Veteran public servant and businessman Tang I-Fang, who served as chairman of various statutory boards and sat on the boards of several listed firms, died yesterday. He was 89.

Mr Tang is credited with transforming WBL Corp, or Wearnes, from a car distributor with falling sales in the early 1980s, into a diversified multinational corporation with businesses ranging from high-technology to property.

In 1989, Mr Tang was named Businessman of the Year.

He stepped down as chief executive officer in 2004 aged 80, but kept serving as executive director and chairman until his retirement in 2006.

Wearnes chairman Norman Ip told The Straits Times via e-mail: "I have known Mr Tang for 30 years and he will be fondly remembered as a strategic and charismatic leader.

"Under his chairmanship, the group turnover rose from $98 million in 1984 to more than $2 billion in 2005."

Before joining Wearnes, Mr Tang had served as the chairman of several statutory boards, including the Economic Development Board and JTC Corp.

He was one of the founding members of Singapore Press Holdings' board of directors, and served from its establishment in August 1984 to 2004.

He also led the board of United Engineers for more than two decades. UE chairman Tan Ngiap Joo said: "Over the years, his visionary leadership enabled the group to grow tremendously.

"In particular, he sowed the seeds for the group's growing business presence in China, and was also instrumental in the development of the group's flagship building UE Square."

Mr Tang was born on Sept 16, 1924 in China. He obtained a BSc (Mechanical Engineering) from China's National Central University in 1945 and an MBA from Harvard University in 1948.

He started an engineering business in the United States, but later became interested in the development problems of emerging countries.

In 1959, he came to Singapore as part of a small United Nations team to set up an industrial plan for the fledgling state.

He became a Singapore citizen and in 1972 he was awarded the Singapore Government's Award for Distinguished Public Service for his contribution to the Republic's industrialisation and economic development.

He is survived by his wife and four children.