LamShumei6.17Lam Shumei: Bringing affordable chicken protein to the people of Rwanda.
Photo: Lam Shumei

In early 2014, Larry Lam, the founder of Portek International, lost his fight with cancer.

He died at the relatively young age of 62.  And he had just come into a lot of cash after Portek was bought over for S$221 million and delisted from the Singapore Exchange by Mitsui & Co in 2011.

I held some shares of Portek briefly and knew nothing about him beyond his Chairman role.

Turned out he 
was quite a guy, who gave a few million dollars to his staff after Portek was privatised, as I learned when I did some interviews for an article: LARRY LAM, founder of Portek, dies from cancer at 62

Recently, I unexpectedly learnt a little bit more about him after Business Times published "Chicken farming not as easy as it looks" on 5 June 2017.

It described the unusual venture undertaken in faraway Rwanda, a small country in Africa, by a Singaporean woman.

She is Lam Shumei. It was not mentioned in the Business Times article but her father was Larry.

Shumei first visited Rwanda -- where Portek had built a land port -- in 2011 with her father.    

Larry had planned to start a poultry farm there with his family as a way to give back to the community.

Many entrepreneurs talk about "giving back to society" while they rake in fat profits or, worse still, milk their customers. Larry, however, was different: After all, with his millions, he had no need to eke out minor profits from a largely rural population far from Singapore.

Larry, it seemed, always thought of returning something to the community.

LarryLam obituaryLarry Lam: 1951-2014A shareholder told me that at Portek's AGMs, Larry would point out that Portek's business of taking over old ports in developing countries and modernising their operations not only brought in good profits but, more importantly, benefitted the local population.

When he died, the poultry farm was not yet completed and the decision to proceed with the plan or abandon it fell on Shumei. 

"I felt a compelling need to fulfil the wishes that he never had the opportunity to complete himself," she says in the Business Times article.

She completed the work and has been running the farm ever since. 

Her business -- Poultry East Africa Ltd (Peal) -- hires about 60 locals and 
has "managed to increase affordability of chicken by 50 per cent so far," in line with its objective of bringing affordable protein to the people of Rwanda, according to the Business Times.

As a business, it has made good. "We have probably about 70 to 80 per cent of the market share," Shumei was quoted as saying. "If you've eaten chicken in Rwanda, you've most likely eaten my chicken." 

Larry should be beaming with pride from up there.

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