Robert Kuok, Public Bank’s Teh see fortunes grow

The Bloomberg Billionaires Index ranks Kuok at 87, while Teh is placed at 362

By SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH / Bloomberg & Public Bank

“SUGAR king” Robert Kuok Hock Nein remains the wealthiest businessman in Malaysia as his fortune expanded by RM13.58 billion year-to date, taking his total net worth to US$20.7 billion (RM85.73 billion), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The index, which calculated the net worth of the world’s 500 richest people, placed Hong Kong-based Kuok as the 87th wealthiest person on the planet.

The index ranked Public Bank Bhd founder and chairman Tan Sri Dr Teh Hong Piow at 362 with a wealth of US$7.16 billion.

Teh’s wealth grew by US$273 million year-to-date despite the Malaysian banking sector having a tougher year due to the impact of the Covid-19 on the economy as a result of the movement restriction measures.

The two were the only Malaysians in the index of 500 personalities.

Kuok’s wealth in the region is held basically via Kuok Brothers Sdn Bhd with his family members. The company began trading rice, sugar and wheat flour since the late 1940s. He founded the Malayan Sugar Manufacturing Co Bhd in 1959 with two prominent Japanese partners.

In 1961, he procured cheap sugar from India prior to the price hike and continued to invest heavily in sugar refineries.

Kuok had once controlled 80% of the domestic sugar market, producing 1.5 million tonnes which were equivalent to 10% of the world production. The success led to the “Sugar King” title.

After the success found in the commodity business, he set foot into the tourism sector and founded the Shangri-La Hotels in Singapore in 1971.

Kuok also has a substantial stake in Wilmar International Ltd — one of Asia’s leading agribusiness groups, with his nephew Kuok Khoon Hong as the current CEO and chairman of the group.

Kuok’s Hong Kong-based listed companies include property conglomerate Kerry Properties Ltd, where his son Kuok Khoon Hua currently serves as CEO and vice-chairman.

Teh founded Public Bank in 1965 and served as the CEO until 2002 before being redesignated as chairman in July that year. He retired as the banking giant’s chairman in 2018 and was conferred the chairman emeritus and advisor of the bank.

In addition to Malaysia, Public Bank has interest in China, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Laos. Teh also holds substantial shares in LPI Capital Bhd.

Topping the Bloomberg wealthiest index is Amazon.com Inc founder Jeff Bezos with a fortune of US$185 billion, followed by Tesla Inc founder Elon Musk and Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates with US$171 billion and US$141 billion net worth respectively.

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