Shanghainese Builders in Hong Kong (Part Five) – Ngo Kee and Sung Foo Kee/Lidell
York Lo: Shanghainese Builders in Hong Kong (Part Five) – Ngo Kee and Sung Foo Kee/Lidell
Ngo Kee and Sung Foo Kee (now Sun Fook Kong) are two other leading construction firms which trace their roots back to pre-war Shanghai. Owned and managed respectively by the Loo and the Sung families for over half a century, the two firms were responsible for the construction of many landmarks which still stand today such as the old Bank of China building and the Mandarin in Central and are now subsidiaries of property developers (New World Group and Great Eagle Group). A branch of the Sung family remains in the construction business via Lidell Construction.
Ngo Kee (鶴記)
Ngo Kee was founded in 1923 in Shanghai by S.W. Loo (盧松華,1892-1986) and established in Hong Kong in 1948. The son of a woodworker, Loo was the night school classmate of Q.L. Dao (later the founder of Voh Kee Construction) and together they went to Tientsin to seek their fortune in construction. He befriended a French architect at the Shanghai branch of Palmer & Turner (Chinese name of 公和洋行 in Shanghai) who soon awarded him a number of small to medium size contracts. The biggest project Ngo Kee was involved with in Shanghai was the 18 storey Jinling Mansion (Jinjiang Hotel), which was a state of the art building in Shanghai at the time. Loo also invested in construction materials including Yangtze Lumber Co and Cathay Quarry Tile Co.
In 1931, he co-founded the Shanghai Construction Association with Q.L. Dao and supported its founding of a night school for construction workers and the publication of a monthly journal.
After the Japanese occupied Shanghai, Loo moved with the Nationalist government inland where he completed projects in Kunming and Chengdu. In 1946 he returned to Shanghai and many of his projects were in Nanking, including the Legislative Yuan Building, the Szechuan Provincial Bank building, the China Agricultural Bank building and the staff quarters for the Bank of Communications.
In the meantime, he sent his younger brother Loo Si-ling (盧錫麟), who was involved in the construction of the Broadway Mansion in Shanghai, to Hong Kong to explore business opportunities. In 1950, Ngo Kee was awarded the contract for the Bank of China Building in Hong Kong which was the tallest building in Hong Kong at the time. This firmly established Ngo Kee in the colony and soon S.W. left Shanghai to join his brother in Hong Kong.
In 1971, Loo Si-ling died and was survived by three sons and one daughter. One of his sons, John Loo Wun-loong (盧雲龍, 1940-), who graduated from the UK with a civil engineering degree, took over the family business and under John’s leadership, Ngo Kee continued to grow. In 1983, it was awarded the contract to build a printing plant in Tai Po Industrial Estate. In 1984, it completed the new Supreme Court building in Wanchai which won an architectural award. In 1988, its joint venture with Fletcher Construction was awarded the $1.3 billion contract to construct the Pamela Youde Hospital in Chai Wan, the largest public sector building contract at the time. In 1989, it won the contract to build the Productivity Centre building in Kowloon Tong. Other projects include HK Polytechnic University, the Lok Ma Chau Boundary Crossing and the Tamar naval facilities on Stonecutters Island.
John served as chairman of the HK Building Contractors Association (now HK Construction Association) from 1985-88 succeeding John Lok. He also served as a director of the HK Housing Society from 1989 to 2002 and for his service to the housing industry he was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1994. From 1988 to 2003, he was a non-executive director of China Resources Enterprises (now China Resources Beer).
In 1997, the Loo family decided to sell 90% of Ngo Kee to Zen Pacific Construction, an affiliate of Wai Kee (惠記) which was founded in 1970 by a Shanghainese contractor Zen Loh-hwa (單樂華), the father of its current chairman William Zen Wei-pao (單偉豹) and vice chairman Derek Zen Wei-peu (單偉彪). Zen Pacific was primarily interested in Ngo Kee’s permit to work on public housing projects.
In September 2001, the New World Group acquired Ngo Kee from Wai Kee for HK$43 million.
Sung Foo Kee (孫福記) and Lidell (立德)
Sung Foo Kee (referred to as SFK hereafter) was founded in 1937 in Shanghai by T.S. Sung (孫德水,1890-1975). A native of Yuyao in Zhejiang province, Sung started in the construction business in Shanghai at the age of 17 as an apprentice under Jackson Yu (余积臣), the proprietor of a leading Chinese contractor Yu Hong Kee (余洪记). Since most of the architects at the time were foreigners, Sung realized from early on that learning English was of paramount importance and went to night school.
Over time, he became a trusted lieutenant of Yu and was responsible for supervising many important projects such as Ginling Girl’s College in Nanking in 1921 (working with Y.C. Lu, the famous architect of the Sun Yat Sen Mausoleum), the Post Office building in Shanghai in 1922 and the Shanghai Race Club building in 1925 (which was completed on time during the summer to ensure no disruptions to the races).
In 1930, Jackson Yu passed away and despite invitations from others to start his own business, Sung stayed on for seven more years to assist his mentor’s son during which he completed more important projects such as the foundation work for Bank of China in the Shanghai Bund, the HSBC building on Szechuan Road in Shanghai, the Telephone Co building on Fukien Road and the British Embassy in Nanking.
It was not until the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 when Sung started SFK and took on many apartment projects in the foreign concessions in Shanghai.
As the Civil War progressed in the mainland, SFK moved to HK in 1948 and was awarded the contract to construct the Bangkok Airport in Thailand in 1949. In the 1950s and 1960s, SFK built a number of major buildings for the leading British hongs and establishments in HK. In 1960, it was awarded the contract to build a 7 story building at the Happy Valley Racetrack for the Jockey Club with Vibro handling the piling work. In 1961, Sun Fook Kee Co Ltd was incorporated. In 1963, SFK completed the Mandarin Hotel for the cost of HK$11 mil within 2 years despite serious piling issues in the beginning. In 1968, it built the Tai On Building residential complex in Shaukiwan for Hong Kong Land. It was also around this time that two of Sung’s sons Raymond Sung Chao-kwang (孫紹光) and Sung Chao-foo (孫紹福) took over the business.
Born in 1921, Raymond was a graduate of Princeton University who served as a director of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals in 1962 and a director of Liu Chong Hing Bank from 1963 to 1997. He was elected chairman of HK Building Contractors Association in 1973, succeeding Paul Y. Tso and was president of the 15th IFAWPCA Convention held in HK in 1976. Major contracts for SFK during the 1970s included Princess Margaret Hospital in Lai Chi Kok which was completed in 1975 and HK Arts Centre in Wanchai which opened in 1977.
In November 1987, the Sung family sold SFK to the Great Eagle Group for HK$20 million. Raymond stayed on the board of SFK as vice chairman and the business continued to grow. In 1988, SFK was awarded a $130 mil contract from the Housing Authority for Phase II of Cheung Hang estate project in Tsing Yee and $200 mil contract for Wah Ming Estate in Fanling. By 1989, aggregate value of its contracts exceeded $1.5 billion, most of it being tied up with government work but also included higher education institutions such as the new University of Science & Technology and Baptist University.
The new owner listed the firm in September 1989 in an initial offering that raised $180 million. The next year, SFK was awarded the $1 billion contract to construct Citibank Plaza in Central, which was developed by a consortium led by Great Eagle. Raymond Sung stayed on its board until the firm was renamed Sun Fook Kong Construction in 1994, at which time he retired.
One of T.S.’s sons, Richard Sung Lai-whai (孫烈輝) was also on the board of HKBCA and started Lidell Construction (立德建築) which was incorporated in 1962. In 1977, Lidell constructed the most advanced container warehousing complex in Asia at Tsuen Wan for Kowloon Wharf.
In 1995, Lidell formed a joint venture with the PRC controlled CITIC group called CITIC Guo Hua Lidell (中信國華-立德建築有限公司).
In more recent years, Lidell has served as contractor for the 37 storey Jones Hive at 8 Jones Street developed by Henderson Land.
Richard Sung was succeeded by his son Dicky Sung who received his MBA from USC in 1981.
This article was first posted on 24th February 2017.
The Mandarin by Nigel Cameron
華僑日報, 1988-05-08; 華僑日報, 1989-04-14; 大公報, 1989-09-29
Related Indhhk articles:
- Shanghainese Builders in Hong Kong (Part One) – the Pre-War Pioneers (Yaik Sang, Sung Kee Zee and Dao Kee)
- Shanghainese Builders in Hong Kong (Part Two) – Hsin Chong and Hsin Heng
- Shanghainese Builders in Hong Kong (Part Three) – Voh Kee, Chang Sung and Dah Cheng
- Shanghainese Builders in Hong Kong (Part Four) – Paul Y. and Dao Kwei Kee