Mr. Kao Shin Ping’s ancestors were from Fu Mei Village in Da Ping Town, An Xi County, Fu Jian Province, China. He was born on the 30th November 1944 in Taipei, Taiwan. His ancestors then moved to Bei Tou, Taiwan. His father, Mr. Kao He Shun, worked as a train operator during the time of the Japanese invasion. After the war, Mr. Kao He Shun and his entire family moved to Taipei City, Zhong San Bei Road. It was there that he established San Teh Construction Co., Ltd, dealing with the construction of Asbestos roofs. Unfortunately, Mr. Kao He Shun passed away at the age of 59, leaving behind 3 daughters and 8 sons. Mr. Kao Shin Ping was the 6th son.
Madam Kao Li Chou did not only bring up all her children singlehandedly, but also developed the company into one of the largest enterprises in Taiwan, with 80% market share of building Asbestos roofs. The Kao family rose to be top ten richest and one of the most prestigious business families in Taiwan. In their upbringing, Madam Kao often stressed on 3 Confucian values: Filial piety & Loyalty, Prudence and Benevolence. Mr. Kao Shin Ping lived by these 3 values throughout his life and taught his children to live by these values too.
To Mr. Kao, family is the foundation for success. After having his own family and becoming a father, he could better appreciate his mother’s efforts in bringing the children up. He told himself to make his mother even happier and let her lead a life of enjoyment. His mother lived with him in Mainland China in her later years and the filial Mr. Kao never failed to inform his mother before he travelled long distances for work. In order not to let her worry, he always called her if he could not make it home for dinner. This is something very basic yet often neglected by people, but not for Mr. Kao.
Although his mother had passed away at the age of 89, Mr. Kao still missed her dearly. After her passing, he set up a scholarship in her name in both China and Taiwan, to memorialise his mother’s achievements. His good friend, Mr. Cai Xing Fu, Dean of College of Business and Management, Tamkang University recalled seeing photographs of Madam Kao Li Chou in Mr. Kao’s office. To Mr. Kao, his mother represented the virtues of “San Teh”.
His Journey of Entrepreneurship
After Mr. Kao graduated from Tamkang University in 1967, he was involved in overseeing factory work, production management and technical skills training. From these, he accumulated a wealth of experience in market development and in the electronics industry.
In 1970, Mr. Kao held on many caps as he was the factory manager, Vice President and General Manager of San Teh Construction Co., Ltd, Vice Chairman of San Teh Hotels (Taiwan) Co., Ltd as well as the Chairman of San Wei Construction (Taiwan) Co., Ltd. He co-founded San Ai Electronics Co., Ltd and developed the first calculator in the world, earning the position as “cradle” for many entrepreneurs dealing with electronics. San Ai Electronics Co., Ltd is also where Mr. Lin Bai Li, Mr. Wen Shi Ren and Mr. Ye Guo Yi, who are all successful entrepreneurs and billionaires, ranked highly in the electronics industry in Taiwan.
In 1979, Mr. Kao brought his family to Singapore and started an entire entrepreneurial journey. He singlehandedly established Singapore’s San Teh Pte Ltd and became the Executive Chairman of the company. As a result of his business, he contributed greatly to building the foundation for the relationship between China and Singapore. Mr. Kao went on to become the Chairman of the Board for San Teh (Malaysia) Co., Ltd and the General Manager for San Teh Development (Hong Kong) Co., Ltd. In 1985, when Mr. Kao was recceing Xiamen for business purposes, he was welcomed warmly and attended to by Xiamen’s then Mayor, Mr. Zou Re Jun. The following year, he started his investment in Xiamen. Under Mr. Kao’s impeccable leadership skills, San Teh Keypad Rubber became the biggest, the best producer and supplier of conductive silicone rubber in the world with key clients in automobiles (BMW, Audi, Volkswagen,..) and telecommunications (Motorola, Alcatel, Siemens, Seagates,…) industries.
Afterwards, he took on more roles: General Manager of Xiamen San Teh Xing Industry Co., Ltd, General Manager of Xiamen Jiande Development Co., Ltd, Chairman of Xiamen Feidan Co., Ltd, General Manager of San Teh Electronics Industry (Nantong) Co., Ltd, Chairman of Fujian Longyan San Teh Cement Construction Industry Co., Ltd and Chairman of Anxi San Teh Xing Development Co., Ltd. When Mr. Kao, who held a degree in engineering, was asked for the reason for his shift in focus from electronics to cement production, he expressed that it was partly due to the tremendous potential of constructions in Mainland China. More importantly, it was because he wanted to achieve the life-long aspirations of his father, which was to build a cement plant.
San Teh Pte Ltd, also referred to as San Teh Group. has the following subsidiary companies:
- San Teh Electronic & Rubber (Merged and Acquired by ITT Canon Industries, USA)
- Fujian Longyan San Teh Cement Construction Industries Co., Ltd and Yunan Dali San Teh Cement Co., Ltd (Merged and acquired by China Resources Cement (Holdings) Company Limited listed in Hong Kong Stock Exchange)
- Shanghai San Teh Xing Real Estate Co., Ltd
- Nantong San Teh Hotel Co., Ltd
- San Teh Pipes & Fittings Industry (Nantong) Co., Ltd
- Suzhou San Teh Hotel Co., Ltd
- San Teh Xing (Xiamen) Trade Co., Ltd
- San Teh Pipes & Fittings Industry (Dali) Co., Ltd
- Yunnan San Teh Industrial Co., Ltd
- San Teh Xing Real Estate (Fujian) Co., Ltd
- Dali San Teh Xing Real Estate Co., Ltd
In July 1991, Singapore’s San Teh Company was listed on Singapore’s Stock Exchange as San Teh Pte Ltd, making it the first Taiwanese business to be listed there. Mr. Kao received the “Best Enterprise Award” from then Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, in March 1992. He was chosen to appear on the cover page of Asian Business Week Magazine and “Entrepreneur”, a Singapore magazine in English the same year. He was interviewed by major Singapore television channels as well as publications across Singapore, Taiwan and China for his internationally successful leadership. In November 1992, he established the Fujian Longyan San Teh Cement Construction Industry Co., Ltd which became the area’s second largest cement factory. In May 1995, he built An Xi San Teh Hotel, marking the beginning of his investments in the hotel industry.
In 1993, Mr. Kao set up the Beijing Huanyu Industrial Furniture Co., Ltd. He established Nantong San Teh Rubber Industry Co., Ltd in May 1994 and a conductive rubber and PVC pipe plant in Nantong, Suzhou, China in 1995. This marked the start of his venture into the rubber and PVC pipe construction industry. From 1995 to 2006, Mr. Kao continued to build and diversify his businesses:
- August, 1995: San Teh Xing (China) Group Co., Ltd.
- December, 1996: Suzhou San Teh Hotel.
- February, 1997 : Nantong San Teh Hotel Co., Ltd; Shanghai San Teh Xing Real Estate Co., Ltd.
- March, 1999: Longyan San Teh Cement Transport Co., Ltd.
- April, 2001: Quanzhou San Teh Construction Co., Ltd.
- June, 2004: Tai-an San Teh Xing Travel Development Co., Ltd.
In November 2006, Mr. Kao established Dali San Teh Cement Co., Ltd and it became the second largest cement company in the Yunnan Province in China. Mr. Kao’s companies have received numerous awards for their products, such as ‘Best Quality Award’ internationally and ‘Exemption from National Examination Product’. His companies also earned impressive titles such as “Country’s Most Advanced (Technology) Company”, “Most Trusted Enterprise”, “Top 500 Enterprises of China”, “Top 300 Enterprises of Fu Jian Province”, “Fortune 1000 companies in Asia” and many more.
Aspiration and Spirit of San Teh
Despite his wealthy upbringing and impressive achievements, Mr. Kao remained a humble, low-profile man who worked hard for his businesses and greatly valued “Giving back to one's roots”. Besides “Work hard for success and work harder when you succeed”, “Follow ethics of Benevolence, Loyalty, Filial Piety and Prudence”, and “Quality, Honesty, Punctuality, Creativity” are also his beliefs. These beliefs guided him in managing his business and how he handled relationships with people. The ethics of Benevolence, Filial Piety and Prudence form the 'San Teh' spirit and it includes the essence of his Alma Mater, Tamkang University (Taiwan)'s school mottos: Prudence, Honesty, Firmness, Righteousness. In 1991, Mr. Kao decided to list the company stock publicly in Singapore to further ensure that the values of San Teh could be preserved for generations.
Although Mr Kao’s business ventures were already very successful, he did not become complacent. Instead, he continued to seek new investment opportunities. Some tried to persuade Mr. Kao to rest but he said: “As an entrepreneur, I have to keep striving, improving and upholding the spirit. Even though I have won, I still need to work even harder to expand my business and give back to society and my country.” Such is the spirit that all entrepreneurs should have.
In an interview, Mr. Kao told his juniors in Tamkang University that they should start planning for their lives during their schooling years and to observe the changes in their surroundings at all times. This would allow them to apply what they have learned. He also reminded them to not forget the help they received from others and not to have the mindset of expecting something in return while helping others. He advised his juniors to have good characters, learn to respect others and never forget to give back to their roots.
Philanthropy and Contributions to Society
Mr. Kao Shin Ping always lived by his family motto of the 3 ethics, taking care of the elderly, children and needy in the society while giving back to one’s root. In addition, he believed that as long as he started investing in one place, he made sure people there benefited and lived better. Hence, he always donated money, cement and construction materials to the locals, helping them to construct roads, bridges and other basic facilities, greatly improving their standard of living. Here are some of his remarkable list of contributions:
The Establishment of San Teh Foundation
With his keen interest in doing philanthropic work and genuine care for others, Mr. Kao actively donated to various causes in China, Taiwan and Singapore. The San Teh Foundation was thus set up in August 2011 to facilitate his philanthropic work in different countries. Every year, he voluntarily donated to the Red Cross when his business generated returns. The amounts also increased from year to year. During San Teh Ltd’s 15th Anniversary, he did not choose to throw a lavish party to celebrate. Instead, he donated the money saved from the celebration to philanthropic work.
When a major earthquake occurred in Puer, Yunnan, and caused severe losses, Mr. Kao donated money to the disaster-stricken areas immediately via Red Cross (Xiamen). Other donations were given to organisations such as China Association for the Disabled, China Association for the Elderly, China Red Cross Society, Singapore Red Cross Society, The Hope Project, China Soong Ching Ling Foundation along with organisations that are involved in promoting religious harmony and helping victims of natural disasters.
In Singapore, Mr. Kao Shin Ping rendered his help and donated generously for the past 20-30 years to organisations such as, Singapore Community Chest, Red Cross Society Singapore as well as the Tong Ji Medical Institution. Mr. Kao was a recipient of the Individual Gold Reward Recipient from the Singapore Community Chest.
Giving back to his Ancestral Hometown
To Mr. Kao Shin Ping, giving back to his hometown was something he was greatly inclined to. He often heard stories about his ancestral hometown, Anxi County, Fujian Province, from his father. His participation in clan activities also helped to build a special bond between him and his ancestral hometown.
In June 1986, upon the construction of his Xiamen Factory, he made a trip back to Fu Mei Village in China where his ancestral roots lie. Fu Mei Village was known to be the most secluded area in the provincial mountains and its economic condition was not good. At that time, no family in the village had access to a television set. Mr. Kao felt strongly about this. When he returned in July 1986, he brought along with him a 25-inch television set. He believed TV not only provided entertainment for the villagers, but was also a knowledge gate to the other parts of China and the world. However, the signal was too poor and the television was obsolete since it could not receive any channels. This made him very troubled and it was always on his mind.
In October the same year, Mr. Kao forked out a sum of money to build a television broadcasting station and enabled people in the village to view television programmes for the first time. Fu Mei Village was involved in subsistence farming and growing tea leaves but the level of production was low. After multiple rounds of discussion with the local government, Mr. Kao decided to launch an “Agricultural Development Scheme” in Da Ping. In April 1993, he signed a contract with the local government and established the “An Xi San Teh Agricultural Development Pte Ltd”. It officially opened for business in July of the same year.
Mr. Kao encouraged his fellow village mates to not only do well in farming but also venture out to other cities and make a living. He personally selected 9 young men to work for him at his factory in Xiamen in 1985. From then on, he would inform Da Ping Area whenever his factory in Xiamen needed to recruit new workers.According to statistics, from 1987-1992, about 300 workers who worked at San Teh came from the Da Ping Area. These young people then grew to become high-level executives at San Teh and some even became entrepreneurs after making money at San Teh. Now, they have all gotten out of poverty and more than 40 of them became millionaires. It can be said that Mr. Kao contributed greatly to improving the economic conditions in his hometown.
Mr. Kao Shin Ping also showed his concerns for his hometown in many other ways. He sponsored the construction of an education building and a bridge in Fu Mei Village, set up a scholarship for high school students, donated money to the 19th Middle School and also to Jian Mao Shan School for construction of another building.Mr. Kao Shin Ping decided later to invest in the real estate industry in Yunnan and Anxi, Fujian Province. The decision was made partly because he hoped that people could stay in affordable yet quality housing and improve their lifestyle. He had an 8-year plan to build a town with affordable houses, a hospital and shops in He Qing, Yunnan Province and let people with low incomes live comfortably. He felt that one should not be greedy and only consider profits when doing business, while overlooking quality or social responsibility. They must take care of the less privileged and give back to society.
Environmentally Responsible Business Development
Mr Kao Shin Ping did not forget to play his part in being an environmentally responsible citizen while expanding his business. Under the support of the various levels of government authorities in China, San Teh Group launched the first Cement Production, Environmentally Conscious Project, in June 2008. This project aimed to build China’s first cement production line, which uses 100% anthracite in its burning process, in high- altitude areas. This project contributed greatly to the economic development of Da Li Province in China. Anthracite is the one of the cleanest burning solid fossil fuels in the world. It is also an authorized fuel in terms of the United Kingdom's Clean Air Act 1993, meaning that it can be used within a designated Smoke Control Area such as the central London boroughs. It is also safe and is kind to the environment. The low sulphur and volatile content of anthracite makes it extremely clean, producing nearly no smoke or particulates.
Charitable Contribution to Education
Mr. Kao was also particularly passionate about helping financially disadvantaged students to continue their studies. He donated money to build schools in Sichuan, Fujian, Shandong, Yunnan and Suzhou Provinces. He was building a National Institute for Tourism Education halfway on the land of 480 acres when the local government wanted to use the same area to expand tertiary schools. They discussed with Mr. Kao and he was very supportive of the expansion project, readily selling out his land to them with very little interest. It has since become Tai Shan University.
Since 2011, he even went to the extent of establishing the “Kao Shin Ping Financial Aid Foundation” and set up the “Kao Shin Ping Bursary”, open to students in Tai Shan University. The bursary is awarded to needy students who come from families with financial difficulties. He established the Kao Li Chou Scholarship for students in his Alma Mater, Tamkang University, in Taiwan, as well as the San Teh Philanthropy Bursary for university students in Singapore. The Kao Li Chou Scholarship was named after his mother, Madam Kao Li Chou.
We can thus see that Mr. Kao Shin Ping was a low-profile man who did not do charity work to gain appearances but purely out of his heart. He did not elaborate much about his contributions to society and never remembered the donations amount. Instead, he often talked about “Hard work breeds success, and work harder when you succeed”, the 3 ethics of “Filial Piety, Loyalty, Benevolence and Prudence” and the qualities “Quality, Remembering your roots, Honesty, Punctuality, Creativity”, encouraging the younger generation to pass down these spiritual concepts.
Distinguished Corporate Responsibility and National Contribution
Mr. Kao Shin Ping is the first Taiwanese businessman to invest in Xiamen. During his investment period, he was deeply concerned with its development and often helped other Taiwanese businessmen to invest in Xiamen. In December 1992, he established and founded the First China-based Taiwan Chamber of Commerce, the Xiamen Taiwan Business Association (later renamed as Taiwanese Investors Association and also known as the China Taiwan Chamber of Commerce) and became the first president of the association. It was the first Taiwanese association in China’s history and subsequently, other offices were set up in different parts of China. With its presence spreading to every Chinese province and city, the association has supported many Taiwanese businesses.
When Mr. Kao was the President, he contributed not only money but also efforts in organising many events that helped to attract other Taiwanese businessmen to invest in Xiamen. Now, the Xiamen Association for Taiwanese Investors expanded from its initial intake of 60 plus members to become an association of a few thousand members. Later on, Mr. Kao created the Longyan Association for Taiwanese Investors and the Taiwanese Business Family Association in Singapore, where he was also the first President.
As for Singapore, he participated in numerous charity events after he joined the Gao/Kao/Koh Clan*. In 2005, after the departure of then President of Gao/Kao/Koh Clan, the highly respected Mr. Gao De Xiang, Mr. Kao Shin Ping was asked to take over this prestigious role. Since then, he used his talents in managing his business to manage the clan and established contacts across the region by holding events such as Family Reunions, visits to other Family Associations in Southeast Asia and Taiwan and hosted the biennial World Assembly of the Five Surnames. These Five Surnames are Lü, Lu, Gao, Xu and Ji, derived from Hubei Lieshan, after Yandi Shennong and Jiang Ziya, an ancient Chinese military strategist who helped King Wen and King Wu of Zhou overthrow the Shang dynasty.
In his office at the Gao/Kao/Koh Clan, he was a leader who was loved and respected by many. Mr. Kao Shin Ping especially supported the research work of Gao’s history and culture. Under his support, in October 2007, the first “World’s Gao Surname Association Friendship Meeting” was held. Mr. Kao was nominated to be the 1st President of the Association of Gao Association globally by 15 million people with the surname Gao worldwide. Mr. Kao Shin Ping also became a member of the Honorary Board of Directors for the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce for many years, member of the Board of Directors for Anxi and Fujian clans as well as Industry and Honorary President of the Xiamen Surname Research Association (Lieshan Branch). In addition, as a pious Buddhist, Mr. Kao also donated money to build Buddhist temples and Confucian temples in Sichuan, Suzhou, Yunnan and Fujian Provinces, in order to preserve the Buddhist culture.
Earning the Respect of Many
Mr. Kao Shin Ping was awarded a series of honourable titles over the years. The list of awards includes Taiwan Tamkang University Elite Award, “Outstanding Alumni” Award and the title of ‘Most Honourable Citizen’ in all 3 cities - Xiamen, Long Yan and Nantong. In 2011, the local government of Da Li also awarded Mr. Kao Shin Ping with “Da Li Honourable Citizen” Award, recognising his charitable efforts. This award has only been awarded to 3 people so far, and proudly, Mr. Kao was one of them. Another recipient of this award was actually Mr. Louis Cha Leung-yung, better known by his pen name Jin Yong, a widely acclaimed modern Chinese-language novelist. Mr. Kao was also nominated by National University of Singapore as an International Honorary Doctorate.
He was also an active and direct contributor towards building up the relationship of China and Taiwan. All these years, he has been received personally by many respected political figures such as the President of the People's Republic of China, Mr. Xi Jinping, when Xi was the mayor of Xiamen. former President of China (1988-1993) Mr. Yang Shangkun, the former China Premier (1987-1998), Mr. Li Peng, former President of China (1993-2003) Mr. Jiang Zemin, active Chinese politicians Mr. Li Ruihuan, Mr. Tian Jiyun, Mr. Li Lanqing, Mr. Wang Zhaoguo and human rights activist Mr. Deng Pufang.
He was also received personally by former Singapore Prime Minister Mr. Goh Chok Tong (1990-2004) and current Singapore Prime Minister Mr. Lee Hsien Loong (since 2004) together with many Members of Parliament, the former President of Republic of China (Taiwan) (1988-2000) Mr. Lee Teng-hui and current President of the Republic of China (Taiwan) (since 2008) Mr. Ma Ying-jeou. As a Singaporean-Taiwanese businessman, Mr. Kao is highly respected in Taiwan, Singapore and China and possesses great influence and close affinity with people.
*Gao, Ka 0o, Koh refer to the same surname but different spellings in China, Taiwan, Singapore.
Passage edited by Roseline Tan and Giang T, with information provided by various media, charity organisations and family members of Mr. Kao Shin Ping.