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KUALA LUMPUR (Dec 12): Public Bank Bhd founder and chairman emeritus Tan Sri Dr Teh Hong Piow passed away on Monday (Dec 12) morning at the age of 92, the bank confirmed a few minutes before the stock market's 5pm close.

"It is with deep sorrow we announce that our chairman emeritus… has passed away peacefully at 10.20am today at the age of 92. Teh's passing is a great loss to the Public Bank group," the bank's managing director and chief executive officer, Tan Sri Dr Tay Ah Lek said in a media release.

"On behalf of the board, management and staff… we extend our most heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies to Teh's family," he added.

One of Malaysia's wealthiest men, Teh founded Public Bank in 1965 at the age of 35. Today, it is the country's third-largest banking group by assets after Malayan Banking Bhd (Maybank) and CIMB Group Holdings Bhd.

Despite having retired as its chairman at the end of 2018, the bank's stakeholders, particularly minority investors, hold him in such high regard that, even today, his name continues to be synonymous with the bank.

Immediately after relinquishing the chairman post, Teh was conferred the position of chairman emeritus and adviser of the bank. At the time, it was understood to be the first time anyone in the industry held the title of "chairman emeritus".

Teh held a 21.64% stake in Public Bank through his private investment vehicle, Consolidated Teh Holdings Sdn Bhd, and also directly held a 0.64% stake in the bank. Bloomberg listed his holdings in the bank as his biggest assets.

Public Bank's shares closed one sen lower at RM4.40 on Monday, after earlier hitting an intraday low of RM4.35. The counter saw some 25.9 million shares change hands for the day, 27.5% more than that of the previous trading day. The stock, which has shed 5.8% year-to-date, has a market value of RM85.41 billion.

Teh also had substantial shareholding in LPI Capital Bhd, an insurer he founded and was chairman of up until his passing. He had a direct 1.41% stake and an indirect 42.74% stake held through Consolidated Teh Holdings.

The insurer topped Bursa Malaysia's losers list on Monday after its share price fell 32 sen or 2.44% to close at RM12.80, giving it a market value of RM5.1 billion. Year to date, the counter has fallen 8.96%.

Teh ranked 316th on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index with a fortune of US$7.1 billion (RM31.36 billion), as of Nov 9. He was the second-highest ranked Malaysian on the index after Robert Kuok, who ranked 90th (US$16.7 billion).

Teh was born in Singapore on March 14, 1930 and received his primary- and secondary-school education at the Anglo Chinese School there. He had been married to Puan Sri Tay Sock Noy since 1956 and they had four children, according to his biodata posted on the bank's website.

He started out as a bank clerk working for Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp Ltd in 1950 and, within five years, rose the ranks to become an officer. He joined Maybank as a manager in 1960 and was four years later promoted to the position of general manager at the age of just 34.

Not long after, he left Maybank to set up Public Bank. The lender commenced business on Aug 6, 1966, with its first branch opened in Jalan Gereja, Kuala Lumpur and a clear vision of wanting to be "a bank for the people".

Over the decades, Public Bank went on to vastly expand its business in Malaysia and venture out into the region. Today, it has presence in markets such as Hong Kong, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Sri Lanka. According to its website, the group has 293 domestic branches, 150 overseas branches and a total staff force of over 19,000.

Teh, who was the bank's CEO and managing director from day one, was redesignated as its non-executive chairman on July 1, 2002 — a post he held until his retirement on Dec 31, 2018.

Up until his passing on Monday, he had also been a non-executive director of the bank. Teh used to cite photography and reading as his favourite hobbies.

In paying tribute to Teh, Tay said Public Bank has lost "an amazing and visionary leader".

Public Bank is widely considered by analysts to be one of the best-run banks in Malaysia, and the stock is often sought by investors for its generous dividends. Known for its conservative stance and prudence in banking — traits passed down by Teh — the bank has consistently outperformed its peers on a number of key fronts such as return on equity, cost efficiency and asset quality.

Public Bank reported a 16.1% year-on-year increase in net profit to RM5.66 billion for the financial year ended Dec 31, 2021 (FY2021), besting its pre-Covid-19 net profit of RM5.51 billion in FY2019. Its net profit for the cumulative first nine months of FY2022 grew 3% to RM4.4 billion, while revenue for the period expanded 4.1% to RM15.36 billion.

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