I SHARE Mr Leslie Fong’s view that many Singaporeans felt a great sense of loss and anger when iconic brands and businesses like Fraser & Neave (F&N), Tiger Beer and Raffles Hotel were sold to foreigners (“Different reaction to sale of iconic brands”; April 3).
As the former chief executive of DBS Land (owner of Raffles Hotel) and F&N (owner of Tiger Beer, 100Plus and other F&N brands), I was particularly pained by the loss of these brands and businesses as I was personally involved in their growth and in protecting them from falling into foreign hands.
Few know that I and my colleagues in F&N made cold calls to large shareholders to buy their Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) shares to shore up F&N’s stake in it and help keep Tiger Beer Singaporean.
Many of our colleagues were also asked to volunteer exercising their stock options in APB and selling the shares to F&N at the then market price of $12 to $13 per share.
Can you imagine the pain and sense of sacrifice felt by these people when, a few years after our departure, APB was sold to Heineken at nearly 41/2 times the price that they had sold to F&N? I felt particularly bad as I was instrumental in persuading them to sell their shares to F&N.
Also, not many know that after we built F&N’s holdings in APB up to an almost unassailable position, Heineken offered to buy our APB stake at twice the then market price. We turned Heineken down because we felt APB and Tiger Beer belonged to Singapore.
A few months down the road, in FY2006, an F&N director alerted the board that after failing to win control of APB, Heineken was planning to mount a takeover of F&N in order to extract APB.
Though I was highly sceptical of this potential move by Heineken, my F&N board colleagues felt threatened enough to bring in Temasek Holdings as a white knight to help in this fight against Heineken.
Alas, shortly after Temasek’s entry, I left F&N and about two years later, our white knight sold its 14.9 per cent stake in F&N for a huge gain of about $400 million.
This left F&N vulnerable to a takeover, as the Temasek stake was sold to Japanese beer-maker Kirin.
Iconic brands and businesses are the economic soul of the nation. They help to bond us to Singapore.
When we raise a can of 100Plus or Tiger Beer to our lips, especially when we are a long way from home, we feel a sense of attachment to Singapore. Each time we check into a Raffles-owned hotel or step on board a Singapore Airlines plane when overseas, we immediately feel we are home.
Like what Mr Fong said, unless we take pride in and protect our national icons and heritage, we will lose our national identity.
Not everything should be measured in dollars and cents.
Han Cheng Fong
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