Woo Ping (胡炳) – Weaving and Real Estate Pioneer
York Lo: Woo Ping (胡炳) – Weaving and Real Estate Pioneer
Top: article about Shun Shing Weaving in the late 1940s with pictures of Woo Ping and the “Three Bears” and “Three Dragons” trademarks; Bottom Golden Hill Commercial Building in Mongkok (Landvision)
Woo Ping was a pioneer in the weaving and real estate industry in Hong Kong who was active for close to six decades from the 1930s to the 1990s as the founder of leading weaving mill Shun Shing Weaving and the listed property developer Golden Hill Land Development which developed many buildings across Kowloon and New Territories with the Chinese character for gold in its names. He was one of the pioneers in the development of industrial properties in the New Territories and Siu Shing-chung (蕭承忠), the legendary broker for major developer Henderson Land was brought into the business by him.
Shun Shing Weaving (慎成織業)
A native of Nanhai in Guangdong province, Woo’s father Woo Kam-cheung (胡金祥) was the founder of Woo Kam Tak Weaving & Dyeing Factory (胡金德織染廠) in Foshan, whose mosquito nets were popular in Southeast Asia before the War. When the Japanese occupied Canton in 1938, the 23 year old Woo Ping set up Ling Nam Weaving in Hong Kong with friends (presumably Wan Tat-ming, see article) but soon struck out on his own and established Shun Sing Weaving & Dyeing Factory (慎成織染廠) in Kowloon City in 1940. The initial operations were small but the firm’s “Three Bears” and “Three Dragons” brand of cotton fabric gained a foothold in the market for its high quality and durability.
When the Japanese occupied HK in 1941, Shun Shing continued its operations on the second floor of 15 Nga Tsin Wai Road, starting with 4 hand operated looms. Thanks to Woo’s persistence, the business was one of the few if not only weaving mill which continued to operate during the Japanese occupation and expanded its factory to No. 17 and No. 23 of the same road with additional machinery, daily output of 3-4 put and $5000 of working capital.
After the War was over in 1945, the firm continued to operate from the same site and by then had 40 looms, ten times its original capacity. In 1946, Shun Shing acquired 50-56 Kowloon City Road and moved its factory into the new space with HK$200,000 worth of equipment, all made in HK. The plant had 20 male workers, the highest being paid a monthly wage of $400 and 80 female workers, who were paid daily wages of $5 each. At the time, Shun Shing’s daily output was 60 put and its products were exported to various Southeast Asian markets such as Singapore, Siam, Dutch East Indies and the Philippines with monthly sales of over HK$100,000.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Shun Shing was one of the leading weaving mills in HK and as a result, Woo Ping was elected president of the HK Weaving Mills Association in 1964 with Lau Sai-yan from Kong Sun Weaving as vice chairman and was re-elected several times. Committee chairs during his leadership included Lau Him-chai of Tai Fung, Lee Yiu-wah from Hop Hing Towels Factory and W.H. Chou from Winner (and also of Winner Foods, see article) who were all covered in earlier articles. In 1965, Woo as chairman of the HK Weaving Mills Association lobbied the British government to keep the quotas that were allotted to HK weaving mills, which was being reduced as 45% of them were unused back in 1961. (KSDN, 1965-11-6) In addition to the HKWMA, Woo was also a director of the Chinese Manufacturers Association, a member of the Textile Advisory Council and director of the Kowloon City charitable organization Lok Sin Tong in the 1960s and 1970s. (KSDN, 1971-5-19)
In 1965, Shun Shing Weaving Ltd was incorporated as the continuation of Shun Shing Weaving & Dyeing Factory and over time the firm had expanded into the production of denim as jeans became more popular. For his 50th birthday banquet at the King Wah restaurant in Mongkok that same year, Woo Ping donated the $10,000 in gift money he received to Lok Sin Tong towards the construction of its secondary school. (WKYP, 1965-12-1)
Diversification in the 1960s and 1970s: Real Estate and Restaurants
Woo Ping as director of Lok Sin Tong in 1971 (KSDN, 1971-5-19); Right: Woo Ping and family seeing off Woo Kwong-ho in 1963 (WKYP, 1963-6-6)
As Shun Shing continued to grow, Woo Ping began to look outside of Kowloon City for factory space. He became interested in the potential of New Territories and allegedly built his first factory in Kwai Chung as early as 1952. In the early 1960s, Shun Shing’s address was listed as 580 Castle Peak Road.
In 1964, Woo incorporated Golden Hill Development Ltd (金山置業) to engage in property development and in 1966, Woo re-developed the original site of Shun Shing in Kowloon City into Kam Wo Building (金和大廈) at 48-56 Kowloon City Road. In the 1960s, Woo Ping developed the Woo Kam Cheung Industrial Building (胡金祥工業大廈) at 77 Wing Hong Street in Sham Shui Po which became the new home for Shun Shing Weaving. In both the 1972 and 1981 fire of the nearby Kwong Loong Tai Building (see article), Woo Kam Cheung building was affected, and factories had to shut down. (TKP, 1981-11-8; WKYP, 1972-3-16). With keen interest in the development potential of the New Territories, Woo Ping became an early active buyer of “Letter B”, land exchange entitlements issued by the HK government between 1960 and 1983 to landowners for development rights in the New Territories, some kept for his own projects and some sold to other developers such as Henderson Land. According to legendary broker Siu Shing-chung, who became known as the “King of Letter B”, he was introduced to the business and also his major client Lee Shau-kee of Henderson by Woo Ping, who was the boss of his uncle Siu Leung-tak (蕭良德) who worked as an accountant for Golden Hill in the 1960s and Siu himself was also a fruit peddler on Wing Hong Street in the 1960s where Shun Shing had its factory.
Aside from Golden Hill, Woo established many businesses in the 1960s and 1970s including Shun Cheong Investment (慎昌企業, incorporated in 1971, dissolved in 2003), Shun Sing Land Investment (慎誠置業, incorporated in 1972), Tinson Trading (天生貿易, incorporated in 1963, dissolved in 2018) and Golden Fook Garment (恒士福製衣, incorporated in 1977 as Hunsford). He also opened several restaurants – Prosperity Restaurant (萬年華酒樓, incorporated in 1973, renamed Good Fortune restaurant in 1991) in Causeway Bay and Hing Lin Wah Restaurant (慶年華酒樓, incorporated in 1972, reorganized in 1982) and Helena Restaurant (喜年華酒樓, incorporated in 1972, reorganized in 1981) in Yuen Long.
When the stock market took off in the early 1970s, Woo joined the wave by injecting several properties and projects into Golden Hill Development, which was renamed Golden Hill Land Development (金山地產) in October 1972 and went public on the Far East and Kam Ngan stock exchanges in November 1972 through the issuance of 6 million shares at $1 per share with Union Bank as underwriter. The board of the firm at IPO included Woo Ping and his brothers Woo Kam (胡錦), Woo Kon (胡幹), Woo Wai (胡偉) and Woo Hung (胡洪), the solicitor Philip Yuen Pak-yiu (阮北耀, longtime director of other developers such as Henderson, Winfair and Melbourne Enterprises) and accountant Ng Wing-kwong (吳榮光). Assets of Golden Hill at the IPO included the Kam Wo Building, the ground floor and fifth to ninth floor of Woo Kam Cheung Industrial Building, ground, second and sixth to ninth floor of the Golden Horse Factory Building (金馬工業大廈) at 104-106 King Lam Street in Cheung Sha Wan, the Gold Fish Industrial Building (金魚工業大廈) at 30-38 Lam Tin Street in Kwai Chung which was built in 1971, a 10,000 sq ft plot in Kwai Chung being developed into a 15-story industrial building with projected earnings of $2.7 million for fiscal year ending June 1973 and June 1974. (KSDN, 1972-11-14; WKYP, 1972-11-15)
In 1975, Golden Hill developed Golden Hill Commercial Building (金山商業中心) at 39-41 Argyle Street in Mongkok which became the head office for Woo’s businesses.
In 1977, Shun Shing had 200 workers and occupied the fifth to eighth floors of the Woo Kam Cheung Industrial Building as factory with the ground floor as office. In August 1977, four robbers robbed $51000 of payroll money from the accountant who was bringing it up from the ground floor to the seventh floor for distribution to the workers. (WKYP, 1977-8-6)
For fiscal year ending June 1977, Golden Hill recorded earnings of $4.1 million, which increased to $7.6 million in FY 1978 before dropping to $5.1 million in FY 1979 and again to $539,000 in FY 1980.
Golden Hill in the 1980s and 1990s
In 1980, Golden Hill built Golden Castle Industrial Building (金堡工業大廈) at 4 Kin Fat Lane in Tuen Mun and affiliate Shun Shing Weaving moved into this building.
In August 1981, Golden Hill sold its remaining holdings in the Woo Kam Cheung building for $7.7 million. Projects at the time including partial interest in the 12-story Kam Lun Mansion (金倫大廈) at 27 Yu King Square in Yuen Long, the 22-story Kam Men Mansion (金銘大廈) at 15 Tseng Choi Street in Tuen Mun, 12 houses in Sai Kung, residential project at 304 Prince Edward Road in Kowloon and the recently completed 11-story Yuen Long Commercial Centre (元朗商業中心) at 18-24 Yau Kuk Road in Yuen Long. The firm had 45.5 million shares outstanding at the time and NAV per share of $2.17 but also had bank borrowings of up to $130 million. (KSEN, 1981-12-1; TKP, 1982-12-15)
During 1981, rumors of acquisition propelled the stock price of Golden Hill to $5.50, but later dropped back to $1.73 in 1982 as the firm recorded losses that year, a drop from earnings of $2.3 million in 1980-81. In 1982, Golden Hill completed Kam Lun Mansion in Yuen Long (KSEN, 1982-4-29)
For the fiscal year ending June 1982, the firm recorded losses of $18.9 million. Fortunately, the firm had $32 million in retained earnings to buffer the losses (KSEN, 1983-4-3) The firm recorded losses of $11.8 million in 1983, losses of $1.7 million in 1984 and profits of $10200 in 1985. As of fiscal year-end in June 1985, Golden Hill’s net assets was $58.4 million and as of March 1986, the net assets of Shun Shing Weaving were $12.9 million. (TKP, 1986-6-19)
In June 1986, Golden Hill raised its stake in Shun Shing Weaving from 40% to 52% by acquiring 300,000 shares at $3.47 per shares (slightly over $1 million) from one of its former directors, turning Shun Shing into a majority-owned subsidiary. (TKP, 1986-6-19)
The net assets of Golden Hill as of March 1987 was $75.7 million which made it an interesting target. Because of acquisition rumors, Golden Hill’s stock price soared from 80 cents to $1.73 in August 1987. (TKP, 1987-8-18) In September 1987, the Woo family accepted an offer by Para Profit Ltd controlled by the controversial broker (later legislator) Chim Pui-chung and Australian interests to acquire 51% of Golden Hill for $1.95 per share. (WKYP, 1987-9-10) Unfortunately, the transaction did not go through due to the market crash in October 1987.
In August 1988, Woo Kwong-chuen spoke to the press on behalf of Golden Hill and mentioned weakness in the weaving operations due to headwinds in the global denim demand but the firm invested in a garment factory in Dongguan and also planned to sell some properties out of its portfolio of two industrial buildings, an office building and a shopping mall. (TKP, 1988-8-11)
As of March 1989, the net assets of Golden Hill had appreciated to $145 million or $1.32 per share, which was a 37% discount to its stock price in late 1989. (TKP, 1989-11-21)
The annual report for fiscal year ending June 1990 revealed that the firm had entered the US real estate market through the development of eight 2400 sq ft residences in Los Angeles (projected to be completed in Q3 of 1991) but the firm also recorded $2.2 million in losses related to stock investments that year. (TKP, 1990-8-20) By this time, the board of Golden Hill included Woo Ping’s sons Tanlip Woo Kwong-lam, Wu Kwong-ho (胡廣浩, who studied medicine in Los Angeles in the 1960s), Cesario Wu Kwong-chuen and Wu Kwong-ki.
In September 1990, Woo Ping told the press the interest of Golden Hill to invest $10 million to open 3-4 more restaurants in HK. The denim business had recovered due to lifting of dumping accusations against HK denim in foreign markets and orders backlog was until year-end. (TKP, 1990-9-6) In December 1990, Golden Hill acquired two properties in Fanling for total of $52 million in cash. (TKP, 1990-12-4)
In February 1991, Golden Hill issued new shares equivalent to 20% of total shares but the Woo family retained 55% control of the firm. Outside of Golden Hill, the family controlled Golden Phoenix restaurant (金鳳凰) in Sha Tin and Golden Mile restaurant (金域) in Tsim Sha Tsui and the market cap of Golden Hill was $180 million (TKP, 1991-4-23)
In July 1991, Golden Hill sold the first to fourth floor (total sq footage of 54000) and certain parking spaces of Golden Castle Industrial Building in Tuen Mun to one of its shareholders Beta Time Ltd (嘉成整染, which controlled 15% of Golden Hill) for $17.9 million to help fund the expansion of its restaurant business – which included a seafood restaurant in Sha Tin that opened in March 1990 and another seafood restaurant to be opened in Tsuen Wan in August 1991. (TKP, 1991-7-30)
In 1995, after years of rumors and failed transactions, the Woo family finally sold Golden Hill and the firm was renamed Kong Tai International Holdings (港泰國際). The firm changed hands and was renamed three more times, and was last known as Sanyuan Group when it was last traded in 2004 and was dissolved in 2009.
Sources (other than those cited above):
This article was first posted on 8th May 2020.
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