The story of BOH begins in 1890 when seven-year-old J.A. Russell arrived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaya with his father. At that time, the capital was a mishmash of tin miners' shanties, houses built by Chinese immigrants and palatial new buildings designed by British government architects.
J.A. was educated in England, but upon his return to Malaya, he began his career in the Straits Trading Company where he became fluent in as many as 5 Chinese dialects as well as Bahasa Melayu. This, together with his close contacts with wealthy Chinese tin-miners, paved the way for his investment in the country's flourishing mining industry.
In partnership with his brothers Philip, Donald and Robert, J.A. soon started diversifying his business interests. In 1908, he ventured into the rubber industry, which was then still in its infancy. He was also involved in the construction business and, together with Philip, was contracted to build the Kuala Lumpur railway station.
In 1913, J.A transacted one of the most remarkable business deals in his career where he acquired almost a third of the town of Ipoh.
Around the same time, he established a colliery at Batu Arang in Selangor. In this venture, he was assisted by his brother Donald, a mining engineer trained at the Colorado School of Mines. Their foresight and initiative helped transform this jungle area into a thriving industrial centre just 25 km from Kuala Lumpur.
But it was his business venture in 1929 that has left an indelible mark on the country. J.A. saw the potential of tea as an important crop for Malaya which until that time had been substantially dependent upon rubber and tin. Together with A.B. Milne, a veteran tea planter from Ceylon, he applied for and was granted a concession of land in Cameron Highlands.
Equipped with a single steamroller, some labourers and several mules, they proceeded to transform steep virgin jungle slopes into the tea garden we now know as Boh, the first Highlands tea garden in the country.
Thus, BOH Plantations, the current market leader for tea, was born.
J.A. Russell was a scholarly yet dynamic person. When he died in 1933 at the early age of 50, the obituary carried by The Malay Mail, the local English language newspaper, aptly described his life in Malaya:
'His whole career has been a business romance of such magnitude that it cannot be compared with the achievements of any other European in Malaya – past or present.'