THE PASB STORY
One hundred years ago British companies started to acquire land in Malaya to plant rubber. A manager was appointed for each estate but these were often isolated or accessible only by river. The only communication with U.K. was by sea so it took weeks for the manager to communicate with the owners.
It soon became apparent that it was necessary to appoint a 'middle man' responsible for the immediate supervision of the management. Established trading companies such as Guthries, Sime Darby, Harrison & Crosfield, Barlows, Bousteads, etc. were the obvious choice for this. Thus the 'estate management agency' system was established and this soon became more important than the trading business. The agencies also invested in the estates and ended up as owners of most of them.
In 1955 three Hong Kong companies, including Jardine Matheson, all with estates in Malaya, decided that it would be logical to put all their estate management in the hands of one specialised company so Plantation Agencies Ltd., was formed. It was located in Penang as this was the location of another company with Hong Kong connections - Kennedy Burkill.
Plantation Agencies Ltd., soon to be converted to Plantation Agencies Sdn. Berhad (PASB), being specialised in plantation management soon found other clients, including some Penang family businesses and other large companies with minor investments in estates. In a way it has become too successful in that it has built up several groups to a size where they have been justified in setting up their own estate departments.
Companies which started with one or two estates under PASB and now run their own plantations include Kuala Lumpur Kepong, Island & Peninsular and Oriental Rubber & Palm Oil. Its original Hong Kong-owned estates are now part of the Asiatic Group.
Its most notable achievement is perhaps in respect of National Land Finance Co-operative Society Ltd. (NLFCS), originated by Tun Dr, V.T. Sambanthan in order to help estate workers acquire ownership of some of the estates which were being fragmented in the 1960s. Those acquired had been left under different managing agents. They were all brought together under PASB.
NLFCS is now recognised as one of the most successful co-operatives in Malaysia and has extended its activities to cover downstream manufacture, housing development, hospital management, etc.
Another group of British-owned estates, under various agencies, were amalgamated to form Plantation Holdings and, again, PASB was selected to run them all.
PASB was the leading company in the conversion of rubber manufacture from the old RSS system to the production of crumb rubber and was at one time the largest producer of crumb rubber in Malaysia. It was commissioned by the World Bank to set up the first crumb rubber factories in India and has also initiated some in Indonesia and as far away as Guatemala.
Where estate management is concerned, too, PASB has spread its wings overseas. It helped out one Indonesian group from the time it purchased its first estate, setting up a staff training school and introducing control systems. This R.G.M./A.A.A./Indosawit group is now one of the largest producers of palm oil in Indonesia.
After being commissioned to advise one estate in Java, its services were extended to ten more estates, planted with rubber, cocoa, coffee, tea and cloves. It initiated the first commercial oil palm estate in Sarawak and, more recently, the first oil palm estate in Cambodia. Besides a great deal of work in Indonesia it has covered Thailand, Vietnam, Nigeria and Gabon and has also been commissioned to report on the proposed planting of oil palms in India.
One reason for it being selected to manage estates, in preference to other more famous companies, is that it has no estates of its own, which would obviously be given priority. Instead, its business is to manage estates owned by others and its current celebration of its 50th Anniversary in tribute to its success in this field.
Its Share Registration Department, originally set up to cover plantation companies, now handles sixteen public manufacturing companies, mainly located in Penang.