Wan Hin & Co (德榮建築) a.k.a. Tak Wing Construction
York Lo: Wan Hin & Co (德榮建築) a.k.a. Tak Wing Construction
Left: ad for Wan Hin & Co in the 1950s (HKBCA yearbook), right: ad for Wan Hin’s development Evergreen Factory Building in Chai Wan (WKYP, 1964-12-15)
From the 1940s to 1990s, Wan Hin & Co (or “Tak Wing Construction” in Chinese) was one of the leading building contractors in HK specialized in public projects and whose founder Chung Biu (鍾標) rose from a construction worker to millionaire and chairman of a listed company in the process.
Left: Wan Hin-yeung as chairman of HKBCA in 1950; Right: Chung Biu in the 1950s (HKBCA yearbook)
While in Chinese the firm was known as Tak Wing Construction, its English name of Wan Hin & Co was derived from Chung’s original partner in the business – Wan Hin-yeung (尹顯揚), who was already an established figure in the HK construction industry before the War with his Kin Lee & Co (建利公司, responsible for construction of postal kiosk in Kowloon City and reservoir in 1932 according to HK government report) and served as vice chairman of the HK Building Contractors Association (HKBCA) in 1925 and again as chairman in 1950. (Chung himself was also director of the group during the 1950s) Chung got to know Wan from the construction industry when he was a subcontractor and during the Japanese occupation, he and Wan retreated from the construction business and operated a numbers racket. After the War, the duo established Wan Hin & Co at 224 Hennessy Road in Wanchai with Wan contributing $500 in capital while Chung contributed lumber and ran the day to day operations. Wan’s fluency in English and contacts with the Public Works department proved helpful to Wan Hin in its early years and soon the firm was awarded several government contracts – such as a HK$60000 reservoir contract in 1947 and the contract to construct breakwater in the Causeway Bay waterfront in 1949.
The turning point for Wan Hin was the Shek Kip Mei fire in 1953,which prompted the government to develop large number of public housing and resettlement estates. (see article on Cheong Lee Construction for more details). Incorporated in January 1958 with HK$3 million in capital, Wan Hin was involved in the construction of many public housing estates in the 1950s and 1960s. In May 1959, it was awarded the contract to construct Block E,F,G,H and I of the So Uk Estate (蘇屋邨), which was completed in April 1961. This include the permanent estate office in front of Lilac House which was opened by Princess Alexandra when she visited HK in 1961 and planted a commemorative tree nearby. In October 1963, Wan Hin was awarded $1.1 million contract for Block D2 and D7 at the Tsz Wan Shan resettlement estate . Aside from the public work project, Wan Hin was also involved in the development of at least one property development in the 1950s – Evergreen Factory Building (永茂工厰大廈）in Chai Wan Inland Lot No 1 in 1964.
Article about Wan Hin & Co and four of its directors being fined for its work with the Wah Fu Estate garage in 1972 (KSDN, 1972-1-29)
By the early 1970s, Wah Hin had completed over HK$1 billion in contracts for the HK government and was involved in the construction of the Wah Fu Estate in Aberdeen. In 1972, the firm and four of its directors (Chung Biu and his son Chung Chun-keung, Chow Hon-kit (周漢傑) and Wan Pui, possibly related to Wan Hin-yeung) were fined HK$2000 for their negligence in the construction of a 5-story garage in the Wah Fu Estate which resulted in over HK$2 million in reconstruction work. The relative minor fine was based on the firm’s relatively clean track record in its over two decades of public works. Wan Hin was also involved in the construction of Kwai Shing Estate (葵盛邨) in the mid-1970s, for which they were later fined for HK$8.9 million for negligence in 8 blocks of Kwai Shing West Estate.
Signing ceremony of the Lamma Power Station contract between HK Electric and Wan Hin in 1980. Left to right: Wan Hin manager Chow Hon-kit, Wan Hin chairman Chung Biu, head of HK Electric, HK Electric managing director Chan Shou-lam (陳壽霖). (KSEN, 1980-3-4)
Aside from the HK government, another key client for Wan Hin was Hong Kong Electric, for whom the firm had completed Phase IV of its Ap Lei Chau Power Station in the 1970s (which had since closed in 1989) and was awarded the HK$27 million contract to build its Lamma Power Station in 1980 which was completed in 1982.
Like many other building contractors in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Chung Biu was drawn by the profits generated by their clients – the real estate developers and decided to take the plunge himself. He organized his companies including Wan Hin & Co under Tak Wing Investment (Holding) Ltd (德榮建築(集團)有限公司) and took it public on the HK Stock Exchange in June 1981, issuing 20 million shares at the offering price of HK$1.65 per share, raising HK$27.4 million to fund its operations and foray into real estate development. With 80 million shares outstanding, Tak Wing was worth over HK$132 million at its IPO. At the IPO, Tak Wing already had developed the 24 unit Pine Lodge (松苑) at Shouson Hill Road in Deep Water Bay and had several projects under development – this include a 23-story office/residential building on Fort Street (where the Chungs lived at number 61) in North Point and the re-development of the Odeon Theatre (國賓戲院, founded in 1963) in North Point which the group acquired in 1981 into a 21-story retail commercial complex called Odeon Building (國賓大廈) with 17 floors of office space and 4 floors of retail space in 1984 (TKP, 1981-8-13; KSEN,1981-12-30). It also won the bid on its most ambitious development project in partnership with the government – a massive residential complex on Wylie Path in King’s Park in Kowloon which include five blocks of 20+ story buildings, with the government keeping three and Tak Wing keeping two. To finance the project, Tak Wing secured HK$120 million in loans from five banks – Bank of Nova Scotia, Schroders, Chartered, Chase and RBS in June 1982 and the project was completed as Wylie Court (衛理苑) in 1985. (TKP, 1982-6-30)
Chung Biu (right) and HK Stock Exchange chairman Mok Ying-kie (left) at the listing of Wan Hin at the HK Stock Exchange in 1981 (KSEN, 1981-7-1)
In September 1982, Tak Wing received a 3 year, HK$300 million contract from the government to renovate government buildings in the western part of HK island after it had completed a 2-year contract to renovate buildings in the eastern part of HK island and it also won the contract for the construction of Shu Yan College’s new campus in Aberdeen in the same month. Adding that to the Lamma Power Station contract and public housing contracts in Tuen Mun and Tai Po, the group had outstanding contract value of HK$600 million and the projected total assets of group exceed HK$400 million (or net assets per share of HK$5) after the completion of its real estate development projects. (TKP, 1982-9-17, 1982-9-4).
Unfortunately, Tak Wing was hit with the perfect storm as property plummeted with the confidence crisis in the mid-1980s and the group’s profits dropped from HK$19.6 million in 1981 to HK$17.1 million in 1982 to HK$7.3 million in 1983, with HK$39 million in write-offs related to its property business (KSEN, 1984-6-6). In 1985, Chung Biu died under stress and was succeeded by his son Chung Chun-keung (鍾振強). Born in 1935, Chung Chun-keung has a doctorate in civil engineering and has been involved with the family business since the 1960s.
Under the leadership of Chung Chun-keung, Tak Wing rebuilt in the second half of the 1980s. In 1987, Tak Wing won new contracts worth a total of HK$342 million, a 49% increase from the previous year. It participated in a Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) project for the first time with a 60% interest in Fu Ning Garden (富寧花園), a Tseung Kwan O HOS project with the remaining 40% held by China Expand Development Ltd (中拓工程), a joint venture between a mainland Chinese construction company and a trading firm. The project which include six blocks and total of 2450 units was completed in 1990. (WKYP, 1989-12-13) In addition to partnering with mainland Chinese enterprises, Tak Wing also looked north and in October 1987, the 235 room Dragon Spring Hotel (龍泉賓館) in Beijing which the group had a 15.75% interest opened its door (TKP, 1988-6-7)
In October 1988, the Belgian civil engineering giant CFE acquired 45% of Tak Wing’s civil engineering arm Wan Hin & Co for $27 million. The deal enabled Tak Wing to leverage the technical expertise of CFE to bid for large scale construction projects in HK, Macau and the mainland while for CFE it provided a springboard into the growing Chinese construction market. (Chung Chun-keung was later conferred “Officer of the Crown” by the Belgian king Baudouin I in 1992 thanks to this partnership). The same year, Tak Wing also announced a joint venture with the charitable organization Po Leung Kuk to re-develop some of the latter’s old properties near Hennessy Road in Wanchai (TKP, 1988-10-21)
Tak Wing chairman Chung Chun-keung (right) with CFE representative Pierre Vanthuyne (left) and HK Housing Authority chairman Sir David Akers-Jones (middle) at the topping ceremony for a HOS project in 1991 (WKYP, 1991-9-26)
In 1989, the group lost $8.5 million on revenues of $516 million (Major Companies of the Far East, 1991). In August 1991, Tak Wing announced winning $263 million in 2 public contracts (one for $221 million for public housing, another for $42 million for the Shek Kip Mei park on Nam Cheong Street), which bumped its total contract value at the time to $2.25 billion. (WKYP, 1991-8-31)
In 1993, Wan Hin was the first construction company in HK to be awarded the ISO 9000 quality certification. The same year, Tak Wing entered into joint venture with Dacheng Real Estate to develop a major residential and commercial complex in Beijing.
In late 1995, Wan Hin was suspended as a Group C contractor (which can bid for contracts of unlimited value) on the Works Branch list due to its inability to produce audited records for 1994, resulting in a 7 month ban from tendering for public projects until the issue was resolved. For the year, fierce competition and rising costs resulted in a 29.4% drop in earnings from $64 million in 1994 to $45 million in 1995. In January 1996, Tak Wing bought back the 45% of Wan Hin from CFE for HK$8 million. The same month, a footbridge built by Wan Hin in Tseung Kwan O collapsed, killing a lorry driver. In 1996, Wan Hin formed a joint venture with GTM International and CFE and won the HK$268 million contract to build the Kwai Chung viaduct for the new airport railway. In 1999, Chung Chun-keung (who owned 45% of Tak Wing) sold his controlling interest in Tak Wing to Tong Nai-kan (唐乃勤) while retaining the rights to names Tak Wing and Wan Hin. Wan Hin & Co was wounded up and the listed shell of Tak Wing was renamed U-Cyber Technology Holdings (航宇數碼科技控股) during the dotcom bubble in 2000, only had its name changed couple of more times and has been known as International Standard Resources Holdings since 2013.
Sources (other than those quoted above):
世界华人新兴富豪, Volume 1, 海天出版社, 1996
This article was first posted on 20th May 2019.
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