For close to a century, United Engineers Limited (the "Group") has played a part in shaping the economic and physical landscape of Singapore. The Group has been behind the building of innumerable landmarks and monumental structures that stand proud on the island-state today - The previous Singapore Supreme Court, Cavenagh Bridge, British High Commission, OCBC Centre, Shangri-la Hotel, and its own flagship building, UE Square.
The Group's history can be dated back to the middle of the 19th century when British pioneers, Richard Riley and William Hargreaves, who then formed Riley Hargreaves & Co in 1865, building bridges, steamers and the Fort Canning Lighthouse, came together with Samuel Erskine and J. Howarth, who founded the engineering firm Howarth Erskine & Co in 1875, specialising in the design and construction of iron and steel structures and waterworks to form United Engineers Limited in 1912.
General view of Messrs. Howarth Erskine &
Co., Ltd. on River Valley Road, in Singapore (c.
From the very beginning,
the Group was a well established Asian company
with a strong presence in Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong,
China and Singapore. It built its strengths
further through acquisitions which included the
Federated Engineering Company of Kuala Lumpur
known for its bridge building, brass,
founding and general engineering capabilities.
In the late 1920s, the Group was importing, supplying and manufacturing much of
the heavy equipment needed in Singapore's industries
and was instrumental in the construction boom later in the 1930s.
During the Second World War, all the plants and
machinery in Singapore and Malaysia were destroyed
to prevent valuable resources from falling into
the Japanese' hands. The period also saw many
of the Group's European employees leaving the
country. However after the war, many came back
to start things anew with the help of a large
influx of new and young talent.
Despite the industrial unrest and labour strikes
of the 1950s, the Group contributed significantly
to the reconstruction of Singapore and also became
a major player in the thriving ship repair and
shipbuilding sectors. By 1960, it established
a strong reputation as a premier engineering company
and an agency for 72 foreign companies.
Jurong Industrial Estate under development - aerial
view. (c. 1960s)
After Independence in 1965, Singapore embarked
on a major rebuilding phase: developing new infrastructure,
reclaiming land, worked on schools, housing
and hospitals. With its foreign dealerships, the
Group became a contractor of choice for many new
re-development projects. During this time, the
Group introduced many innovations such as light-gauge
steel for roof structures and the Space Deck structural
system which allowed the construction of column-free
structures and buildings. It was also one of the
first companies that were able to perform steel
casing and the only foundry that could meet the
strict quality requirements of Lloyd's Register
of Shipping. It was also the first private company
in Singapore to computerise operations.
Having strengthened its foothold in engineering,
construction and the supply of heavy equipment,
the Group decided to provide an even more comprehensive
service to customers. In 1971, it acquired McAlister
and Company for its wide range of products such
as road sweepers, fire engines, pharmaceuticals,
heavy-duty kitchen equipment, and agencies for
life insurance and travel.
The Singapore head office in River Valley Road.
A new team of talents were then brought into
the Group with Mr Tang I-Fang assuming Chairmanship
in 1987. The Group raised its profile by focusing
on higher value-added projects and international
ventures. In 1988, the Group continued to grow
with the acquisition of the exclusive Asian licence
for ServiceMaster - a world-renowned brand name
in management support systems.
The Group saw strong growth in the 1990s. Its
engineering and construction divisions clinched
several large-scale, prestigious projects. It
also acquired an 85% stake in Greatearth Construction,
which later led to the winning of the project
to install a seawater cooling system for the Changi
In 1996, the Group hit double-digit growth in
turnover and profit, and continued to reinvent
and strengthen its businesses in the following
years. Today, the Group has repositioned itself, after having divested
its non-core businesses and streamlined its entire
operations. It continues to be a recognisable
brand name in the property and engineering sectors.
The Group has about 3,000 employees across 8 countries in Asia, United Kingdom and North America.