Sing Fat Construction (成發建築)

York Lo: Sing Fat Construction (成發建築)

SIng Fat Construction Image 1 York Lo

Two Sing Fat projects in 1954-55 – left: two residential buildings in North Point and right: Tak Ming Middle School on Argyle Street in Kowloon (HKBCA Yearbook, 1954)

Incorporated in 1960 but founded earlier, Sing Fat Construction has been a notable player in the HK construction industry for over seven decades and has evolved intothe listed Yat Sing Holdings (日成控股), a major contractor for building maintenance and renovation for public and private buildings.

Sing Fat was founded by Lai Cheung (黎祥) although the exact date of inception is not known. A native of Tsang Sing in Guangdong province, Lai Cheung served as chairman of the HK Lai Clansmen Association and was director of Far East College founded by his fellow clansman Lai Ka-chiu (黎嘉潮).

By the mid-1950s, Sing Fat was already one of the major contractors in Hong Kong and the 1954 yearbook of the HK Building Contractors Association featured two of its projects as shown above – the 4-story Tak Ming Middle School building (built by the family of Chan Shu-woon, see articles on United Metal Works and Great South Fisheries) on Argyle Street in Kowloon which was completed in January 1955 at the cost of HK$620,000 and two blocks of 6-story residential buildings on King’s Road in North Point designed by the architectural design firm of Chau & Lee which was completed in April 1955 at a cost of HK$120,000. (HKBCA yearbook, 1954)

SIng Fat Construction Image 2 York Lo

Leung Cheung as chairman delivering a speech at the inauguration ceremony of the officials for the Lai Clansmen Association in 1960 (WKYP, 1960-7-25)

SIng Fat Construction Image 3 York Lo

Left: Artistic rendition of Sing Kiu Mansion in 1956 (WKYP, 1956-11-12); Right: the Sun Ya Hotel & Restaurant after it opened in 1958 (Worthpoint) 

In the mid-1950s, Lai Cheung befriended Chan Bock-hing (陳伯興), the charismatic Chinese American merchant who invited him to invest in his Canton Trust and Commercial Bank and joined its board when the bank only had around 10 employees. Because of this connection, Sing Fat was awarded the contract to construct the 10-story Sing Kiu Mansion, a project led by Chanat 629-641 Nathan Road in Kowloon. The project, which cost over $6 million and later renamed Chan Bock Hing Building (陳伯興大厦), involved 331 Franki piles and was designed by Chan Wing-gee (陳榮枝, 1902-1979), the Michigan-trained architect who designed the Oi Kwan Hotel (愛羣大酒店), the tallest building in Canton back in the 1930s. (WKYP, 1956-11-13) The building and its main tenant – the Sun Ya Hotel & Restaurant was opened in October 1958 with Sir Michael Turner, then general manager of HSBC as guest of honor at its opening ceremony. According to testimony provided Lai during the trial of Chan and other executives of Canton Trust in 1969, Chan Bock-hing owed Sing Fat’s affiliate Cheung On $1.8 million which was supposed to be paid back when the building was completed but Chan was unable to honor his commitment and forced Lai to accept a monthly installment plan and threatened bankruptcy otherwise. Even though the money was ultimately paid back, the relationship between the two soured after that and Lai sold his shares in Canton Trust to Chan in 1960, thus missing the meteoric rise of the bank in the early 1960s but also missed its dramatic collapse and subsequent legal mess in 1965. (KSDN, 1969-3-22)

SIng Fat Construction Image 4 York Lo

Left: Ad for HK Metal Window Manufacturing in 1954 (HKBCA yearbook); Right: Lai Cheung (HKBCA yearbook, 1957)

In 1960, Sing Fat Construction Co Ltd was incorporated with Lai Cheung, Ho Tak-fai (何德輝, 1904-1974) and Fred Wong (黃富力) each owning a third. Ho was managing director of Hong Kong Metal Window Manufacturing Co Ltd (incorporated in 1951 and dissolved in 2002) which also operated out of 12 Fuk Wing Street in Shamshuipo like Sing Fat and was founded in the 1920s. The firm made metal windows and doors and was subcontractor for HK Housing Society projects.

Lai Cheung and his wife Kun Siew-chun (關秀珍) has one daughter Lai Shuet-fong (黎雪芳) and two sons – Lai Kwan-yim (黎鈞焰)and Lai Kwan-hin (黎鈞衍). Lai Kwai-yim joined Sing Fat in the 1960s to support his father while his brother Lai Kwai-hinworked in the UK for a decade working for construction giant George Wimpey after he received his B.S. from South China Engineering College and his doctoral in civil engineering from the University of Southampton in the UK in 1963 and taught civil engineering at the HK Polytechnic as a principal lecturer in the 1980s and 1990s with expertise in harbor engineering.

In July 1966, Lai Cheung’s children organized a 70th birthday celebration for their father at the King Wah Restaurant in Mongkok which was attended by over 1000 guests including colonial officials such as Ho Yam-shuen, the Deputy Secretary of Chinese Affairs and D.C. Bray, educators such as Yung Kai-tung, Kong Mow-sum and Charles Y.C. Cheng (see article on Union Metal Works) and construction industry figures such as Ho Iu-kwong, Luk Ping-sheung(see article on Lun Sang) and Ha Kit-wing and fellow Tsang Shing natives Cham Siu-leun and Cheng Chung-kwan (see article on Four Taxi Kings). (KSDN, 1966-7-3)

In 1967, Sing Fat was awarded contracts for foundation and construction work on Chinese University’s campus in Shatin. The next year, the firm was added to the list of approved contractors for public works projects in the Group B category. (second tier in terms of limits on contract value with Group A being the lowest and Group C the highest with unlimited contract value)

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Left: Sing Fat’s Lai Kwan-yim (right) signing the contract for the foundation and construction work of new buildings on CUHK’s campus with the university’s Vice Chancellor Dr. Li Choh-ming (center) and architect Szeto Wai (standing, see article on Sang Lee & Co) (WKYP, 1967-12-1)

In 1972, Fred Wong decided to retire, and he and his family sold their stake in Sing Fat to Liu Su-ke (廖澍基), his wife Ho Fung-chun (何鳳珍)and his brother Liu Tat-hung (廖達雄).

In February 1974, Ho Tak-fai died at the HK Sanatorium at the age of 70, survived by 2 sons and 2 daughters (eldest son Ho Ching and second daughter Ho Heung were doctors in Canada, second son Ho Dun an engineer in Hawaii and second daughter Ho Shui taught at HKU). (WKYP, 1974-2-6)

Over the next two decades, Liu Su-ke and his family became the majority shareholder of Sing Fat with 45% holdingwhileKan Man-hoo (簡文浩) also became a major shareholder along with his sons Kan Yiu-kwok (簡耀國) and Kan Yiu-keung (簡耀強) with 28% while Lai Kwan-hin maintained 14%.

In 1992, Sing Fat re-positioned itself from a builder of new works projects to a building contractor with a focus on building maintenance and renovation with its first contract awarded by the HK Housing Authority to improve the water supply system of a public housing estate. In 1996, Sing Fat was upgraded to M2 status (unlimited contract value) as a maintenance contractor for the Housing Authority. In 1998, the firm was awarded its first regional term maintenance contract valued at HK$350 million. In 2003, the firm received its first private sector maintenance contract for external wall repair of 38 residential towers valued at HK$73.7 million.

In 2015, Yat Sing Holdings, the holding company for Sing Fat, went public on the HK Exchange to raise HK$64.5 million to help finance an industrial to hotel conversion project with Liu Su-ke’s son Winson Liu (廖永燊) as chairman and Kan Man-hoo’s son Kan Yiu-keung as CEO. Two years later, the Liu and Kan families sold their stake in Yat Sing to Dai Jian (戴劍).

Sources (other than those cited above):

This article was first posted on 23rd October 2020.

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