How Did The 5 Richest People in Singapore Make Their Fortune?

How Did The 5 Richest People in Singapore Make Their Fortune?

Everyone knows that Singapore is a pretty rich country. We have a lot of rich people on our tiny island. And even the not-so-rich bulk of the population? We mostly somehow manage to afford the soaring costs of living in Singapore.

But there are rich people, and then there are the crazy, stinking rich ones. Perhaps you run your own business, have several landed properties and many, many zeros to your name… but if you think you’ve made it in life, these billionaires (below)  will change your mind.

In the past year, Singapore’s richest have gotten even richer — according to Forbes’ latest report (Aug 2019), the 50 richest people in Singapore have a combined wealth of S$180 billion, up 12% from last year.

For the past 10 years before 2019, the Ng brothers of Far East Organisation held the top spot in terms of net worth. This year, Haidilao founder and naturalised Singapore citizen Zhang Yong made headlines for taking over.

So what exactly did these people do to amass such ridiculous wealth?!?!


Forbes Singapore’s Richest 2019 — the top 10 richest people in Singapore

There’s no secret to getting rich — I’m no snake oil salesman — but perhaps there are lessons to be learnt from Singapore’s richest?

If not, let’s kaypoh for fun anyway.

Note: The net worth numbers cited are based on the real-time updates at the time of writing, so they may differ slightly from the published Forbes report.


1. Zhang Yong of Haidilao (net worth of $15.6 billion)

You’ve probably heard of Chinese restauranteur Zhang Yong, who  recently displaced quite a few real estate tycoons to emerge as Singapore’s richest man in 2019.

Since Sep 2018 — when the brand raised US$963 million in its Hong Kong initial public offering (IPO) — Haidilao’s stocks have more than doubled.

Zhang’s is an inspiring story of rags to riches: The 49-year-old is a self-made billionaire who built a hotpot empire from scratch, with the help of 3 good friends who agreed to invest in Haidilao during its early stages. One of them, Shu Ping, is now his wife.

He comes from Jianyang, a rural province in Sichuan, and dropped out of high school to help earn money for his family. He worked as a welder in a tractor factory until 1994, when he emptied his savings to open the first Haidilao.


2. Robert & Philip Ng of Far East Organisation (net worth of $12.2 billion)

#1 for the past 10 years (before 2019, of course), are the Ng brothers of Singapore’s largest private landlord and property developer, Far East Organisation, which was founded by their dad, Ng Teng Fong.

Their empire was mostly built by their dad, and was passed down to subsequent generations. So if you’re not already an heir to a promising family business, maybe you should be looking at the other self-made towkays for inspiration instead.

Presently, Philip Ng is in charge of FEO in the local market, while his brother Robert Ng and nephew Daryl Ng run Sino Group, the Hong Kong-based sister company.


3. Eduardo Saverin of Facebook (net worth of $10.5 billion)

This one’s famous — he was portrayed by Andrew Garfield in the Hollywood movie The Social Network, which was inspired by the Facebook founding story of Eduardo Saverin and Mark Zuckerberg.

The 37-year-old is the youngest billionaire in Singapore’s list — Saverin renounced his U.S. citizenship in 2012 to become a Singaporean.

This move was somewhat controversial, because it was made just in time for Saverin to avoid some $700 million in capital gains taxes…

No lessons to be learnt here, I think — graduating from Harvard, this guy’s just pretty darn smart. He’s now venture capitalist, but still has 2% stake in Facebook, which is a significant source of his wealth.


4. Goh Cheng Liang of Wuthelam Holdings & Nippon Paint (net worth of $9.9 billion)

Unlike most of the other billionaires who have long biographies written about them and the wealth they’ve amassed, 92-year-old Goh Cheng Liang keeps a fairly low profile.

Goh tried his hand at several different business ideas, before buying what he thought was cheap, rotten paint in 1949. He then learnt how to mix colours and add solvents, and eventually founded Pigeon Brand paint.

It was wildly successful, and approached to be distributor for Nippon Paint in 1959. Since then, Goh has become the largest paintmaker in Asia.

He has a 39% stake in Nippon Paint Holdings, and the company acquired DuluxGroup in April 2019. His son, Hup Jin, is the chairman of Nippon Paint (since Mar 2018), and runs Nipsea.


5. Kwek Leng Beng of Hong Leong Group & City Developments (net worth of $8.8 billion)

Kwek Leng Beng, 78, is executive chairman of 2 huge names — conglomerate Hong Leong Group and Singapore’s second largest property developer, City Developments.

Hong Leong Group was founded by his father, Kwek Hong Png, and while he runs the Singapore operations, his cousin, Quek Leng Chan is in charge of Malaysia.

Kwek’s elder son, Sherman, is CDL’s group CEO while his younger son, Kingston, is a private investor.


Others in the Forbes Singapore’s Richest list 2019

Those are the top few. Now, let’s look at the others who made the top 10:

6. Wee Cho Yaw of UOB (net worth of $6.5 billion)

UOB was founded by his father, Wee Khiang Cheng. Wee is currently the chairman.

7. The Khoo Family of Goodwood Park Hotel (net worth of $6.5 billion)

Heirs of Khoo Teck Puat, who sold their inherited stakes of Standard Chartered Bank to Temasek Holdings. Controls Goodwood Park.

8. The Kwee Brothers of Pontiac Land (net worth of $5.7 billion)

Sons of Indonesian textile trader and real estate developer, Henry Kwee. They now run Pontiac Land.

9. Kwok Khoon Hong of Wilmar International (net worth of $3 billion)

Co-founded Wilmar, which is one of the world’s largest palm oil producers. Has real estate investments and stakes in Yanlord Land and Perennial Real Estate Holdings.

10. Choo Chong Ngen of Worldwide Hotels (net worth of $2.8 billion)

Hotel tycoon who founded Geylang’s Hotel 81 in 1995. Company is now called Worldwide Hotels, and has expanded to Thailand, Malaysia and Australia.


Concluding thoughts — what have we learnt?

Not much, to be honest. But I conclude these 3 ways of getting rich:

1. Be born into the right family.

Out of 10, 5 of these billionaires were born into the right family. They got a huge head start in life and were given opportunities regular people can only dream of. That said, cannot discount their hard work also lah.

They all have impressive accomplishments to their own names as well, and further expanded their families’ empires. If not, the money would’ve run out long ago.

2. Be very lucky.

For the 5 self-made billionaires, it was really a mixed bag. Their empires vary across different industries, like tech, paint, hotpot and even a lupsup hotel… So in addition to having the smarts, you need the right doors to open for you too.

There are a lot of geniuses around, but not every one of them is as lucky.

3. Marry a rich person.

Okay, so I didn’t get this from any of the content above, but if you don’t have the chops to make it big yourself, then how? Perhaps you can take a leaf out of Hollywood’s books and try to marry up…

You may also notice that 2 of the top 5 billionaires aren’t even Singaporean, which doesn’t tell us much, except that we’re something of a magnet for the super rich.

Why are billionaires attracted to Singapore?

Aside from being very business-friendly, Singapore has one of the lowest taxes in the world, and there is no capital gains or inheritance tax here. Plus, there’s no paparazzi culture, so it is relatively safe for high-profile individuals to lead regular lives.

Singaporeans just don’t care that much. (shrugs)

If you saw Zhang Yong on the street, you will stop to ask for selfie meh? No right.


So how do I calculate my net worth?

At this point you must be wondering, “How much am I worth?”

Net worth is a commonly used indicator of financial health. Put simply, your net worth is what you own, minus what you owe.

You calculate it by summing up your total assets and then taking away your outstanding liabilities (i.e. debts).

Assets are things like cash savings, investments, and any other real estate you may own. Liabilities are things like your mortgage, car loans and even education loan debts.

Assets (+) Liabilities (-) 
Property (your home, and/or all other property you own)  Mortgage 
Money in the bank (savings, fixed deposits, etc)  Credit card loans 
Car Car loan 
Life insurance cash value  Education loan
CPF savings
Investments (stocks, bonds, mutual funds, unit trusts, ETFs) 

Still confused? Here’s an example:

Sarah is a typical Singaporean who bought an HDB flat with her husband a year ago, and has a car. She has a mortgage and car loan for those.

She has some savings, but not much, since she’s still in her 20s, and spent a lot of it on her wedding and renovations.

Calculating Sarah’s net worth 
Assets — what Sarah owns 
HDB flat  $300,000
(Half of $600,000, because it is co-owned with her husband.) 
Car $70,000
Savings and investments $20,000
CPF savings  $20,000
Liabilities — what Sarah owes 
Mortgage  – $190,000 (Half of $380,000, because it is co-owned with her husband.) 
Car loan – $50,000
Outstanding credit card debt  – $1,000 
Total  + $169,000

Sarah’s net worth is $169,000, which may seem low, but is actually relatively healthy. In fact, it’s even common for fresh grads and young adults to have negative net worth sums.

This is because they have little savings and low incomes, yet owe huge sums in study loans and mortgages.


What do you think of all these rich people in Singapore? Tell us in the comments!