Ho Yeow Koon was born in 1920 in Fujian, China. Ho’s family was well-to-do from their wealth was built on the manufacturing of brown sugar until 1909 when their fortunes started to decline. According to Ho’s mother, this was due to some disagreements within the family over the family estate. Ho’s family survived on sweet potatoes and months passed before they could even have a bowl of rice. However, poverty does not seem to be the reason why Ho eventually migrated.
When Ho was 18 years old, the Chinese government was conscripting young men to fight in the 1937 Sino-Japanese war. Ho was initially conscripted, but his mother wanted him to go to Nanyang instead. Ho was able to obtain an exit permit to escape conscription and leave his village with the help of his ex-employer’s elder brother, who was a regional commander in the army.
He first went to Hong Kong, where he looked for his maternal uncle and stayed with him for 18 months. For 8 months, he had to squeeze on a small make-shift bed with another clansman. He worked as a cook for a Teochew employer before going to work under a Hokkien employer. Under the Hokkien employer, he cooked and ran various errands such as collecting and delivering goods, and looking after the boss’s children. His employer found him hardworking and dedicated.
Ho then left Hong Kong for Singapore. While he was in Hong Kong, his mother wrote at least one letter a week to his uncle in Java to request that he aid Ho in going to Indonesia or Singapore. It is unclear why his mother was so insistent that he go to Nanyang, but Ho’s uncle in Hong Kong eventually bought his passage to Singapore and made arrangements for him.
In Singapore, he stayed in a house with his maternal uncles and two of his clansmen. He slept on a workbench. His uncle recommended him for a job as an odd-jobber. Everyday, he cleaned three levels of a shop with another co-worker, washed and changed the night-soil buckets and spittoons, and ran errands such as posting letters and banking in cheques. He worked without wages but was given $12 for meal allowance and 40 cents for a hair-cut. Ho mentioned that his goal on arriving in Singapore was to get a job, earn a few dollars, and send it back to support his mother in China. He was prepared to endure hardships to achieve this goal. Out of the $12 that he earned in Singapore, he saved $5 to send to his mother, which he said would ensure that his mother had at least two meals a day.
Ho Yeow Koon setup Keck Seng in 1943 as an importer and exporter of general merchandise. Ho returned to China in 1947, bringing the wife that he had married in Singapore (the daughter of his uncle’s friend) and they had three children. In 1962, he formed Ho Yeow Koon & Sons Private Limited.
Many years later, Ho lead Keck Seng in diversified into other lines of businesses. Today, its core businesses are Property Development and Investment, Palm Oil Cultivation/Manufacturing and Hotels and Resort Ownership.
By the time Ho expired, his business empire has spread to Malaysia, Hong Kong and even Macau.