There are multiple ways to be rich, but it all boiled down to two; either you build it on your own, or you are one of those lucky sperm/ovum who inherited through papa and mama. The former commands more respect than the latter, and we will now browse through the 10 richest people in Asia who amassed their wealth by themselves (self-made fortune)
1. Li Ka Shing
Country: Hong Kong
Wealth: $25.5 billion
Industries: Real Estate, Trading
Company(ies): Cheung Kong, Hutchison Whampoa
Li Ka Shing was born in China (1928) before family migrated to Hong Kong. Li’s father died early when he was 15, forcing him to leave school and worked on a job in a plastics trading company, where he labored 16 hours a day. In 1950 he borrowed money from friends and family to start his own company, Cheung Kong Industries - selling plastic flowers. He was wildly successful in it that the company became the largest supplier of plastic flowers in Asia.
In 1967, leftist riots hit Hong Kong and property prices plummeted over fears of communist takeover. Li however, saw an opportunity to gobble up properties on the cheap. In 1971, he bought enough lands to set up Cheung Kong Development, now Hong Kong’s second largest property developer.
In 1977, British company Hutchison Whampoa ran into trouble and had to be rescued by HSBC. Li however, believed that the company was undervalued as it possessed a portfolio of valuable real estate interests in docks and retail ventures. In 1979, Li acquired Hutchison, his second flagship company, from HSBC. Today Hutchison Whampoa is the world’s largest port operator, handling 13% of the worlds container traffic. Its retail division, Watson’s, is the world’s largest health and beauty retailer.
Lee Shau Kee
Country: Hong Kong
Wealth: $18 billion
Industries: Real Estate
Company(ies): Sun Hung Kai, Henderson Land
Lee Shau Kee was born in China (1928). After World War Two, Lee was looking to start up a business like many other people in Asia at the time. He met up with a wealthy man, Kwok Tak-Seng, and together with a friend Fung King Hey, who was renowned for his stock market skills, they setup Eternal Enterprise Company, renamed Sun Hung Kai Properties in 1963, now the largest property developer in Hong Kong.
The big time came in 1965 when Chinese banks in Hong Kong witnessed storm of bank run, and the territory was hit by massive riots in 1967. The partners however, firmly exhibited great confidence in Hong Kong. As property prices plummeted, they bought up huge area of lands in Hong Kong, and when the economy recovered, Sun Hung Kai made a huge fortune and the three partners were reputed as Three business swordsmen.
As his wealth grew, Lee branched out to establish his own property company in 1976, Henderson Land Development, which is the third largest property developer in Hong Kong today. He still retains his shares in Sun Hung Kai though, currently being the Vice Chairman of that company. His other 2 partners were no longer living.
3. Cheng Yu Tung
Country: Hong Kong
Wealth: $16 billion
Industries: Jewelry, Real Estate
Company(ies): Chow Tai Fook, New World Development
Cheng Yu Tung was born in China (1925), but poverty forced him to fled to Macau in 1940s, where he married the daughter of a shop owner that sells traditional gold-made accessories, Chow Tai Fook. After years of working in the company, he convinced his father-in-law to let him setup shop in Hong Kong. In 1946, the company’s first branch was established in Hong Kong, operated by Cheng.
Businesses was so successful in Hong Kong that by 1956, Cheng was able to buy out his father-in-law’s company back in Macau. In 1960, Cheng expanded Chow Tai Fook’s business into jewellery retail and made a significant amount of wealth from it. The big bang came in 1967, when Hong Kong was hit by riots and property prices plunged. Cheng remained optimistic about Hong Kong’s future and took the contrarian acts of buying more lands when many are selling.
When Hong Kong economy recovered later, the values of Cheng’s real estate skyrocketed. In 1970, Cheng together with a friend and his father-in-law, setup the New World Development, now Hong Kong’s fourth largest property developer. On the other hand, Cheng also expanded Chow Tai Fook into the largest jewelry retailer in the Chinese-speaking world, making it two times bigger in market capitalization than its Western counterpart, Tiffany & Co.
4. Robert Kuok Hock Nien
Wealth: $12.4 billion
Industries: Agricultural Trading, Hotels
Company(ies): Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Wilmar International
Robert Kuok was born in Malaysia (1923) to a Chinese immigrant family. Upon graduation, he worked in the grains department of Japanese industrial conglomerate Mitsubishi between 1942 and 1945, during World War 2. In 1949, he and his two brothers, with support from relatives, founded an agricultural commodities trading company primarily deal in sugar. In 1954, he established the Malaysia Sugar Manufacturing which was Malaysia’s very first sugar refinery.
The first success came in 1961, when he made a fortune buying cheap sugar from India before the prices shot up. Using the money, he continued to invest heavily in sugar refineries, which paid off later with the steady rise of sugar prices throughout the 60s and 70s. In 1968 his sugar trading business was booming, and in late 1970s, he expanded into Indonesia and established that country’s largest sugar plantation with business partner Liem Sioe Liong.
Kuok eventually went on to control 10% of world’s sugar production. In 1971, he built the first Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore. His group of companies would later move on to invest in many countries, including Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Mainland China, Indonesia, Fiji and Australia. In 2009, he divested his sugar businesses to FELDA, since then, he has been focusing on Singapore-based Wilmar International, Asia top agribusiness company and where the biggest source of his wealth is.
5. Robin Li Yan Hong
Wealth: $10.2 billion
Industries: Technology - Internet
Robin Li was born in China (1968) to a parent of factory workers. After receiving his master degree in 1994 in the U.S., Li joined IDD Information Services, a division of Dow Jones and Company, where he helped develop a software program for the online edition of The Wall Street Journal. It was here he also worked on improving algorithms for search engines, Li formulated the Rankdex site-scoring algorithm for search engine page ranking in 1996, which was awarded a U.S. patent. He later used this technology for his own company, the Baidu search engine.
In 1997 to 1999, Li worked at Infoseek, a pioneer internet search engine company. Another of his important innovative achievements was the picture search function used by Go.com. Li returned to China in 2000 and found Baidu Inc, which in nine years became the largest Chinese search engine, with over 70% market share, and the third largest independent search engine in the world.
In 2005, Baidu successfully completed its IPO on NASDAQ, and in 2007 became the first Chinese company to be included in the NASDAQ-100 Index. As of 2012, Baidu is the fifth most visited website on the planet. The company is discussing the possibility of working with Facebook, which would lead to a Chinese version of the international social network, managed by Baidu.
6. Ananda Krishnan
Wealth: $9.9 billion
Industries: Media & Telecommunication
Company: Usaha Tegas (which controlled Maxis Communications and Astro Holdings)
Ananda Krishnan was born in Malaysia (1938) to a Sri Lankan Tamil immigrant family. Upon graduation, Ananda joined consultancy firm Arthur D. Little in 1959 before setting his own consultancy firm MAI Holdings in 1964. In 1967 he partnered with Australia’s Ken MacMcHon to setup Mineral Securities (MinSec), and in 1968 established Exoil Trading, which went on to purchase oil drilling concessions in various countries. MinSec however, collapsed in 1970 and Ananda moved to London.
14 years later, in 1984, Ananda was again active in business. He incorporated Usaha Tegas, now a holding company for his Malaysian operations. In 1988, Usaha Tegas won contract to run nationwide lottery and established the Pan Malaysian Sweeps. In the same year, Ananda again won approval to operate number and horse-racing betting concessions, thereby making his first pot of gold through gambling. By early 1990s, he started diversifying into the media and telecommunication industries.
In 1993, Ananda was awarded Malaysia’s first satellite and mobile telephone licenses, which enabled him to setup Malaysia’s first communication satellite. For this, he incorporated what would be his 2 flagship companies; Maxis Communications and Astro Holdings. In 1996, Maxis launched Malaysia’s first three satellites; MEASAT 1, 2 and 3 - becoming the country’s largest cell phone operator. With the satellite launch, the Astro subscription service, Malaysia’s sole cable satellite TV operator, began.
7. Liang Wen Gen
Wealth: $8.1 billion
Company: Sany Group
Liang Wen Gen was born in China (1956) to a poor family who made their living making bamboo handicrafts. Upon graduation, he worked as a materials science professional engineer at a state-owned arms plant supervised by the Ministry of Ordnance Industry. In 1985, Liang left the state-owned factory and decided to be a businessman. His father was angry at him for throwing away an “iron rice bowl,” but Liang persisted to his decision.
Liang would later experienced, and overcame 3 business failures; as a sheep dealer, an alcohol seller, and a glass fiber producer. In 1986, he eventually managed to start a small welding materials factory in his hometown with 60,000 yuan (US$9,393) borrowed from others, which turned out to be a life turning point for him. When he received the payment of 8,000 yuan (US$1,254) from his first ever factory production: 105 copper solders, Liang went into raptures and tears - it was his first success after several failures.
In 1991, his factory was producing an output value exceeding 100 million yuan ($15.7 million), however, Liang was not satisfied with such small success. After analyzing the market, he concluded that the construction machinery market was big, and decided to expand into it. He renamed his company Sany Group, which has now grown into the world’s largest construction machinery maker.
8. Sunil Mittal
Wealth: $8.1 billion
Company: Bharti Airtel
Sunil Mittal was born in India (1957). At the early age of 18, with a capital investment of INR20,000 (US$399) borrowed from his father, he started his first business supplying crankshafts for local bicycle manufacturers. In 1980, Sunil decided that his ambition couldn’t be fulfilled in his small town, so he sold his bicycle businesses and moved along with his brothers to start an Import Enterprise named Bharti Overseas Trading Company in Mumbai.
In 1981, he began to import Suzuki Motors’s portable electric-power generators from Japan to sell in India. His business were running smoothly until the sudden ban by the Indian Government on gensets imports in 1983. The ban forced Sunil to seek new businesses, which he identified as the push-button phone in Taiwan, something which India hadn’t seen then. He started selling telephones, answering/fax machines under the brand name Beetel and the company picked up really fast.
In 1986, Sunil incorporated Bharti Telecom Limited and by early 1990s, the company was making fax machines, cordless phones and other telecom gear. In 1992, the Indian government was awarding 4 licenses for mobile phone operators for the first time, so Sunil quickly clinched a deal with French telecom group Vivendi and made a successful bid. After his plan was approved in 1994, Sunil launched the Bharti Airtel services, now the largest mobile phone operator in India, with over 185.30 million subscribers. The entire success of Sunil actually hanged on the operator license itself, Bharti Airtel is known for being the first mobile phone company in the world to outsource all of its business operations except marketing, sales and finance.
9. Henry Sy Zhi Cheng
Wealth: $8 billion
Industries: Retail, Banking
Company(ies): SM Group, Banco de Oro
Henry Sy was born in China (1923) to an impoverished family. To escape poverty, his family immigrated to the Philippines and get to setup a small sari-sari store (convenient shop). The sari-sari store however, was looted and burnt by the Japanese in World War 2. Losing everything after the war, Sy’s father decided to go back to China and asked Sy to join, but he refused and stay behind, selling shoes imported by American soldiers. After selling for 13 years, in 1958, Sy established his first small shoe store in Manila known as the SM Prime (SM means Shoe Mart).
Gradually expanding to sell apparel and other merchandise, in 1972, his small shoe store became a department store. In 1985, Sy established his first SM Supermall. But then the Philippines was in the midst of a debt moratorium and experienced hyper inflation and economic downturn. Sales plunged and mall tenancy dropped sharply, but Sy persisted, putting his faith on the Filipino economy and continued to slowly building malls across the country. The Philippines eventually recovered, but went into stagnation until mid-2000s
Sy’s faith proved to be correct; the economy of Philippines began to grow rapidly since 2004, followed by an increasingly affluent and growing middle class that powers greater domestic consumption. Retail booms, and this work favorably to Sy, as reflected in that his wealth surged from $1.2 billion (2003) to $8 billion in 2012, becoming the richest Filipino. The SM Group now operates 43 malls, with 12 proposed or under construction. Sy has recently diversified into banking, buying up Banco de Oro, one of the nation’s largest bank.
10. Dilip Shanghvi
Wealth: $7.4 billion
Company: Sun Pharmaceutical
Dilip Shanghvi was born in India (1956) to a pharmacist family. A child who always had a dream of one day having his own pharma brand, it came true in 1983 when Dilip borrowed his friends equipment and Rs.10,000 (US$179) from his father to setup Sun Pharmaceuticals, a humble company selling five types of drugs used to treat psychiatric ailments. Cardiology products were introduced in 1987 followed by gastroenterology products in 1989.
As the company grows, Dilip began to acquire smaller Indian drug makers, most of them loss-making but with already some approved drugs in line. This enabled Sun Pharmaceuticals to leapfrog the R&D process and transformed from a drug retailer to drug manufacturer. By 2000, Sun Pharma had completed eight new acquisitions, added a research centre, tracked new therapies and penetrated international markets.
Today, Sun Pharma is an international pharmaceutical company that makes many generic and brand name drugs to be distributed in the United States, Europe and Asia. It is the largest chronic prescription company in India and a market leader in psychiatry, neurology, cardiology, orthopedics, ophthalmology, gastroenterology and nephrology. The company currently has manufacturing plants across 23 locations, including the US, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and Israel, marketing over 200 drugs, with another 150 awaiting approval from the USFDA.