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.
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.