Our Founder Mr Cheng Tsang Man’s story is one of foresight, resilience, and a passion to grow.
It is also the extraordinary story of a true pioneer, who’s work shaped and mirrored the growth of the food manufacturing industries of Singapore and Sri Lanka.
Most of all, it is about a man who lived and worked honourably, was held in high esteem by those who truly mattered, and who was living proof that irrespective of your background, doing business with integrity and responsibility is not just a choice—but a privileged duty.
More than a Founder, a Pioneer.
A man who lived and worked honourably, and was held in high esteem by those who truly mattered.
The Early Years in Indonesia
The third child in his family, Mr Cheng was born on 10 October, 1916, in Yongchun, Fujian Province, China. At the age of eight, he left China for Ujung Pandang (formerly Makassar) in Indonesia, with an uncle to seek a livelihood and a better future.
With little to no formal schooling, he found practical education in working at an early age, even repairing watches and bicycles to make ends meet. In his late-twenties, following his instinct for opportunities, Mr Cheng set up his own business, and was a successful merchant within a decade.
An Opportunity abounds in Singapore
Mr Cheng saw in Singapore not only a first-mover advantage, but an opportunity to build a
In the 1960s, the Singapore government embarked on an ambitious industralisation programme, welcoming foreign investments with attractive tax rates and fiscal incentives. Mr Cheng saw in it not only a first-mover advantage, but given Singapore’s strategic economic importance and long-term political stability, an opportunity to build a new base after futile explorations in Hong Kong.
Mr Cheng was deliberate in his choice of the business, choosing the flour industry because he saw opportunity aplenty for Singapore to export to neighbouring countries. His tireless efforts came to fruition in 1961, when he was selected by the Singaporean government to establish the country’s first flour mill, outbidding foreign competitors in the process.
When the mill commenced operations on 18th August, 1963, it proved to be a historical turning point for not just Singapore, but the region, heralding the beginning of locally milled wheat flour replacing imported flour, and inspiring regional countries to do the same. Though the challenges were many, such as a volatile industrial and labour climate, Mr Cheng saw them through with grit and a deep determination to succeed.
Prima: A Name to Live by
Mr Cheng chose the name Prima, meaning “first” in Latin. He was partial to it for its international feel, and because it was easy to remember. But most of all, he saw the name as a rallying cry – a reminder that this would be a Group never afraid to be the first one in its endeavours, and would constantly evolve to remain number one. The many firsts that the Group has accomplished since, is a result of this very direction that Mr Cheng set the Group on.
The name Prima would be a rallying cry – a reminder that this would be a Group never afraid to be the first one in its endeavours.
From Strength to Strength
Under Mr Cheng’s stewardship, by the 1970s, the name Prima was well-known in international milling circles, with flour mills in Singapore, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. Operations would commence in the next decade in China, at a time when joint ventures with foreign partners were unheard of. The Group grew swiftly—but always with stability—from a modest flour mill to a food company with international and diverse operations.
Many would argue that the Group’s foray into Sri Lanka was Mr Cheng’s crowning achievement, helping secure not just his business legacy, but creating in his image a de facto ambassador of Singapore’s food manufacturing industry. Venturing into Asia’s emerald isle at a time of significant political instability, Mr Cheng managed to forge a bond with Sri Lanka that is today four decades and counting, with significant investments and numerous, impactful CSR efforts.
A Lasting Legacy
After serving as Executive Chairman for 37 years, Mr Cheng Tsang Man retired in 1998. He handed the helm to his son, Mr Primus Cheng, and became Honorary Life President at the Board’s invitation.
The following year, the Board decided to pay a gratuity of S$3 million to Mr Cheng for his contributions to building up the group. Mr Cheng instructed that the money should go instead to education. Accordingly, the Board split the sum evenly between Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU), to establish a Cheng Tsang Man professorial chair, respectively. At NTU, this position is known as Cheng Tsang Man Professorship in Energy, while in SMU, it is Cheng Tsang Man Professorship in Accountancy.
A philanthropist at heart, Mr Cheng gave generously throughout his life. He commemorated every significant occasion, business or personal, by giving to charity in lieu of lavish celebrations. Causes close to his heart included healthcare for Singapore’s elderly, those affected by natural disasters such as the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Remembering his roots, Mr Cheng also contributed to education and healthcare of his hometown in Yongchun.
Mr Cheng passed away in 2013, at the age of 97, leaving behind six children, 12 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. Hundreds attended his funeral at Mandai Crematorium, Singapore, from former Group staffers to business partners and dignitaries.
He commemorated every significant occasion, business or personal, by giving to charity in lieu of lavish celebrations.
Wisdom that Lights the Way
Our Founder’s life and times stand testament to a life well-lived, a business well-managed, and to the fine balance he struck between the two. On days good and bad, in times difficult and smooth, Mr Cheng remained a classic and a gentleman. A self-made man, he lived the family values he espoused, counselled an uncomplaining attitude, and unsurprisingly, loved to cook for those he loved.
His wisdom lives on and continues to guide the Group.