In the last year, many people have suffered from chronic loneliness and boredom arising from social isolation as a result of measures such as social distancing and extended periods of lockdown.

However, Covid-19 or not, one would be hard-pressed to imagine such psycho-social ills in the Tan family. Probably the largest household in Singapore, 85 family members spanning five generations live under one roof. In fact, the Tans have been living under one roof for the past 100 years.

To date, the Tans run the Prime Supermarket chain of 25 stores. Outside of Singapore, Prime Group International is a family business that consists of a modern pig farm, five Sun Island golf-cum-holiday resorts and two international schools in China.

It is hard to imagine that this sprawling empire started from a humble pig farmer – the late Mr Tan Ah Chye. The late Mr Tan and his 13 children and relatives managed and ran the pig farm until pig farming was phased out in Singapore in the mid-1980s. Following that, the youngest of Mr Tan’s children – Mr Tan Hong Khoon – was nominated to lead the family into unchartered waters.

Under his charge, the Prime Supermarket chain was birthed, followed by the subsequent diversification and regional expansion of the Group. Mr Tan Hong Khoon is the current chairman of Prime Group International and the head of the household.

Beyond the external success, the Tan family is an exemplar of successful intergenerational transfer of values. More than 80 of the Tan family members have roles in Prime, be it as cashiers or financial controllers. Even at home, the family is run and organised like a well-oiled machine. All members abide by a set of family values:

  1. When children bicker, parents should counsel and discipline them in their own rooms.
  2. Adults should not quarrel.
  3. Disagreements should be talked through and resolved harmoniously.
  4. Husbands should not criticise or find fault with their wives or children in front of other family members. They should seek the advice of elders if there are problems.
  5. No complaining about meals.
  6. No littering, graffiti, or vandalism.
  7. No gathering in groups to gossip.
  8. Respect elders, address them when you see them. Take good care of the younger generation.
  9. Children must tell parents if they plan to return home late or stay out for the night.
  10. Youngsters cannot bring home friends of the opposite sex to spend the night. Accept work that is delegated.

Although wealthy, the Tan family do not bask in luxury. They live simply, with communal bathrooms and toilets. Family members are tasked with various household chores such as tending the garden, maintaining the different rooms in the house, laundry and cooking.

Every member of the household is gainfully employed, and there is no lack. Children are able to pursue any level of education desired, and all medical expenses and retirees are taken care of. The younger generation also continues to engage and take care of the elderly.

In 2014, six family members took a month to organise the Chinese New Year reunion of the Tan family at their home. Many members had to fly into Singapore to attend the reunion. However, 125 in attendance only represented half of the massive family. Still, the oldest at the dinner table then was 87 year old aunt of Mr Tan Hong Khoon, whereas the youngest was three month old great-granddaughter of one of Mr Tan’s 12 siblings.

The Tan family is a prime model of what a successful transfer of values and legacy can look like, and the impact that a united family can have both on society and intergenerationally, long after one passes on.


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