Singaporean

Almost Billionaires: How 6 S'pore Top Multi-Millionaires Built Fortunes Worth Above US$800M

Singapore is one of the richest countries in the world, and among those with the densest population of millionaires.

Out of approximately 5.6 million people living here locally, over 269,000 people were recorded as millionaires in 2019.

That number is set to grow and hit 363,000 by 2024. At the top of the millionaire list are multi-millionaires — people who are worth hundreds of millions worth in assets.

Here are six of Singapore’s top multi-millionaires, and how they built their fortunes.

Teo Swee Ann

Image Credit: Forbes

The founder and CEO of Shanghai-based company Espressif Systems, this Singaporean has a total net worth of US$990 million, placing him at the top spot on Singapore’s multi-millionaire list.

Swee Ann derives his fortune from the invention of the ESP32, a series of low-cost, low-power chip microcontrollers with Wi-Fi and dual-mode Bluetooth.

The chips are used in everything from speakers, wearable devices to home appliances.

Espressif was listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in July 2019, 11 years after its inception. Since then, the stock has risen threefold, pushing Espressif’s market cap to US$2.2 billion.

Due to the pandemic, the firm’s net profits have dropped by 45 per cent to 35 million yuan in the first half of 2020.

However, Teo has announced that he is not slowing down, with plans to launch four new chips later this year.

Muhammed Aziz Khan

Image Credit: Greenwatch Dhaka

This Bangladesh-born multi-millionaire built his US$955 million fortune as Chairman of the Summit Group, a conglomerate that controls power-generating assets for sale to governments and state utilities.

Summit Power is the largest infrastructure conglomerate and independent power producer in Bangladesh, generating over 20 per cent of the country’s electricity.

In 2016, Khan entered a partnership with IFC of the World Bank Group to form Summit Power International Limited.

The conglomerate also entered an agreement with General Electric and signed an MOU with Wartisila of Finland.

Khan currently serves as the honorary consul general of Finland in Bangladesh and chairs the Siraj Khaleda Trust while his daughter, Ayesha Aziz Khan serves as the group’s Managing Director and CEO.

Gordon & Celine Tang

Celine Tang / Image Credit: Edgeprop

Power couple Gordon and Celine Tang moved from China to Singapore in the 1990s, and built a real estate empire that bequeathed them with a US$940 million fortune.

The bulk of their wealth is derived from extensive holdings in property companies worldwide, including China, Singapore, the United States and Australia.

Notably, the couple controls a majority stake in Singapore-listed property developer SingHaiyi and a S$800 million stake in the Singapore-listed Suntec REIT, which owns property in the financial district and is run by ARA.

The couple has extensive political ties in the United States. Neil Bush, the son and brother of two former presidents, is the chairman of SingHaiyi.

In 2016, one of their private companies was swept up in an allegedly improper US$1.3 million donation to Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, which resulted in a record US$50,000 fine.

Lim Chap Huat

Image Credit: Forbes

Lim Chap Huat set up the Soilbuild Group with two partners in 1976 when he was just 22 years old. Today, the Soilbuild Group is a multinational property development conglomerate and listed REIT, and Lim sits on a US$890 million fortune.

A true rags to riches story, Lim came from humble origins as the eldest of seven children of a trishaw rider and washerwoman.

He spent the first four years of his life in a wooden shack in the compound of an old colonial bungalow before moving to a one-room rental flat.

After serving National Service, Lim launched Solibuild with just S$5000 of his savings. From scraping by in their first year, Solibuild now manages close to 4 million square feet of business space for lease.

Solibuild owns flagship business park developments in Solaris @ Park BizCentral, Mandai Connection, and Woodlands Bizhub amongst a litany of other properties.

The firm has also won a range of accolades, including the RIBA International Award in 2012 and the SIA-NParks First prize in Skyrise Greenery Awards.

Koh Wee Meng

Image Credit: Forbes

Called the “Geylang King”, this hotelier and property magnate controls the Singapore-listed Fragrance Group, famous for its beginnings as a chain of budget hotels located in the heart of Singapore’s red-light district. He currently sits on a fortune worth US$870 million.

Koh broke away from his family’s business to launch his own property venture in the 1990s. Aspial, the jewellery group his family owns, runs businesses like Lee Hwa Jewellery, Goldheart and Maxi-Cash.

The Fragrance Group was listed in Singapore in 2005, and has a market capitalisation worth over US$1 billion with properties across Asia, Australia and Europe.

Notable developments include City Gate and a range of premier residential estates, such as Kensington Square and Novena Regency.

Peter Fu Chong Cheng

Image Credit: Forbes

The head of Kuo International, this low-profile multimillionaire sits on a fortune of US$840 million derived from diversified assets in oil trading, real estate and securities.

Initially founded by his late father in 1963, Kuo International began as a firm trading in timber and wax.

Peter and his sister, Juanita, became embroiled in a widely publicised legal dispute with his billionaire second sister, Christina Ong, and her husband Ong Beng Seng in 2016.

Involving hundreds of millions of dollars in assets, the Fu siblings and Ong couple were at loggerheads over an alleged breach in a share swap agreement that would allow each party to exit their respective firms.

The dispute was eventually settled out of court in 2017, and the parties announced that they had parted ways.

A Vast Wealth

These multi-millionaires are running global empires in real estate, energy and manufacturing.

Remarkably, most of the multi-millionaires listed built their empires from the ground up or struck out on their own. They are the classic rags-to-riches stories.

They are not billionaires yet but they are very close to reaching the mark.

Once they hit the billionaire mark, they will have more than enough to retire and live out the rest of their days in luxury.

Featured Image Credit: Next Insight / Hotel Prop / The Daily Star / Forbes

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