In 1975, Tan Sri Dato’ Lee started a private-limited property company named Lam Soon Huat Development Sdn Bhd (later renamed as IOI Properties Berhad in 1994) and started his first housing development project in Kajang in the following year.
Subsequently in 1984, he acquired three property development companies and further expanded his property business.
In 1982, he secured a controlling stake in Industrial Oxygen Incorporated (“IOI”) and used it as a vehicle to venture into oil palm plantation business starting from zero base. In the following year, he acquired three plantation companies in Pahang and later ventured into greenfield oil palm planting in Sabah through the acquisition of Morisem Plantation (Sabah) Sdn Bhd.
In 1990, he demonstrated his vision and foresight by acquiring Dunlop Estates, a business much bigger than IOI at that time. The acquisition marked the first major breakthrough in his life, and became one of the proudest moments for him. There is an added irony in that he applied for a job at Dunlop Estates 25 years earlier but was rejected due to lack of education qualifications. The RM500 million acquisition involved 13 palm oil estates (a total of 27,880 hectares), two palm oil mills, two rubber factories and one Research Centre.
Tan Sri Dato’ Lee’s other significant milestone involved the acquisition of Pamol Plantation Sdn Bhd in 2003 from Unilever. Since then, the breeding and seed production operation of Pamol became integrated with IOI Research Centre, which enables IOI to produce very high-quality seeds for its plantations.
Tan Sri Dato’ Lee’s vision and management capability extend beyond plantations and property. In 1997, he acquired a controlling stake in Palmco Holdings Berhad (later renamed as IOI Oleochemical Industries Berhad), a palm-based oleochemical company. Within one year of acquiring the struggling company, Tan Sri Dato’ Lee turned it around into a highly profitable business by expanding the market base of its product globally. Nine years later, he acquired Pan-Century Edible Oils and Pan-Century Oleochemical, making IOI the world’s largest vegetable-based oleochemical producer at that time.
In 2002, Tan Sri Dato’ Lee further diversified his businesses and extended his reach globally by acquiring Loders Croklaan, a specialty fats company based in the Netherlands and with operations in the United States and Canada, from Unilever. The acquisition provided IOI access to the specialty oils and fats markets in over 60 countries and completed IOI’s palm oil value chain, making it a leading global integrated palm oil producer.