A story of self-reliance, determination and integrity
Self-reliance, thrift, humility and integrity - these traits together with foresight, hard work, and an entrepreneurial outlook enabled Wan Boo Sow (雲茂潮) to rise from an early life in rural poverty to build a successful business.
Boo Sow was born in 1918 to poor and illiterate immigrants who came from Hainan island in search of a better life in a British colony. His father, Wan Chong Jin (雲崇锦), eked out a living as a hawker selling “bubor kachang”. When he was four, his father passed away from complications brought on by a fish bone lodged in the throat. Today such a tragedy could be avoided by a simple one-hour procedure in a clinic.
Boo Sow’s mother then remarried and left him in the care of his paternal uncle. His uncle’s family was just as poor and survived by rearing poultry on a small piece of land in Geylang. Such hardship was common among many families at that time.
In 1925, Boo Sow enrolled in the Geylang English Primary School to begin his formal education. Seven years later, he attended Raffles Institution where he studied for four years.
Born to a very poor family, there were occasions when Boo Sow was not able to pay his school fees for many months. The teachers, sympathising with his plight, allowed him to continue attending classes. Coming from a non-English-speaking family, Boo Sow did not do well in his primary and secondary school exams.
Once, when he was low on funds, Boo Sow put up notices offering tuition service. There were parents who paid for his service but did not send their children for tuition. This was their way of donating money to help a poor village boy. Boo Sow was deeply touched by this and other acts of kindness extended to him.
After school, Boo Sow had chores like collecting leftovers from restaurants to feed the poultry, cleaning the pig-sties and pens, and bringing poultry and eggs to the market. In the evenings, Boo Sow taught English to Hainanese cooks and houseboys and cleaned the shoes of an Eurasian family.
His aunt placed great importance on education and always encouraged him in his studies. Boo Sow was always struggling with his school work but he worked hard on this and managed to pass his Senior Cambridge exams.
The years of rural poverty did not break Boo Sow’s spirit. Through it all his family displayed a strong work ethic and always worked hard to improve their lives. It was a lesson in self-reliance, determination and thrift.
After his Senior Cambridge in 1937, Boo Sow went to look for work. Police inspector, hospital orderly and bank clerk -- these were positions that he applied for without success. Jobs were hard to come by and were usually obtained through recommendations which Boo Sow did not have. However, his proficiency in the English language enabled him to obtain employment as an interpreter to a rich Hainanese rubber estate owner and a tutor to the latter’s children.
An opportune moment came when his cousin, a barber to Dr George V. Allen, Principal of the King Edward VII College of Medicine, showed him Boo Sow’s Senior Cambridge Certificate and asked for his help. Dr Allen later became the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malaya from 1949 to 1952.
Noticing that Boo Sow had a credit in Chemistry, Dr Allen sent him to Mr Roebuck, Chief Pharmacist at the Singapore General Hospital, who did not have a vacancy, and instead sent him to his friends, Mr Cook and Mr Chalmers of the Maynard Pharmacy. To Boo Sow’s immense relief, they offered to take him in as an apprentice. All the positions then in fact had been held only by the British.
Boo Sow applied himself fully to his work. He was diligent, enterprising, and learned as much as he could. His employers recognised his efforts and rewarded him with a pay rise. Even so, he kept his employment with the rubber estate owner and continued with the two jobs as his pay was still low. Boo Sow needed all that income to support his family.
Marriage and family
Four years on, his apprenticeship came to an end when the Japanese invaded Malaya and Singapore in December 1941 and occupied these territories until August 1945. During the Japanese occupation, Boo Sow managed to accumulate some capital by buying and selling medicines which were much sought after. Boo Sow was fortunate that he was not caught up in the Sook Ching massacre when many thousands of Chinese men, especially the educated, were rounded up and executed by Japanese soldiers in February and March 1942. An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 perished in this cruel and tragic manner.
In 1943, Boo Sow married Annie Tan (陈玉贞), an English-educated daughter of a book-keeper whom he met through a matchmaker. Many of Annie’s friends had married men who were well-off but without much of an education. When Annie met Boo Sow at his house, she noticed his Senior Cambridge Certificate prominently displayed on the wall in the living room. She decided that it was better to marry someone with an education even if he was not from a well-off family.
Annie was Boo Sow’s helpmate and a pillar of unwavering support. Besides caring for their young and growing family, she helped out in the pharmacy and the insecticide business that he was to undertake in the years after the war. She took on the task of selling pharmaceutical and insecticide products in house to house sales canvassing, a common method in the days before the supermarkets, and also helped with administrative work in the factory office.
Boo Sow and Annie had seven children, all of whom are university graduates and five of whom graduated from the University of Singapore. With family members who are alumni of the National University of Singapore across two generations, the Wan family is proud of its deep ties to the University.
Starting out in business
After the Japanese surrender in 1945, Boo Sow enrolled in the pharmacy course at the King Edward VII College of Medicine. When he graduated with a Diploma in Pharmacy in 1948, Boo Sow was already a father of three. With the modest sum that he had put away during the Japanese occupation, Boo Sow opened the London Pharmacy located at 109 High Street. As a trained pharmacist and chemist, he started experimenting and came up with cough remedies and an insecticide.
Path to success
It was the insecticide that launched Boo Sow on his path to success. Customers came to buy the insecticide by the basket loads, bringing their own bottles. To meet the increased demand, Boo Sow opened a small factory in Robinson Road followed by bigger premises in Paya Lebar. By the mid-1960s, he had moved to a larger purpose-built factory at 875 Bukit Timah Road which was officially opened by Dr Goh Keng Swee, then Minister for Finance. This was soon followed by another factory in Johor Bahru. “Ridsect” (杀虫王), as his insecticide was known, became a household name in Malaysia and Singapore and the wider region.
Boo Sow and Annie were always immensely proud of their Singaporean roots and were very proud to witness Singapore’s transformation from a British colony to an independent and prosperous multi-racial nation.
Despite being a man of means, Boo Sow lived a frugal and simple life and was not interested in displays of wealth. Self-reliance, thrift, humility and integrity - these qualities were always with him in all his endeavours.
Having gone through much hardship early in life, Boo Sow was able to identify with those in disadvantaged circumstances and was compassionate and generous towards them. He was ready to help those who were less well-off than himself. For many years, he served as chairman of the Wan Clan Association.
Boo Sow believed that education was an essential if not paramount factor in an individual’s development, and instilled this value in his children. He was a life-long learner - always curious, inquisitive, filled with a thirst for knowledge and a never-ending desire for self-improvement.
Influenced by his life lessons and values, Boo Sow’s children have set up awards and scholarships in various tertiary institutions. Realising the importance of library resources in support of education, the Wan family has made generous donations to the NUS Libraries since July 1995. Over the years, the support of the Wan family has been instrumental in expanding the collections on Chinese, Malay and Southeast Asian Studies in the NUS Libraries.
In recognition of the generous support of the Wan family, the National University of Singapore is pleased to name the Chinese Library the “Wan Boo Sow Chinese Library” (雲茂潮中文图书馆).
雲茂潮先生（Wan Boo Sow）出身于贫困的乡村家庭。先生以其自强谦逊、朴实正直的品格，加上高瞻远嘱、刻苦耐劳以及勇于拼搏的创业精神白手起家，让他在商界成功闯出一片天。
雲茂潮生于1918年，出身自贫困而又文盲的移民家庭。其父亲崇锦公（Wan Chong Jin）早年从中国海南岛赴新加坡谋求生计，靠当小贩售卖绿豆汤勉强糊口。很不幸地，其父亲在雲茂潮四岁时不慎因鱼刺卡住喉咙而离世。换到今日，只要到诊所接受简单治疗一小时或就能避免这场悲剧。
千载难逢的机会到来。雲茂潮的表兄是爱德华七世医学院校长乔治·艾伦博士（Dr George V. Allen）的理发师。他表兄将雲茂潮的剑桥高级文凭拿给艾伦博士过目，希望艾伦博士协助引荐工作。艾伦博士后来于1949年到1952年成为马来亚大学校长。
艾伦先生留意到雲茂潮的化学成绩考获优等，因此推荐他去拜访新加坡中央医院的总药剂师罗巴克先生（Mr Roebuck），但因为后者没有职位空缺，便请他到梅纳德药房（Maynard Pharmacy）拜会其两位好友库克先生（Mr Cook）和查尔默斯先生（Mr Chalmers）。他们接受先生作为学徒，让他放下心头大石。药房当时的所有职位皆由英国人担任。他的求职之路终于捎来好消息，获得一份稳定的工作。
经营杀虫剂生意让先生走向成功之路。客户自备一篮篮的瓶子来大量购买杀虫剂。为满足不断增加的需求，他先在罗敏申路开设小型工厂，接着在巴耶利峇路开设一家更大的工厂。到了1960年代中期，他将杀虫剂工厂搬到武吉知马路门牌875号一栋面积更宽广的专用工厂里。该家工厂由当时的财政部长吴庆瑞博士（Dr Goh Keng Swee）主持开幕仪式。当生意继续扩张后，他在新山开设另一家工厂。他创立的杀虫剂品牌——“杀虫王”（Ridsect），在马来西亚、新加坡以及更广大的地区里已经成为家喻户晓的杀虫剂品牌。
新加坡国立大学感谢雲茂潮先生子女一直以来的支持，将中文图书馆命名为“雲茂潮中文图书馆” (Wan Boo Sow Chinese Library)。