2 Origins of the business
The present business of R.E.A. Holdings plc, and the initials in the company's name, have their origins in a London plantation agency house called The Rubber Estate Agency Limited, established in 1906.
In today's era of air travel and electronic mail, it is easy to forget that in the early 1900s the transmission time for communications from the UK to overseas territories was very slow - a letter from London to South East Asia typically took six weeks. It was therefore not easy to establish a new plantation and investors looked to London agency houses to set up and operate the plantations in which they were investing. The agency houses provided executive management, regular reporting, procurement of supplies, marketing of produce, and secretarial and all other necessary administrative services.
Although by 1906 there were already several established eastern merchants based in London and providing plantation agency services (including such well known companies as Harrisons & Crosfield, and Guthrie), it is believed that the Rubber Estate Agency was the first UK company to be established for the specific purpose of financing the acquisition of rubber estates and of acting as secretaries and agents of rubber and other plantation companies. Its dedication to this single sphere of activity reflected the confidence of its two founders, William de Bois Maclaren and Frank Copeman, in the future of plantation agriculture. Such confidence derived from the founders' involvement with the India Rubber Journal a leading journal of the rubber industry published by Maclaren & Sons, a publisher of which the founders were the sole partners.
After an initial venture in Brazil, the Rubber Estate Agency was to concentrate mainly on the development of plantation properties in South East Asia. In 1907, the Agency commenced business in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), with the establishment of Java Rubber Plantations Limited, which was formed to acquire the Sumber Tengah rubber estate from Dutch interests.
Further plantation companies followed in rapid succession and, by 1910, the Rubber Estate Agency had established a substantial portfolio of agency clients and had extended its geographical reach to Malaya (now Malaysia). With rubber reaching a price of 12s 10½d per lb (136p per kg) in 1910 (a peak not subsequently exceeded for more than ninety years), rubber plantations were very profitable and many of the Agency's client companies were publicly floated on the London Stock Exchange.