The founder and executive chairman of integrated palm oil company IOI group, Lee Shin Cheng, died on Saturday (June 1), just two days before his 80th birthday – and the day he was planning to retire, The Star reported.

According to a statement issued by IOI group on Sunday (June 2), Lee passed away after a period of illness at age 79. He left behind his wife, six children and 12 grandchildren.

In their statement, IOI group said: “It is through Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Lee’s vision, hard work and enterprising spirit that both of our companies have become leading corporations in our respective sectors.”

The business tycoon had ranked fifth on the Forbes list of 50 richest Malaysians with a total net worth of US$4.8 billion (RM17.4 billion) earlier this year.

But the honcho did not always have a promising future. Here are some highlights from his journey to the top, as documented by various media over the years:

Sold ice cream at age 11

Lee grew up in a rubber plantation in Kuala Selangor, where his dad ran a sundry shop, The Star reported. At age 11, he had to drop out of school to help support his family by selling ice cream on a bicycle.

In an interview with China’s CCTV in 2015, Lee recalled moments when he had to ride his bicycle through a muddy track in the rain. His bicycle would get stuck in the mud and the young boy would have to think on his feet to salvage his livelihood.

“When the wheels were stuck (in the mud), the whole bicycle would lose balance. It could pull me down. The bicycle can go down, and I myself can go down, but the ice cream tub can’t. I knew if the tub lost its balance, the whole tub of ice cream would be messed up,” Lee said during the interview.

Lee then added: “When I knew I could no longer control it, I quickly got off the bicycle, and managed to shoulder the ice cream tub.”

Lee said that he had to shoulder the ice cream tub for over 20 minutes to prevent it from toppling over, which hurt his shoulders and caused him to tear up from the pain.

“I remember in one of those days, I said to the heaven: ‘Children of my age are at school, but I have to sell ice cream just to survive. God, why did you have to treat me like this? It’s so unfair’,” Lee said.

Lee returned to school four years later.

Rejected for his poor English

After attaining a senior middle three education level, Lee applied for a job in Dunlop Estates, an English-based plantation company. However, he was rejected due to his poor English even though he could answer almost all the interview questions on plantation, he told The Star.

Lee later found a job at a smaller plantation company, where he became a field supervisor in 1961.

Bought over the company that rejected him

Lee rose through the ranks and eventually bought over Dunlop Estates in 1989, The Star said. His actions were questioned by analysts, who wondered why he wanted to acquire a plantation company, which was then considered a declining industry.

Lee said he saw a potential in the palm oil industry in Malaysia, and eventually turned it into a profitable venture, The Star reported.

According to CCTV, his decision gave him advances in R&D, and enabled him to go into the downstream palm oil business. As a result, he built a reputation as Malaysia’s oil palm baron.

Today, IOI Corporation Berhad has operations in eight countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and North America, and 90 oil palm estates in Malaysia and Indonesia.


Lee is also known for his contributions to the redevelopment of Kuen Cheng Secondary School, where he was the Chairman of its Board of Directors for the last 20 years.

The charity which Lee founded – Yayasan Tan Sri Lee Shin Cheng – was established in 1994 and also contributed to the development of Shin Cheng (Harcroft) Primary School.

Currently, the charity contributes to the pillars of education, community welfare, medical assistance, social enterprise and the promotion of after school science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programmes. -

Palm oil tycoon Lee Shin Cheng’s son recalls father’s humbleness

PUTRAJAYA — Humility and a dedication to his craft can best sum up the life of IOI Group founder Tan Sri Lee Shin Cheng, according to those who knew the palm oil businessman.

Despite a heavy downpour which began at 12.30pm, well-wishers and mourners were not dissuaded as they made their way to Lee’s residence in Diamond Hill to pay their last respects, after Lee’s death last Saturday aged 79 from a bout of illness, two days shy of his 80th birthday.

From industry players in the plantation sector to cleaners and office workers, all came out to honour the memory of the man who rose from nothing to become one of the country’s most prosperous entrepreneurs.

A native of Jeram in Kuala Selangor, Lee grew up in a rubber estate where his father operated a Chinese food shop. At the tender age of 11, he dropped out of school to help raise his siblings, eventually resuming his studies several years later.

“For at least 15 years he led the school’s redevelopment until it became one of the best Independent Chinese Schools in the country,” Yeow Chor said during a press conference at the wake.

He said his father would attend nearly every meeting by the board, and took a hands-on managerial approach throughout the five phases of development Kuen Cheng has undergone.

“The dedicated and attention to detail business approach my father practiced was also applied to matters of community welfare.

“Our family has been involved in philanthropic activities, following his lead, and we share his passion for education and social wellbeing. We intend to carry on as he did,” Yeow Chor said.

It is common for the alumni of any school to assist his or her alma mater, but interestingly, Lee was never a student there.

“He was invited to join as a member of the board over 20 years ago by his mentor, the late Tan Sri Wong Tok Chai.

“I believe my father carried out his commitment to the school, to honour his mentor,” he said.

On a personal note, Yeow Chor recalled an incident which he said was very striking.

“Yesterday evening, his Indian driver came to have dinner with us, where he was very quiet throughout the meal.

“After which he suddenly told me he looked up to my father as a hero. If only he was aware my father could speak fluent Tamil, he would have been regarded as even more of a hero,” he said.

Yet Lee was never one to show off, as Yeow Chor recounted on another occasion how his father anonymously went with a public group on tour to Hokkaido, Japan, at the end of 2016.

“The tour was organised by Apple Vacation, whose chairman expressed shock at my father going with a group instead of travelling privately.

“He was even more stunned to discover how down-to-earth my father was with the other group members, ensuring everyone was taken care of,” he said.

Yeow Chor noted with humour how Lee would even sing in the tour bus if things ever got boring, so as to keep the group members’ spirits up.

“His ability to be in touch with the people around him was a hallmark of the zest and passion in life which he possessed.

“In many ways, his passing is loss for both us, the community and the country as well,” he said.

Lee leaves behind his wife Puan Sri Hoong May Kuan, six children, and 12 grandchildren.

*Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the original version that misreported the number of Tan Sri Lee’s children. – MALAY MAIL