Dato’ Yong Yoon Li Wants To Keep Things Real at Royal Selangor

The Managing Director of the 139-year old company on how an authentic narrative plays a key role in keeping up with the times.
Royal Selangor

Dato’ Yong Yoon Li, Managing Director of Royal Selangor International

For Dato’ Yong Yoon Li, the Managing Director of Royal Selangor, having a proper narrative is key to keeping the 139-year-old company relevant. 

“We veer away from spinning empty narratives and focus more on what is truly meaningful in our creative journey, ” he says when we meet at the Royal Selangor Visitor Centre. 

“Our stories aren’t just stories; they’re reflections of who we are and what our products stand for.” 

For a company that survived two world wars, went through several periods of economic upheaval and family feuds, it’s quite remarkable how Royal Selangor—founded in 1885 by a young pewtersmith who first arrived in Malaya at the age of 14 from China—remains a household name for quality pewter pieces. 

If you’ve ever been in search of the perfect housewarming, wedding or corporate gift, chances are, it’s quite likely Royal Selangor crossed your mind. This lastingness could be credited to their knack for keeping up with the times.


In the 1930s, when demand for western-style pewter items increased, Royal Selangor’s founder, Yong Koon and his sons adapted their inventory to produce vases and tankards as a way to appeal to the expatriate community. In the late 1960s, they began exporting to Singapore and later to further lands such as Hong Kong, Germany, Denmark, Japan, Australia and the UK. 

“You tend to get tangled up in frivolities or unnecessary storytelling, but the relevance of the product or its functionality is one of our biggest challenges at the company”

This adaptability to meet new demands combined with a smart entrepreneurial spirit is still seen today at Royal Selangor and is something Yoon Li, the great-grandson of its founder, credits to the brand’s dedication is ensuring a certain level of authenticity in everything they do. 

“You tend to get tangled up in frivolities or unnecessary storytelling, but the relevance of the product or its functionality is one of our biggest challenges at the company,” he says.

Aside from functional pewter pieces, Royal Selangor is highly regarded for producing elaborate decorative artwork from figurines to ornaments. This is where Yoon Li admits that things get a bit tricky. Just how do you develop a product that is decorative yet relevant for the market? 

Royal Selangor

“We tried in many ways from our licensed collectables and pop culture products,” he says. “It has its relevance in today’s lifestyle, especially with all the big money spent on movies. There are a lot of these fans of movies and comic book series who would like to own a part of that story, so we provide that three-dimensional decorative piece for them to own.” 

Another way is by keying into the functional side of things by observing how people live. “It’s about looking at the relevance of people’s lifestyle, you just need to find a product for that. 

“Back in the 1980s, we used to make a lot of toast racks, nowadays, people don’t use toast racks anymore. So, from there, we moved on to wine decanters for example, which people used in the early 2000s and even up to now. We’re seeing a renaissance in this field of mixology items.” 


As the fourth generation in the family business, Yoon Li considers himself and his siblings fortunate for the opportunities to pursue more options in their education and career.

“I think for my father’s generation, coming out of the Second World War, they had to really put their life into the company. Whereas when we graduated there were a few more options.” 

After graduating with a Master in Engineering from the Manufacturing Engineering School at the University of Birmingham, Yoon Li went on to pursue work experience at an engineering factory in Digbeth where he focused on the design aspects of engineering. This was also where he learnt basic metalworking skills. 

Royal Selangor

A stint in Formula One with Team Lotus International as a Junior Design Engineer followed after graduation and Yoon Li continued to work in the automotive industry for a few years before joining Royal Selangor International in 2005. 

“In a way, (my early career) gave me some discipline in how people design products and how we had to have some costing in mind, while also getting the design right the first time,” he says. 

“It’s not only in just the design, but also in the way we market and tell our story, it has to be more authentic and real. That gives us a more compelling reason why our customers gravitate to the brand.” 

Then there’s also the great detail for excellent craftsmanship, something which can be observed at the Royal Selangor Visitor Centre, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. 

“My grandfather liked to tinker, he had a little skunkworks in Gombak where he would try different machining or manufacturing processes. It was not far from where we used to live and I would hear him tinkering at the back,” recalls Yoon Li on some of his earliest memories of the brand and the craftsmanship and work that goes behind every product they make to create a meaningful product. 

“I think the way we make those products also are quite traditional from our and our customer’s perspective. So, we make sure that our craftspeople are constantly perfecting their skills,” he says on how the company has implemented new technologies in their work such as 3D printing and ERP systems. 

Royal Selangor

With such a vast archive of products, I asked Yoon Li where he goes when he needs inspiration. “I don’t, I send my design team,” he says jokingly, although you get a sense he takes great enjoyment in coming up with possible ideas for a new product. 

“I think a lot of inspiration comes from everyday life and just by talking to people, a lot of it revolves around family and the family unit, and I think that is quite meaningful.” 

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