that she was asked to remind me about the Open House and in Mr. Chua’s words “to arrange a car to pick Chuan Bok up if he doesn’t know how to go to my place”. I was very touched by his kind words. As it was my first time attending an Open House, I was very excited and, embarrassingly, was the first one to turn up (another ‘kiasu!). Mr. Chua could sense my uneasiness for being so early and in order to make me feel comfortable asked me about the day’s telexes and whether we received any new enquiries for the day (I went to office in the morning to clear the telexes). We chatted until the guests started streaming in. In between receiving guests, he said to me, “Chuan Bok, if the crowd gets bigger, help to look after the guests.”

Some time in 1978, I applied for one week’s leave through Mr. Chua. Instead of asking me why I needed so many days, he exclaimed that I deserved a break and asked me where I planned to go. I told him that I intended to go to Philippines on a free and easy trip with a colleague. He then asked for the flight details. On receipt, he immediately called Mr Choo Chiau Beng in Manila. He assured me that we would be met at the airport and be taken care of. An itinerary would also be drawn up for us. He wished us an enjoyable trip and added that “if you have time, you may want to drop in at our Batangas Office to see whether their filing system could be re-organised to follow that of Keppel’s.” How could I not have the time after I had been showered with so much care and concern? “Die, die, also must find time to do it!”

One late Saturday afternoon in October 1985, when I was in Mr. Chua’s office helping out in sorting out the papers for his China trip, he casually mentioned that his hands were getting very weak and hence had to carry light. He did not want to carry along the big stack of Chinese business cards (both sides with English and Chinese wordings) and asked me to cram them into A4 size papers in order to lighten the load. On that day, I went home feeling very sad and hoped that the weakness was just one of those minor ailments. It was not to be because his ‘weak hands’ turned out to be so serious that he had to be rushed to hospital on his return from his China trip.

One late Saturday afternoon in October 1985, when I was in Mr. Chua’s office helping out in sorting out the papers for his China trip, he casually mentioned that his hands were getting very weak and hence had to carry light. He did not want to carry along the big stack of Chinese business cards (both sides with English and Chinese wordings) and asked me to cram them into A4 size papers in order to lighten the load. On that day, I went home feeling very sad and hoped that the weakness was just one of those minor ailments. It was not to be because his ‘weak hands’ turned out to be so serious that he had to be rushed to hospital on his return from his China trip.

His demise impacted me immensely: I became very close to Mr. Chua because over the years, we were, most of the time, the first to arrive in the Office and the last to leave, including Sundays and Holidays. It was really hard to accept the fact that Mr. Chua left us at such a relatively young age. I kept asking, “Why must it be Mr. Chua, an exceptionally hard-to-find extraordinary man, who rose to what he was, after sacrificing so much for his family during his younger days. Also, why must the equally kind and caring Alice with two very young kids made to bear the greatest loss?” That was in 1986 and 18 years later, I am still wondering “why, why, why?”

Long service employees are still many in the Keppel Offshore & Marine companies. I happen to drop in to have a chat with one of the Officers in March 2005. Not surprisingly, he told me that after sending his son to his army camp, he would at times drop in at the Choa Chu Kang cemetery to offer his prayers and thanks to Mr. Chua for all his kindness and help!

Mr. Chua’s exemplary traits, his sincerity, his generosity in sharing his knowledge, his vision, his business acumen, etc. had been stored in the ‘hard disk’ of my brain and unless this ‘disk’ is damaged by virus ‘senility’, it will remain there forever and ever.

– Teo Chuan Bok 
Administrative Officer (1975) Keppel Shipyard Ltd


The success story of Mr. Chua Chor Teck, a dockyard apprentice who rose through the ranks to be the top man at Keppel Shipyard was such a great inspiration for many of us who were young apprentices in the early 1970s. He was more than a role model, someone who showed genuine interest in helping junior officers overcome difficulties in order to advance their career. I was granted a Keppel Scholarship in 1977 to study naval architecture in UK. Although my tuition fees and living expenses were taken care of, I was still faced with financial difficulties as I have to stop work for two years and will not be able to support my family. When Mr. Chua came to know about this, he immediately granted me a small monthly allowance to enable me to continue supporting my family.

 Yong Chee Min
Shiprepair Manager, Keppel Shipyard (1977)

As a new Shipyard Manager in Keppel’s Batangas Shipyard in 1983, I had an encounter with a very difficult customer. Although he was a regular customer, he had a habit of paying only a small portion of the bill and expected unreasonably huge discounts. I felt that this had to stop and started to be firm in the commercial negotiations. This shipowner then got a lawyer and wrote a letter of complaint, directly to Mr. Chua. I was worried and expected some displeasure from Mr Chua as I had offended a regular customer and might lose his business. Instead, Mr. Chua did some investigations and after knowing the facts, took the position that I did the right thing and supported me. He was wise enough to know that even if a customer is regular, if he does not pay you fairly for your service, he is in fact a liability. It was encouraging for me that he took time to investigate and find out the facts and did not just adopt the stand that the customer is always right. Once he knew that I was right, he did not hesitate to give me his full support.

As a new Shipyard Manager in Keppel’s Batangas Shipyard in 1983, I had an encounter with a very difficult customer. Although he was a regular customer, he had a habit of paying only a small portion of the bill and expected unreasonably huge discounts. I felt that this had to stop and started to be firm in the commercial negotiations. This shipowner then got a lawyer and wrote a letter of complaint, directly to Mr. Chua. I was worried and expected some displeasure from Mr Chua as I had offended a regular customer and might lose his business. Instead, Mr. Chua did some investigations and after knowing the facts, took the position that I did the right thing and supported me. He was wise enough to know that even if a customer is regular, if he does not pay you fairly for your service, he is in fact a liability. It was encouraging for me that he took time to investigate and find out the facts and did not just adopt the stand that the customer is always right. Once he knew that I was right, he did not hesitate to give me his full support.

 Yong Chee Min
Shipyard Manager, Keppel’s Batangas Shipyard (1983)