laurence za yu moh
Laurence Za Yu Moh, the founder of Universal Furniture, was one of the furniture industry's most influential import pioneers. He is credited as being the first producer to leverage the advantage of low-cost labor for manufacturing furniture on a mass scale in Asia for import to the United States as well as the first to make furniture in Asia designed to appeal to American tastes.
Born in Shanghai, Mr. Moh fled China in 1949 after Communists took over the city. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, in 1959 he borrowed $80,000 to establish a flooring business called Hong Kong Teakwood. The company grew from a small parts supplier into a full-line furniture and flooring conglomerate operating as Universal Flooring and Universal Furniture.
In the early 1970s, Mr. Moh began manufacturing occasional tables and other wood furniture. Until that time, most Asian furniture imports were made of wicker and rattan, and styling was limited. In the 1980s, he introduced rubberwood as an affordable, sustainable Asian wood species, which enabled Universal to elevate Asian furniture exports from niche to mainstream. Mr. Moh was one of the first furniture producers to develop a manufacturing presence in mainland China. With a keen sense for the political and economic environments of the countries in which he operated, as labor and material cost structures changed, his footprint extended across Southeast Asia with plants in Taiwan, mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. When he sold the Universal companies to Masco Corp. in 1989, Universal was one of the world's largest producers of wood furniture, with annual sales of about $530 million.
Following a brief retirement, Mr. Moh launched Plantation Timber Products in 1997, then turned his sights back to furniture in 2000, when he built a state-of-the-art, 2.6 million-square-foot plant near Shanghai. Operating under the Fine Furniture & Design and Marketing brand, he created a new line of upper-medium-priced case goods and upholstery, expanding the reach of imports into a new, higher price range.
Mr. Moh was well known for his philanthropic work. Several scholarship funds designated for use at U.S. colleges and universities bear the Moh name, as well as professorship chairs at Wharton and Singapore Management University. In 2001, Mr. Moh established the $3 million Celia Moh Scholarship fund, named in honor of his wife, to help students pursuing home furnishings-related college degrees. In addition, he supported the creation of the International School of Home Furnishings building at High Point University.