IOI chairman's passion for his oil palms

THE legend of Tan Sri Lee Shin Cheng talking to his oil palm trees still holds true today. And he speaks to them in Tamil.

A planter at heart, Lee grew up in Jeram, Kuala Selangor, and spent his childhood days in the rubber plantation there.

Now, the group executive chairman of IOI Corp Bhd, the country's most valuable plantation firm, spends his weekends visiting his estates that spans over 158,514ha from Peninsular Malaysia to Sabah. At 66 years of age, Lee is a picture of health as he treks up and down the undulating plantation without pausing to catch a breath.

He faithfully carries a stick to poke into thick bushes to ward off snakes.

"My trees are my girlfriends. Each one has her own characteristics. If one produces well, I will tell her 'I love you'," Lee grins, adding that if a tree is not productive he would tell her that he will give her six to nine months to bear the quota of fruits.

"Surprisingly, they tend to bloom to expectation," he said.

But what happens if after nine months, they still bore no fruit?

"Well, I'll tell her, 'I'm sorry darling. I will have to chop you down'," he said.

Sensing a hush descending upon the crowd of people before him, Lee quipped, "But my trees are like me, fat, short and productive," he laughed.

In a rare occasion, Lee invited 14 journalists and analysts to visit IOI Group's estates and oil extraction mill last week, in efforts to get them to better understand the plantation industry.

Today, all of Lee's six children work for the IOI Group. By urban Malaysian Chinese standards, six children in a family is productive. IOI Corp has long been reputed to be the most efficient palm oil producer in the world.

With an average yield of 6 tonnes of crude palm oil (CPO) per ha per year, IOI Corp is, much to its reluctance, often used as the benchmark of efficiency among reporters during their interviews with rival plantation companies' performances.

The estate, which house an Indian and a Chinese primary school on its compound, employs 310 workers. Situated at the base of Gunung Ledang, IOI Corp's most productive estate is its 2,553ha Sagil Estate, of which 2,246ha have been planted. It produces 8.32 tonnes of CPO per ha per year and 38.2 tonnes of fresh fruit bunches per ha per year.

"Don't compare us with other plantation companies. It's unnecessary. There's no high-tech formula. It's just basic prudence. We aim for 100 per cent recovery. Loose fruits have the most oil content. So, we strive to pick up every loose fruit that falls onto the ground," Lee said.

Another factor that contributes to IOI Corp's high-yielding palm fruits are its DXP IOI breed which is the result of cross-pollination between the IOI deli dura and avros pisifera clones. About 60 mother oil palms at its Regent estate in Negri Sembilan are manually pollinated with avros pisifera pollens by workers daily.

Annually, IOI Corp's seed garden in Negri Sembilan and Sabah are able to generate six million seeds per year. Big buyers of the DXP IOI seedlings are rivals PPB Oil Palms Bhd, Rimbunan Hijau Group and BLD Plantation Bhd.

Currently, IOI Corp owns 78 estates with a total landbank of 158,514ha, of which two-thirds are in Sabah and the rest in Peninsular Malaysia.

With 12 oil extraction mills throughout the country, the group is capable of processing 3.9 million tonnes of CPO a year. Since its last upgrade in 1997, IOI Corp's biggest mill in Gomali estate, Johor is able to process 120 tonnes of fresh fruit bunches per hour.

* Story featured in Business Times on 31 Oct 2005

6 Responses to IOI chairman's passion for his oil palms

  1. I worked with IOI from May 1985 till June 1995 when I left to joined JCC Group based in Johor Baru as Plantation Controller. I was taken in as "stock, log and barrel" when Pukin Estate was acquired by IOI in May 1985. Then in November 1985, I was transferred to Mekassar Estate. In December 1988, I landed in Sabah to take over the management of Morisem Estate. I was transferred back to Swee Lam Estate in Kulai in January 1991.After 1 1/2 years, I was told to go to Segamat Estate in July 1992.I was transferred to Regent Estate in January 1994. So I had managed 6 estates for IOI within the period of 10 years. Very good exposure indeed!

    Proudly to say, I was one of the original 5 managers (the pioneers)when IOI started its expansion in plantation business. My other colleagues were Chong Tong Su, Poh Kong Ngee, AC Liew and Francis Chai. All of us had left IOI except Poh who retired in 1995. Nevertheless, we had left a good record of doing our best in plantation management during the period when we were in IOI.

    Just as Tan Sri Lee, all of us have the passion for the oil palm trees.

  2. Bravo Mr Maxloh. I was in IOI from 2004 at Morisem Palm Oil Mill 'B' new mill - to 2008 left Leepang POM.

    As you said, trained and developed in IOI has give us a passion to Industry!

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