Recently, Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim was featured in the news for his generous $1 million meal donation to frontline medical workers who are helping in the fight against Covid-19.
The 66-year-old is known for his philanthropy, with past contributions including a $20 million donation to the Singapore Olympic Foundation-Peter Lim Scholarship to support young local athletes, and a $3 million to fund a professorship in peace studies at Nanyang Technological University.
Beyond his charity works, Singaporeans know him as the owner of Valencia football team but other than that, many of us don’t really know much about what he does. The self-made billionaire is notoriously low-key and usually keeps away from the media limelight.
According to Forbes, his net worth currently stands at US$2 billion (S$2.8 billion) and he was ranked as the 14th richest person in Singapore last year.
So how did the man attain his riches? From his early life till now, we took a look at how the business magnate built up his S$2.8 billion wealth from scratch.
Hustling Hard For A Good Education
Born in 1953 to a fishmonger father and a housewife mother, Lim and his six siblings grew up in a two-bedroom government flat in a Bukit Ho Swee public housing estate.
Sharing the flat with others, space was a constraint and he slept in the living room, or wherever he could find space to lay his mattress down for the night.
Despite his poor family background, Lim managed to become a student at the Raffles Institution but it was financially difficult for him to get into a respectable university.
Regardless, he did not give up on his wish to further his education at a well-known university. After completing National Service, he went to Perth, Australia to study at the University of Western Australia.
It was not easy being a university student. Alongside studying, he had to work part-time doing odd jobs as a taxi driver, cook and waiter to fund his university education.
Apparently, it was during one of these jobs – in the Australian fast-food chain Red Rooster – that opened his eyes to how business was done.
While he was working there, Lim studied how they started, how they grew, and how they scaled up. He would later go on to utilise this knowledge to create huge gains in his own business career.
Dealing With Numbers As A Career
Lim graduated university with a degree in accounting and finance and subsequently secured his first job as an accountant.
According to Lim, he is in his element when dealing with numbers.
“It’s something I’m very comfortable with, something I understand. Give me any numbers. I look at (them) and I’m happy. It can be in any industry. You give me the numbers; somehow I can figure it all out,” he said.
However, his accountant job only lasted for 3 months and he later moved into tax consultancy. That was when he realised that none of that was really satisfying his inner ambition, which was something he had always had since he was 18.
Leaving everything behind, Lim pursued his dream to become a stockbroker.
It was not his first time stockbroking though, as he had bought his first lot of shares before he entered university at the age of 18. He didn’t exactly make a killing then, but it served as a good starting experience for him.
In fact, I lost money. But not much. I was only paid $385 a month, so I can’t have bought, or lost, very much.– Peter Lim, in an interview with The New Paper in 2007.
Lim served mainly Indonesian clients as a stockbroker. He was so good at it, and his successful returns earned him the nickname “Remisier King” (Singaporean term for stockbroker).
A remisier is a stockbroker who only gets paid in commissions — and Lim made millions.
On his secret to success, he said that he keeps emotions out of investing and does not track the ups and downs of his stocks every day.
“I used to say to my friends, ‘When you are holding stocks, if it goes up, don’t be too happy; when it goes down, don’t be too sad'”.
“Otherwise, how? Your life will also be fluctuating and you’ll die of a heart attack. If you really lose sleep over it, maybe the best way is to keep the money in the bank.”
The then 43-year-old Lim quit the broking business at his peak to take care of divorce proceedings in 1996.
He was filing a divorce from his ex-wife from his first marriage, whom he shares two children, Kim and Kiat, with.
It was reportedly one of the longest divorces in Singapore and a messy one at that, involving a high-profile settlement of S$50 million and entanglements about Lim’s alleged hiding of assets.
Money is a funny thing. When you don’t have it, you want it. But when you have it, you have a lot of problems. I believe that if I’d had no money, I wouldn’t have had my divorce. Things wouldn’t be good, but it wouldn’t end up in a divorce.– Peter Lim, in an interview with The Business Times in 2007
While his prolonged divorce was in the process, he became a private investor.
He Made His First Billion From Investing In Palm Oil
As a private investor, Lim has interests in sectors from palm oil to medical.
He got involved in a start-up Indonesian palm oil company, Wilmar International, and invested $10 million in 1996.
Unfortunately, in the next year, the Indonesian economy was weakening and then the Indonesian currency fell from 2,500 rupiah against the US dollar to 16,000 rupiah. The nation’s economy would go on to be impacted badly by the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.
However, Lim shouldered on as he saw the potential in palm oil.
You have to invest with a longer-term mindset. You buy a good stock, leave it there for 10 years. Come 10 years, this dollar can be many, many multiples. The minimum length of my investments are five to six years, if not 10 to 12 years.– Peter Lim, in an interview with The Business Times in 2007
Fast forward 10 years later, businessman Robert Kuok decided to inject his Malaysian palm oil operations into Wilmar in 2007 after the demand for palm oil shot up.
It came after a Food And Drug Administration (FDA) ruling mandating the labeling of trans fatty acids on the Nutrition Facts label and food manufacturers began eliminating trans fats from their products and substituting them with palm oil.
Wilmer’s imports to the United States alone increased by nearly 60 per cent. The increased use of biofuels at the expense of fossil fuels also contributed significantly to demand.
As a result, Lim’s wealth grew exponentially and the value of his investment in palm oil swelled.
My Indonesian partner was asking me the other day: How the hell did we make so much money?
Up to a point after people tell you a story and a vision, don’t write it off. Sometimes it comes true. You just make sure that if it doesn’t come true, you don’t get hurt too much.– Peter Lim in an interview with The Business Times in 2007
In 2010, Lim cashed out his shares in Wilmer for US$1.5 billion — his first billion dollar fortune.
A String Of Investments
With his newly-attained wealth, he went on to beef up his portfolio of investments, putting money in a range of sectors from medical to real estate. One notable investment is in Thomson Medical.
The Thomson Medical investment came about when after the private medical centre was embroiled in a sperm mix-up for in vitro fertilization in 2010.
Looking to seize the opportunity to tap into Asia’s growing healthcare demand, Lim quickly made an offer of US$400 million (S$522 million).
Eventually, under his company Sasteria Pte Ltd, he bought a 39.3 per cent stake from Thomson’s largest shareholder and founder Dr Cheng Wei Chen and his family.
With his interest in transforming healthcare, he made a real estate venture in Malaysia’s Iskandar project in 2015, with plans to convert part of the land he owns into a medical hub, Thomson Iskandar.
Lim co-partnered with the Johor royal family in TMC Life Sciences, a Malaysia-listed healthcare firm, where he had a 70 per cent controlling stake in. The other 30 per cent is held by Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Idris.
The Malaysian company would head the project, which has an estimated value of RM10 billion (S$4 billion).
Lim then appointed a real estate firm called Rowsley Ltd to develop the project, which Lim also has a controlling stake in.
Thomson International, a subsidiary of Thomson Medical, will manage the medical hub, which construction works are projected to be completed in 2023.
This was part of Lim’s plan to expand Thomson Medical beyond women and children’s health services and transform the Group into Asia’s preferred health system.
In 2017, Rowsley would go on to acquire Lim’s company Sasteria, which owns Thomson Medical and is the controlling shareholder of TMC Life Sciences.
The S$1.6 billion acquisition was paid mainly in stock and warrants — 21.3 billion new Rowsley shares (raising Lim’s stake from 45.4 per cent to 90.1 per cent) and 597 million TMCLS warrants in cash.
With the move, Rowsley became one of the largest SGX-listed healthcare players, which further led to the expansions of Thomson Medical and TMC Life Sciences.
Besides the medical hub, he also has other projects with the Johor royal family focused in the Iskandar area — an RM3.5 billion (S$1.1 billion) integrated sports hub Motorsports City with FASTrack Autosports, another company he co-owns with the royal family, as well as a security business that taps into the increasing demand for premium security services in Iskandar.
Football And Automobiles
Beyond his interests in healthcare and real estate, Lim enjoys football and is a notable Manchester United fan.
He also owned a franchise chain of United-themed cafes around Asia, and during that time, he was acquainted with some former Manchester United players such as Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Phil Neville and Gary Neville.
He even purchased a football club with them — English Football League Two club Salford City in 2014 after failing to buy Liverpool in 2010.
Salford City went on to achieve four promotions in five years including being promoted to the National Football League for the first time in their history since they were formed in 1940.
Today, Lim possesses 40 per cent of the Greater Manchester-based team, while ex-pros David Beckham, Gary Neville, Phillip Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, and Ryan Giggs own 10 per cent each.
In that same year, Lim forked out S$605 million to buy over Spanish football club Valencia and revived the club’s ailing fortunes.
Valencia’s slew of successes include a return to the Champions League, reaching the semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League in 2018-2019 and winning Spain’s primary football cup Copa del Rey in 2019 for the first time since 2008.
As if that was not impressive enough, Lim also owns Mint Media, which in turn owns the image rights of superstar footballer Cristiano Ronaldo — who calls Lim his ‘good friend’.
Thanks to Lim, Ronaldo even made an appearance at Singapore’s Crest Secondary School and showcased his trademark stepovers to 200 wide-eyed students.
Lim reportedly also has an interest in fast cars — owning stakes in British supercar maker McLaren Automotive.
A Renowned Philanthropist
Beyond his investment work, Lim is a renowed philanthropist. One of his notable donations is a S$10 million in scholarship funds to the Singapore Olympic Foundation in 2010, in order to support young athletes.
In that same year, he also committed another S$20 million to start a community project focused on helping children from less privileged backgrounds.
In 2014, he also donated S$3 million to NTU for peace studies professorship in S Rajaratnam School of International Studies. As a result, the Government matched the gift dollar-for-dollar, bringing the endowment to S$6 million in total.
He pledged another $10 million to the Singapore Olympic Foundation (SOF)-Peter Lim Scholarship in 2019, to continue supporting promising athletes with financially challenged backgrounds.
Earlier this month, he also donated $1 million worth of meals to Singapore’s frontline healthcare workers to recognise and celebrate their efforts in the fight against Covid-19. At least 20,000 frontline healthcare workers benefited from it.
Humility And Family
In contrast to his high-profile donations, he ironically doesn’t like the limelight and prefers the quiet life, so much so that he built an entire 11-storey condominium at Ardmore Park in Orchard Road, for himself and his family.
His family, including his mum and his wife from his second marriage, occupy an apartment close to 4,000 sq ft at the Abelia condo while the other three maisonettes and a 5,000 sq ft penthouse sit empty.
He bought the building in 1994 when Malayan Credit sold some of its investment properties, paying less than S$14 million. Today, it is worth about S$100 million, given its prime location.
Despite his riches that can buy him luxurious meals every day, the son of a fishmonger remains attracted to a simple life at heart and professes that he still gravitates towards cheap and good hawker fare such as mee siam, mee rebus and lontong.
He also reportedly instills in his children the virtue of earning their own keep since young and does not hand them life’s riches on a silver platter.
Patience Is Our Biggest Asset
Lim made his wealth through patient, long-term investing.
He does not like to trade – which is to buy one day and sell the next to lock in profits. He said that “people who get rich are those who buy a company, build it, run it.”
It takes time for businesses to grow; they certainly do not flourish overnight.
He also did not worry about the short-term fluctuations of the stock market.
One time, the Singapore’s stock market took a sharp nosedive, wiping out more than $100 million of his stock’s value.
However, Lim was unruffled. Having been through many crashes and financial crises, he knew that things would turn out fine after all, and it did.
Interestingly, Lim got to where he is today through a mixture of savvy investing and sheer grit.
His story showed us that in order to succeed, we need to have the patience to grow a business instead of looking for short-term gains.
Featured Image Credit: EFE