CEO Series

Here're Malaysia's Richest Men In 2017 And How They Got There

We complain about our dropping Ringgit here a lot in Malaysia, but recent reports have revealed that the Ringgit is easily considered Asia’s strongest currency.

Consider that statement with a grain of salt, however, as Bloomberg’s report was based on how much the Ringgit has climbed recently, compared to the USD.

Once you drop low enough, there’s nowhere else to go but up.

If investor confidence is anything to go by however, we the rakyat will hopefully have a currency rise to look forward to.

For Malaysians with international dealings, this helped them take advantage of the stronger dollar. It also however, affected some of the more local-based businesses badly.

It was against this backdrop that Forbes’ roundup of the richest men in Malaysia came to be.

For those dealing in business, these are the faces they will be looking up to as Malaysia’s recent good fortune in currency hopefully gains more investor confidence.

Image Credit: The Rakyat Post

Branded as Malaysia’s richest Bumiputra (as of 2015), Syed Mokhtar has had a hand in an absolute variety of industries ranging from engineering to sugar mills and the rice trade.

He had his humble beginnings as a rice trader in the 1990s and it was this business that eventually pushed him up into the Lembaga Padi Negara. This later led to supplier contracts for government-linked operations.

Today, Syed Mokhtar runs government-linked organisations MMC Corp and DRBHicom.

Described as a “reclusive tycoon”, he recently caught some flak for having sold 49.9% of the national car Proton to Geely Holding.

But it was his hold on the MMC Corp that won him some recent wealth from our long-standing MRT project.

It’s their participation in the project that increased share prices, and thus, Syed Mokhtar’s own fortune, according to Forbes.

Image Credit: Berita Daily

As a teenager, Tiong Hiew King worked as a rubber tapper before building what is currently a 16-country “forestry concession” (a tool for forest management, especially in tropical countries) named the Rimbunan Hijau Group.

They primarily oversee forestry in Papua New Guinea, among a few other countries including Malaysia. He’s even been knighted by Queen Elizabeth, to controversy from objecting environmentalists.

Here on our shores, Rimbunan Hijau is also known for owning Media Chinese International Ltd, famously the holder of Chinese publications Sin Chew Jit Poh and Nanyang Siang Pau. Forbes links that to Rimbunan Hijau capturing 70% of the Chinese readership in Malaysia.

Today, the company has introduced local editions of Chinese-language daily Ming Pao in places like San Francisco, New York, Vancouver and Toronto.

Image Credit: I3investor on Blogspot

His company Hap Seng Consolidated Berhad has its hands in quite a few industries. This is why while palm oil prices were majorly hit, Hap Seng Consolidated still enjoys a decent property standing, which helped surge Lau Cho Kun’s personal worth up with his company’s as well.

One that many Malaysians would be familiar with is the sale and distribution for Mercedes-Benz vehicles in Malaysia—a distribution right that they’ve held for 4 decades now.

Since 2016, Hap Seng has since consolidated its commercial vehicles business into Lei Shing Hong, a Hong Kong-based holding entity, because it’s less exposed to the currency fluctuation.

Even though it hasn’t been traced by financial analysts since 2012, Hap Seng Consolidated has returned almost 400 per cent to investors in three years.

Image Credit: I3investor on Blogspot

Also ranked at #421 of the world’s billionaires, Yeoh Tiong Lay involves his entire family in the business, with his son Francis spearheading YTL corporation.

The Yeoh family is definitely one of the who’s who in business. Images of their swanky mansion went viral last year, showcasing the wealth that the family enjoys.

Despite a deteriorating economy at the time, Yeoh Tiong Lay insisted on sending his son Francis to school in Britain, and has since then donated £7 million to King’s College London to set up a research-based centre for Politics, Philosophy and Law.

In recent years following the Brexit vote, YTL (who already hold Wessex Water from Enron) are gunning for acquisitions in the UK.

“Not since 2008 has there been an opportunity to scout for assets at attractive prices till now,” said Francis Yeoh.

Image Credit: viva bisnis

Lim Kok Thay’s father arrived from China to Malaysia 50 years ago, with barely anything to his name. Through years of hard work, he was able to pass on his empire to his son.

In 2012, Lim Kok Thay donated $600,000 to 5 charities in Singapore for his 60th birthday.

This is in part due to Genting’s success from buying relatively unwanted highland real estate and turning into a successful empire, complete with a theme park and casinos.

Lim Kok Thay has taken what his father built and is expanding Genting’s global presence and influence.

They’re expecting to open Resorts World Las Vegas in 2019. The 20th Century Fox renovations to the Genting Themepark are also well underway.

On top of their more well-known business, the Genting group also owns Star Cruises, Crystal Cruises, and has a stake in palm oil. In fact, Lim Kok Thay has aims to be known as the “King of Asian Cruise” instead of inheriting his father’s crown as the “Casino King”.

Despite passing the age of 60, Lim Kok Thay has been described as a workaholic with his phone on 24-hours a day thanks to the rigours of running casinos internationally. But what really drives him is his passion for the business.

Lim Kok Thay has stated that he would continue as long as he still enjoys it.

Image Credit: Forbes

At 11, Lee Shin Cheng had to quit school to sell ice cream to help his family get by.

But he eventually returned to school in his early teens, realising that education was his pathway out of hardship.

His belief in education is what spurred him into many charitable contributions towards education over the years with a foundation under his name.

His education was in a Chinese school, so when he tried to apply for a place in European-owned Dunlop Estate in the 1960s, he was rejected for a lack of proficiency in English.

Eventually, Lee Shin Cheng gained employment as a field supervisor in a different company, and rose through the ranks.

He was finally able to buy Dunlop Estate and in part, grow Malaysia into a global leader in palm oil under IOI Group.

This, he cited, is in part thanks to his own experience on the palm estate ground.

Unfortunately, thanks to the dropping global demand and lowered prices of palm oil that in part crashed our currency as well, Lee Shin Cheng actually dropped from 3rd place since Forbes’ 2014 list.

Nevertheless, he remains bullish about palm oil and passionate about the business.

Image Credit: Bamboo Innovator

A longtime banker by trade, Ten Hong Piow built Public Bank from scratch, and now gains most of his personal wealth from his stake in the company.

In fact, Public Bank currently holds a 50-year track record of continuous profitability since its inception.

In the recent Star report of their continuous good track, it attributes Public Bank’s recent money-making magic to consumer loans towards property and vehicles, as well as credit to SMEs (small and medium enterprises).

Public Bank also boasts the lowest cost-to-profitability ratio in Malaysia, in the same report.

Some critique Public Bank for its top-down, conservative management style, but this article credits it for Public Bank’s resilience over the years, despite any financial turbulence.

Image Credit: Thomas Hawk on Flickr

Ananda Krishnan was the founding director of Petronas, and in fact was reportedly the voice that sold the idea of the Petronas Twin Towers to then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

He is the sole owner and proprietor of Usaha Tegas Berhad. And it is through this company that he holds business interests in Astro, MEASAT satellites, a hand in oil and gas from his stake in Bumi Armada and previously, TGV Cinemas.

However, his stake in Tanjong Public Limited Company helped retain his wealth, operating on everything from Powertek (power generation), property, lottery, and leisure.

On top of that, Forbes lists that he is well known for being one of Malaysia’s biggest givers, either through his private or listed companies, though tagging an accurate figure proves difficult due to a lack of revealed data.

Currently, he is wanted by India’s Supreme Court due to a federal investigation into the circumstances to which he acquire Aircel, which he is now attempting to merge with a company called Reliance Communications to relax some burdens on debt. Ananda Krishnan denies any wrongdoing, however.

He also has links to 1MDB.

Ananda Krishnan is also owns Maxis, which in part, along with Bumi Armada and the uncertainty around Aircel contributed to his drop in wealth from second place.

Image Credit: alchetron.com

Another banker, Quek Leng Chan is the co-founder of Hong Leong Group Malaysia. He and his two brothers started a banking group together, with inherited wealth.

During the Singapore-Malaysia split in 1965, 21-year-old Quek Leng Chan came to Malaysia with an initial capital of RM700,00 to head operations here when no one else wanted to.

Now, he’s the second richest man in Malaysia, and the Quek family is also the 7th richest family in Asia.

He’s since resigned from his chairman position in Hong Leong Bank last year.

Quek Leng Chan has been described as “holding cards close to his chest”, but that he’s also a strategist “who does not jump just into anything”.

And since he’s described as still healthy, people are wondering where he will be heading next.

He is also known as an active big-name investor and his approach to business can be seen from his actions in that sector.

Image Credit: Forbes

The reigning champion since the Forbes 2014 list, Robert Kuok’s wealth has dropped by 0.1B since Forbes’ last dive into our billionaires.

Fun fact: despite popular belief, he is not actually a Tan Sri.

Despite that, Robert Kuok has a vast empire, including founding Shangri-La, a high-end hotel chain. And his company also owns the cinema chain GSC Cinema.

Robert Kuok graduated from the Raffles Institute, Singapore. Born in Johor, Robert Kuok began from the bottom as an clerk, before ascending as the head of the rice-trading department of a Japanese conglomerate during the Japanese occupation of Malaya.

He took the skills learnt to his own family business, the Kuok Brothers Sdn Bhd in 1949 to trade in agriculture.

In that time, Robert Kuok visited London quite frequently to learn about the sugar industry, and later decided to make it the company’s focus.

He later formed the Malayan Sugar Manufacturing Co. Bhd. with two other Japanese partners, and placed a huge bet on sugar by establishing partnerships and increasing the company’s scope to produce sugar.

Eventually, he was able to control 80% of the Malaysian sugar market. It earned him the moniker “The Sugar King of Asia”.

His formation of the Shangri-La high-end hotel chain then led to property investments, which mostly happened in Hong Kong.

His second hotel is located in Hong Kong, where he now resides. On top of his sugar and property wealth, Robert Kuok also has political influence in Hong Kong.

Robert Kuok’s influence and investments now span Asia. Forbes cites most of his wealth coming from his majority stake in Wilmar International, a palm-oil giant headquartered in Singapore.

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There are many whose riches came from legacy, but it is interesting to note that many of top 10 richest men in Malaysia today came to wealth from rags-to-riches.

It might have just been the right time to build empires, but if their stories prove anything, it’s that success can come from anywhere, even an 11-year-old boy who had to quit school to sell ice cream.

Most of these billionaires also came from traditional businesses, like palm oil, banking, or even forestry.

This comes as an interesting contrast to 10 of America’s Richest, which contain quite a few individuals from tech related companies, like Google, Amazon and Oracle.

Looking at worldwide trends, it’s very likely that we too might soon see the rise of a tech billionaire who will harness part of the projected 200 billion US$-worth digital industry in South East Asia and convert it to wealth.

This article was written based on an infograph on iMoney. The original infographic can be found here.