Buying land, improving amenities
Having been given permission to expand, we acquired a large block of land from Kwong Borneo, a Sandakan trading firm. This was Kimansi Estate, a property of 10,000 acres, on the other side of the Tungud River. Kwong Borneo had already cleared about 400 acres to plant oil palm. We were thus able to start planting operations immediately.
The rapid expansion put new demands on our management. We were able to recruit, via Pamol Kluang, our first three Malaysian cadet managers – Eugene Menon, Bharpur Singh and Douglas Lee. They proved to be swift learners and were all promoted to full management positions before completing their two-year cadetship.
The following year we were very fortunate to recruit our first Sabahan managers, Anthony Wong and David Wan. They were among the first Sabahans to return from a New Zealand university with a degree in agriculture. Before making them an offer of employment, I cleared this with Tun Mustapha of the state government. He was agreeable to their transfer. He told me that the two were the cream of the first bunch of graduates. He said the state government would be keeping a close eye on their progress.
A short period on the estate was enough for us to confirm Tun’s high opinion of them. Anthony, who was undoubtedly one of the most intelligent managers I ever worked with, was sent with his wife Josie to one of our plantations in West Africa, to gain experience with mature oil palm; and subsequently to a training course in Holland on drainage techniques. David was sent on attachment to Pamol Kluang.
Inevitably, however, Tun Mustapha appointed them to senior positions in government agricultural projects. We were sorry to lose them, but well-educated Sabahans with experience of oil palm development were thin on the ground at that time and the training they had received with us was put to good use by the state government.
Their loss was partly compensated by the recruitment, over the next year or two, of four more Sabahan managers. Chris Hoh, our first research officer, was recruited from the government agricultural department to set up our research department. Alex Huang had worked on Cadbury’s cocoa estate at Rumidi before it was closed down.
Simon Fong and Ho Sui Ting were engineers who had obtained their qualifications overseas. They each in turn became the chief engineer of the palm oil mill. Fong died tragically, shortly after being promoted to be the general manager of the Sabah business, and he was succeeded by Ho.
Kimansi Estate was a better acquisition than Tungud had been. Apart from the 400 acres cleared, it was still covered with jungle from which Kwong Borneo had removed all the marketable logs; we were able to use some of their logging roads.
We divided the estate into two divisions of about 5,000 acres, with a manager in charge of each. Tindakon Division in the southern half was flat but easily drained, with none of the deep peat swamps which had caused us so many problems in the early days on Tungud. Rungus Division was quite undulating.