Hong Kong LP Gas Holdings (香港液體氣) and Shell LP Gas (蜆殼石油氣)

York Lo: Hong Kong LP Gas Holdings (香港液體氣) and Shell LP Gas (蜆殼石油氣)

In the 1960s, the major oil companies launched their liquefied propane gas (LPG) business in Hong Kong through partnerships with local firms such as Mei Fung Ltd which was the distributor of Mobil LPGcovered in the article about Taiwanese tycoon M.C Oung and the real estate developer Hang Lung which partnered with Caltex. The Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell launched its LPG business in HK (allegedly the first firm to do so according to some articles) through HK LP Gas Co Ltd, which was formed in 1962 by former Shell employees and the firm remains a major player in the distribution of LPG and related products in addition to air conditioning and other businesses in HK as HK LP Gas Holdings.

Founders and Early Years

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Article about C.Y. Ma returning to HK after his trip to Japan in 1965 with his picture. (WKYP, 1965-9-8)

The founders and principals of Hong Kong LP Gas all worked for Asiatic Petroleum (亞細亞火油), the Asian arm of Royal Dutch Shell formed in 1903 and has been operating in Hong Kong since 1906.HK LP Gas founder Ma Chun-yuk (馬振玉) joined in Asiatic in 1935 and worked at its branches in Ng Chow, Kongmen, Canton and Macau before transferring to Hong Kong in 1951. In 1956, he was sent to London for training for 6 weeks and when he retired in 1962 from Asiatic, Shell asked him to start HK LP Gas to distribute Shell’s LPG products in Hong Kong. (KSDN, 1956-12-15)

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Article about HK LP Gas director Wong Chi-keung visiting Japan to study the LPG market there in 1967 (WKYP, 1967-5-15)

Ma was joined at HK LP Gas in 1964 by Wong Chi-keung (黃自强) who retired from Asiatic that year after almost 36 years of service. Wong joined Asiatic as a junior clerk in 1928 and transferred to Kongmen in 1931 where he was promoted to manager of the oil depot in 1934. In 1941, he became the manager of the Foochow branch and joined the HK office as a senior executive in 1949. He was appointed deputy manager of the chemical product division in 1952 and was promoted to manager in 1958. (KSDN, 1964-1-26) Another key shareholder of HK LP Gas is the family of Szeto Sing-Check (司徒聲卓), the comprador of Asiatic who also operated vessels to deliver kerosene to Kongmen. Sing-check died in 1963 and his second son Szeto Wah (司徒華) J.P. was a solicitor and brother in law of former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.

Before LPG, most households in HK used coal, firewood and kerosene for cooking and heating fuel. As LPG is safer (kerosene was one of the main causes of fire in HK in the 1950s), cleaner, stronger and easier to store, it quickly grabbed a lot of market share in the 1960s especially in the many new public housing estates. As LPG required a more sophisticated service model than kerosene, HK LP Gas spent two years to build up its operations and train its staff before it rolled out its offerings to the mass. In March 1965, HK LP Gas opened its main showroom for Shell Gas at 439A Nathan Road in Kowloon with a special appearance by “Miss Shell Gas” and cooking demo by the culinary expert Miss Hui Wai-man (許惠敏) who taught cooking classes for Shell and was a cooking show host on Rediffusion. (WKYP, 1965-3-17) In June of the same year, Shell Gas and Hui welcomed a Japanese culinary expert who was the cooking teacher of Princess Suga to the showroom on Nathan Road. (WKYP, 1965-6-11)

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C.Y. Ma and Miss Shell Gas dressed up in a LPG costume at the opening of the Shell Gas showroom on Nathan Road in 1965.

In November 1965, HK LP Gas offered customers of Shell LP Gas $5 coupon for every $20, $10 coupon for every $40 and $15 for every $60 spent in celebration of its third anniversary. (WKYP, 1965-11-19)In December of the same year and January of the next month, the firm participated in the popular HK Products Expo with 2 lucky draws which included over 200 prizes with movie stars such as Li Lihua and Diana Chang as guests to its booth to draw the lucky winners and present the gifts. (WKYP, 1966-1-8)

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Article about actress Li Lihua and her husband presenting prizes at the Shell LPG booth at the HK Product Expo in 1966 (WKYP, 1966-1-16)

In July 1966, Shell LPG opened its showroom on 48 Stanley Main Street in Stanley under the name of Kwan Kee (坤記) to distribute Shell LPG to customers in Stanley, Shek O, Tai Tam and Chung HomKok. (WKYP, 1966-7-26) The same year, the group established Hung Hon Enterprises (雄漢企業) to invest in properties.

Expansion to LPG Stoves, Air Conditioning and other Businesses

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Executives of HK LP Gas including CY Ma, Albert Ma and Wong Chi-keung welcoming the head of Matsushita’s LPG stove business in 1971 at Kai Tak Airport (KSEN, 1971-2-25)

Early on, HK LP Gas extended its reach to related business and formed a partnership in 1964 with Shun Hing, the local distributor of the National brand of appliances made by Japanese giant Matsushita to distribute National LPG stoves and heaters in HK and Macau. By 1970, when the firm ran a display contest for National LPG stoves, over 80 distributors were distributing the products and participated in the contest.

In June 1971, an explosion took place at HK LP Gas location at 40 Waterloo Road in Kowloon and one of its repairmen was severely injured. (KSDN, 1971-6-28)

In 1972, the firm established Energy Trading Company Ltd (安力貿易) to sell gas appliances and represent Paloma of Japan in distributing water heaters and other gas appliances.

From July to October 1975, HK LP Gas ran a lucky draw for customers of National LPG stoves and received over 15000 entries. (KSEN, 1975-11-10) In 1976, HK LP Gas reported record sales of National LPG stoves and as a result, the firm hosted a $20000 lucky draw to thank its customers and hosted a Chinese New Year banquet in March 1977 for its distributors in HK and Macau. (KSEN, 1977-3-10)

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Left: C.Y. Ma (center) with Lai Ming-chung (黎鳴) of Shun Hing (left) and HK representative of Matsushita (right) conducting the lucky draw for customers of National LPG stove in February 1977 (KSEN, 1977-2-27); Right: Albert Ma

HK LP Gas diversified its business into air conditioning in 1968 through the distributorship of Chrysler Airtemp products. In 1974, it hired Au Chai-yiu(區濟堯), the manager of the home appliance and aircon division of Davie Boag and previously worked as a salesman for NCR as the new sales manager of its aircon business which was completing projects for a jewelry store and a Chinese restaurant. (WKYP, 1974-3-2) In February 1979, HK LP Gas hosted 40 distributors of Chrysler Airtemp for a trip to Bangkok and Pattaya. (WKYP, 1979-2-11)

In the 1970s, HK LP Gas also expanded its interests in securities and properties through the establishment of Fook Tin Securities (福田證券) in 1972 and acquisition of Sunbeam Building (新光商業大廈) at 469-471 Nathan Road in 1978 as its head office.

In 1978, C.Y. Ma’s son Albert Ma Hon-ning (馬漢寧) began to take over the management of the firm. After graduating from the Clementi School in HK and earning a chemistry degree from the University of London, Albert joined the family business in the 1960s.

In 1981, five deaths associated with gas leakage from LPG heaters resulted in a court inquiry and HK LP Gas director Albert Maas an industry expert was asked to testify although none of the cases was related to the firm. He described how HK LP Gas provided pamphlets to all of its customers and distributors were trained on installation and maintenance by the firm’s engineers. He recommended that the government established stricter regulation regarding the installation of LPG heaters. (WKYP, 1981-5-26)

In the 1980s, Towngas extended its reach to many housing estates and residential buildings which disrupted the LPG market although LPG maintains over 20% market share (600,000 out of 2.3 million households). The decline of the LPG business was offset by growth in other areas such as air conditioning as the group became the sole agent of Daikin Airconditioner from Japan in 1985.

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Albert Ma presenting a $5 million check on behalf of the C.Y. Ma Foundation to T.T. Tsui, then chairman of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals in 1991 (WKYP, 1991-7-9)

In 1990, HK LP Gas acquired Standard Refrigeration & Engineering (立德工程), the HK distributor of Hitachi refrigeration and air conditioning equipment which was formed in 1967 by Edward Fu Yum-kong (傅蔭鋼) and others.Over the years, the firm counts many major organizations such as the Jockey Club, schools, hotels, hospitals and government agencies as clients. In 1991, the group was organized under HK LP Gas Holdings with all the gas related interests organized under LP Gassco Ltd. In 1992, the group acquired Asian Instruments (Far East) Ltd. (亞洲儀器) to provide information technology system services and in 1994, Kentex Engineering Ltd. (健德工程, dissolved in 2012) was formed to develop MVAC Engineering in China in partnership with Hitachi.

In 2001, the group established Energy Enterprises (China) Co Ltd to enter the China market. Two years later in 2003, Hello Kitchen Ltd was formed to develop home appliances for direct sales. In 2006, Energy Trading Co Ltd launched “General Tech” as its own brand of kitchen appliance products and the firm was also appointed agents of Guzzini home products from Italy and Kolb electric hob from Switzerland. The next year, the group was appointed sole agent of the Taiwanese brand Sakura in HK and Macau.

Outside of his business, Albert Ma has been active with the HK Management Association as a member of its Council for many years and was also involved with Lok Sin Tong and the Lions Club and was appointed unofficial Justice of the Peace in 1994. In 1991, his family through the C.Y. Ma Charity Fund donated HK$5 million to the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals to support its schools and in 2001, the 17th secondary school of Tung Wah located in Yuen Long was renamed TWGH C.Y. Ma Memorial College in memory of the HK LP Gas founder. The C.Y. Ma Charity Fund also supported the VTC over the years with hundreds of scholarships since 2007.

Sources (other than those cited above):

http://www.hklpg.com.hk/html/eng/hklpg/about/history.jsp

https://www.recruit.com.hk/Resources/ArticleDetail.aspx?articleId=26215

https://www.vtc.edu.hk/html/en/about/honorary_fellows_120.html

This article was first posted on 24th September 2021.

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  2. Town Gas gasometer, Aberdeen – made and erected in 1981 through the collaboration of HUD and S Cutler & Sons, Telford, UK
  3. Hongkong and China Gas Company explosion, New Theory Advanced in Gas Disaster Enquiry, 1934
  4. Hongkong and China Gas Company gasometer explosion – expert evidence given at enquiry, newspaper article 1934
  5. The Hongkong and China Gas Company Ltd / Towngas – 150th Anniversary 2012 – superb photographs
  6. The Hongkong and China Gas Company Ltd – information and images from c1908
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  8. Duddell Street Gas lamps – last working gas street lamps in Hong Kong
  9. William Sugg & Company, London – manufacturer of the Duddell Street Gas lamps, Central
  10. Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company in Hong Kong – presence since the end of the 19th Century

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