Singapore billionaires: how did they make their fortune?

How did they get their wealth?
1. Zhang Yong
Restaurant business into a global chain
2. Shu Ping
Hotpot chain power couple
3. Choo Chong Ngen
Worldwide reach of Hotel 81
4. Forrest Xiaodong Li
Success from Free Fire
5. Li Xiting
A COVID-19 success story
6. Wee Cho Yaw
Clinching big deals for UOB
7. Ron Sim
Expansion into Luxury goods
8. Kwee Brothers
Ownership of multiple buildings and business
9. Peter Lim
Staying faithful to his investment
10. Raj Kumar & Kishin RK
Father and son power duo
How did they get their wealth?

Ever wondered how the richest people in Singapore amassed their wealth? Were they born with a silver spoon, or did they start with rough beginnings?

We reveal to you the stories behind their success.

1. Zhang Yong

Originally hailing from China, Zhang Yong has earned the coveted title of being named Singapore’s Richest man according to Forbes' Real Time Billionaires List. From his humble beginnings as a factory worker, Zhang decided to leave his job and go all out into the restaurant business with three other friends to start Sichuan Hotpot Restaurant ‘Haidilao’ in 1994.

(Image: Zhang Yong on the cover of Forbes Asia)

Restaurant business into a global chain

Over the span of 30 years, the 1-restaurant business grew into a global franchise with over 900 chain restaurants worldwide in China, Singapore, U.S., South Korea, Japan, Canada, the U.K, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia. Having moved to Singapore, Zhang has since become a naturalised Singaporean citizen and his status as one of the wealthiest people in China was transferred to Singapore.

2. Shu Ping

Shu Ping is the wife of Zhang Yong and one of Haidilao’s co-founders. She is the current sole Singaporean female in Forbes’ Real Time Billionaires List. With her husband and two other co-founders Shi Yonghong and Li Haiyan, the four started out the first Haidilao restaurant in 1994 with their personal savings. As one of Zhang’s earliest supporters, Shu’s growth in wealth came in tandem with her growing relationship with Zhang and the two grew closer and eventually married.

(Image: wiki.sg)

Hotpot chain power couple

Shu is also a naturalised Singaporean citizen, having moved to Singapore in the 2010s with her husband and son. According to The Straits Times, in becoming Singaporeans and going public with the business in 2018, the hotpot chain power couple drastically increased the total net worth of Singapore’s richest by more than 12 per cent in 2019.

3. Choo Chong Ngen

Hotelier Choo Chong Ngen started with humble beginnings. According to Singapore Tatler, Choo started out as a fishmonger and a textile stall owner in a market to make ends meet and support his family. After a fated trip to Japan in 1993, the now billionaire made his first step at becoming a hotelier by launching the first Hotel 81 branch in Geylang - Singapore’s infamous red-light district. The hotel is heavily modelled after salaryman hotels in Japan, where affordability is key.

(Image: Choo and his daughter on the cover of Singapore Tatler magazine)

Worldwide reach of Hotel 81

Hotel 81 then went on to be part of his budget hotel chain group, Worldwide Hotels. This then placed Choo in the position of being the largest shareholder in Singapore’s budget hotel sector. As of today, Choo’s budget hotel business has branched out outside of Singapore into Malaysia, Thailand, Australia and South Korea.

(Image: Hotel 81)

4. Forrest Xiaodong Li

Chairman and CEO of SEA group Singapore, Forrest Xiaodong Li is also the founder of Singapore’s biggest e-commerce platform, Shopee, and Garena, a major Southeast Asian online gaming firm based in Singapore.

(Image: Forrest Xiaodong Li, Facebook)

Success from Free Fire

According to Singapore Tatler, Forrest Li owes much of his wealth to the success of Garena’s Free Fire, an online battle royale type mobile game. Free Fire was the most downloaded game in 2019 and its popularity propelled Li into billionaire status.

Li is also a major football fan and is credited for getting Barcelona F.C star Cristiano Ronaldo hired as brand ambassador for Shopee.

(Image: Garena)

5. Li Xiting

Another Chinese-turned-Singaporean citizen, Li Xiting currently holds the position for the second richest person in Singapore with a net worth of $24.4 billion USD according to Forbes’ Real Time Billionaires List.

Li founded and owns Shenzhen Mindray Bio-Medical Electronics and much of Li’s financial success is attributed to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

A COVID-19 success story

Despite how most businesses took a huge economic hit as a result of the pandemic, Li’s company was in the business of supplying medical instruments and saw huge growth.

From Forbes, Mindray not only profited from the pandemic but also was a great philanthropic source of help -- medical instruments worth $4.16 million were distributed to hard COVID-19 hit areas like Wuhan and northern Italy.

6. Wee Cho Yaw

Wee Cho Yaw inherited and took the reins of managing the United Overseas Bank (UOB) group from his father, Wee Kheng Chiang.

Currently, the chairman emeritus of UOB, Wee’s involvement in the bank helped spur the bank from strictly involving themselves in local businesses to opening doors for foreign exchange and financing international trade.

Clinching big deals for UOB

After inheriting his father’s dynasty, Wee made moves that helped extend UOB’s reach into the global economy. One important move Wee made for UOB was in securing a deal with Chung Khiaw Bank, which then had branches in not only Singapore but also Malaysia and Hong Kong. Wee was instrumental in the acquisition of most of Chung Khiaw Bank’s shares, and the deal helped propel UOB into a major bank across Asia.

 

7. Ron Sim

OSIM International’s founder Ron Sim first took a step towards entrepreneurship in 1980. According to The New York Times, Sim started out in Singapore selling household goods under his sister’s name, as he was not old enough to officially own a business then. Despite the business folding over in 1985, Sim persevered and became more ambitious -- expanding his business to Hong Kong and introducing massage equipment to the line of products offered in his business.

Expansion into Luxury goods

Enlisting A-list stars such as Gong Li and Andy Lau, Sim was able to alter public perception towards OSIM’s massage equipment products to view it as a luxury good. This decision by Sim to focus on branding proved to be a huge success, making OSIM a popular household name in Asia.

Other than offering massage equipment products through OSIM, Sim also owns TWG tea, ONI Global, and Futuristic under the umbrella of V3 Group.

8. Kwee Brothers

The Kwee Brothers consist of four siblings: Kwee Liong Keng, Kwee Liong Tek (photo), Kwee Liong Seen and Kwee Liong Phing. Together they own and manage Pontiac Land, a privately owned company that manages both real estate and luxury hotel chains.

(Image: wiki.sg)

Ownership of multiple buildings and business

From Asiaone, the brothers inherited Pontiac in 1961 from their father, Henry Kwee Hian Liong. Through Pontiac, the brothers own several influential buildings and businesses in Singapore such as the Capitol Theatre, Regent Singapore, the Ritz-Carlton Milenia, and the Centennial Tower.

(Image: wiki.sg)

9. Peter Lim

Peter Lim is popularly known now as owner of football clubs Valencia C.F. and Salford City F.C. However, the football club owner’s claim to riches began with investing.

Staying faithful to his investment

From Vulcan Post, Lim’s investment into Indonesian palm oil company Wilmar International in 1996 started off rocky due to the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Despite this, Lim did not withdraw his investment and endured for 10 years. Palm oil demand grew exponentially in 20017, leading to a rapid rise in the values of his own shares in Wilmar International.

Lim made the decision to cash out his shares in Wilmar International in 2010. The shares were worth $1.5 billion, and the earnings placed Lim into his current position as one of Singapore’s richest.

10. Raj Kumar & Kishin RK

Raj Kumar (R) and Kishin RK (L) are a father and son who separately own Royal Holdings and RB Capital, respectively. However, the duo both are in the property investment business, amassing major global property deals under their belts such as Holiday Inn Express Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay.

Their common and fostered interest in property investing eventually led to the two businesses to merge together.

(Image: Kishin RK Facebook / Royal Holdings Singapore)

Father and son power duo

From Knight Frank, the duo’s philosophy is to "..buy in places where no one else sees opportunity." Many of the investments based on this philosophy produced great financial returns for the duo - turning them into one of Singapore’s top retailers and property investors.

Currently, Kishin RK owns the title of Singapore’s youngest billionaire at 37.

(Image: Video still from 'We Asked Singapore's Youngest Billionaire, Kishin RK, Questions He's Rarely Asked', YouTube)

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