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From Real Estate To Banking: How These 7 S’porean Families Built Up Billion-Dollar Bizs

It is common knowledge that Singapore is the richest city in the world. Home to 44 billionaires at last count, the island plays hosts to a rising number of tycoons who literally own earth you walk on.

Banking on economic opportunities from as long ago as the post-independence period, these conglomerates operate nearly every aspect of industry; from banking to real estate and fashion.

Possessing near-limitless wealth, here are 7 Singaporean families who run almost everything behind-the-scenes .

1. Kwek/Quek Family: Hong Leong Group

The Kwek family owns the Hong Leong Group and has a net worth of over US$23.3 billion, ranking 7th on Forbes list of Asia’s Richest Families.

Kwek Leng Bend\g
Image Credits: The Peak Singapore

An immigrant from Fujian, Kwek Hong Png established the Hong Leong Group as a general trading company in 1941.

During the post-world war two period, Kwek capitalized on the demand for industrialization, and expanded Hong Leong into new verticals.

Today, the conglomerate owns over 300 companies and possesses gross assets amounting to over S$40 billion.

Its portfolio includes finance and property development, such as Sentosa Cove and the Millennium and Copthorne Hotels.

Currently, over 15 family members control the group. Kwek’s eldest son and heir, Leng Beng, runs operations in Singapore while his cousin Quek Leng Chan runs operations in Malaysia.

2. Ng Family: Far East Organization

The Ng Family owns Far East Organization (FEO) and its Hong Kong arm, the Sino Group, boasting a total net worth of US$9.7 billion.

Image Credits: Asiaone

An immigrant from Fujian, China, Ng Teng Fong launched FEO in 1960. The firm quickly diversified its portfolio in the property industry, expanding into housing and hotel development, departmental stores, finance and more.

Ng earned the moniker of “King of Orchard Road”, becoming the largest private landowner in Singapore by 1980.

Today, FEO develops prime real estate in Singapore and Hong Kong, such as the Fullerton Hotel and Orchard Central.

Ng’s heirs, Robert, and Philip, took over from their father in the 1990s and are staunch Christians who refer to FEO as a “Christian Enterprise.”

3. Wee Family: United Overseas Bank (UOB)

The Wee family holds a net worth of US$6.25 billion, derived from their stakes in United Overseas Bank (UOB) and its subsidiaries.

Wee Ee Cheong
Image Credits: Bloomberg

UOB was established by Wee Kheng Chiang, a businessman based in Sarawak in 1935. His son, Wee Cho Yaw took over the seat of managing director in 1960.

Under Cho Yaw, UOB expanded its verticals and aggressively acquired smaller banks, becoming the second largest banking group in Singapore and Malaysia by 1971.

In 2001, UOB outcompeted DBS and acquired the Overseas Union Bank to become the largest bank in Singapore.

Currently, UOB remains the third largest bank in Singapore, helmed by Ee Cheong, the third-generation successor to the Wee family.

UOB currently spans 500 offices in 19 countries across 3 continents, owning over US$388 billion in assets according to a 2018 report. The family also controls Haw Par, maker of Tiger Balm.

4. Kwee Family: Pontiac Land Group

The Kwee family controls Pontiac Land Group (PLG) and possesses a net worth of US$5.3 billion.

Image Credits: Forbes

Another immigrant from Fujian, Henry Kwee Hian Liong was a Chinese-Indonesian textile trader and real estate developer who founded PLG in 1961.

Hian Long’s four sons inherited his estates and continue to manage the family enterprise jointly.

Today, PLG develops luxury hotels and office towers, owning properties such as the Millenia and Centennial Towers, The Club Residences, The Ritz Carlton, and resorts in the Maldives.

The third generation of Kwees are being groomed to take over. Evan Kwee, the only son of Pontiac chairman Kwee Liong Tek, runs the Capella Hotel Group Asia as its executive director.

5. Choo Family: Hotel 81

The Choo family runs the Worldwide Hotels Group, possessing a net worth of US$3.2 billion.

Image Credits: Singapore Tatler

The Worldwide Hotels Group owns brands such as Hotel 81, Swiss-Garden Kuala Lumpur, and Ibis Hotel Brisbane.

In 1993, Singaporean-born Choo Chong Ngen launched Hotel 81, the largest and most famous budget hotel chain located in Singapore’s red-light district. Choo quickly expanded and developed hotels across the Asia Pacific.

The chain of hotels owned by Choo was eventually rebranded as the Worldwide Hotel Group, offering a variety of hotels for a different budget points.

Choo’s children are being groomed to take over the group, with Carolyn Choo, the second of his daughters, serving as CEO and managing director of the Worldwide Hotels Group.

6. Kumar Family: Royal Holdings & RB Capital

Raj Kumar and Kishin RK are a father and son duo who own Royal Holdings and RB Capital respectively, with a joint net worth of US$2.7 billion.

Image Credits: Knight Frank

Established in 1947, Royal Holdings was run by Kumar and his brother until the two split in 2012.

Originally a textile firm, the business expanded into commercial units in the 1980s and broke into the limelight with the acquisition of hospitality estates in the 1990s.

Following in Kumar’s footsteps, Kishin established RB Capital in 2006 using the proceeds from the sale of an apartment gifted to him by his parents.

The father and son now cooperate their property ventures as one of the few non-Chinese tycoons in Singapore.

Royal Holdings and RB Capital manage estates like Holiday Inn in Queenstown Australia, and the Intercontinental Hotel at Robertson Quay.

7. Ong Family: Hotel Properties Limited & COMO Group

Christina Ong and Ong Beng Seng are a married couple who own Hotel Properties Limited and the COMO group, amounting to a net worth of US$ 1.7 billion.

Image Credits: Vulcan Post

Founded by Ong in 1980, Hotel Properties Limited grew into a global enterprise managing luxury hotels and other properties.

This includes brands like Four Seasons and Hilton Hotels, Hard Rock Cafe and Paddington Square in London. In 2007, Ong also clinched a deal to bring the Formula One race to Singapore.

Christina heads the COMO Group, comprising of brands in the hospitality, fashion, and wellness industry. The group manages companies like Club 21 and COMO Hotels and Resorts.

Property development and management is a running theme among Singapore’s billion-dollar families. That’s not surprising, given the notoriously breakneck prices of real estate in a dense city-state.

With the next generation being groomed for takeover after an average of more than 40 years in the industry, succession remains a make or break moment for family dynasties.

A mixture of new and old money, the one thread connecting these families are keen business acumen that allowed their fortunes to weather the test of time.

Featured Image Credit: Vulcan Post

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