Robert Kuok Hock Nien is media shy and discreet; most of his businesses are privately held by him or his family. Apart from a multitude of enterprises in Malaysia, his companies have investments in many countries throughout Asia. His business interests range from sugarcane plantations (Perlis Plantations Bhd), sugar refinery, flour milling, animal feed, oil and mining to finance, hotels, properties, trading and freight (International Shipping Corporation, Transmile Group) and publishing.
Kuok's father arrived in Malaya from Fujian, China at the beginning of the 20th century, and Kuok was the youngest of three brothers, born on October 6, 1923, in Johor Bahru. He claims he began in business as an office boy, and later started a business with relatives' support. In fact, upon graduation, he worked in the grains department of Japanese industrial conglomerate Mitsubishi between 1942 and 1945
Robert Kuok Hock Nien senior died in 1948, and Kuok and his two brothers founded Kuok Brothers Sdn Bhd in 1949, trading agricultural commodities. Under the new post-colonial government, Kuok began in the sugar business alongside the government. In 1961, he made a coup by buying cheap sugar from India before the prices shot up. He continued to invest heavily in sugar refinery, controlled 80% of the Malaysian sugar market with production of 1.5 million tonnes, equivalent to 10% of world production, and so earned his nickname "Sugar King of Asia".
In 1971, he built the first Shangri-La Hotel, in Singapore. His foray into Hong Kong property was in 1977, when he acquired a plot of land on the newly reclaimed Tsim Sha Tsui East waterfront, where he built the second hotel, the Kowloon Shangri-La. In 1993, his Kerry Group acquired a 34.9% stake in the South China Morning Post from Murdoch's News Corporation.
His companies have investments in many countries, including Singapore, Thailand, Mainland China, Indonesia, Fiji and Australia. Businesses in China include 10 bottling companies for Coca Cola, ownership of the Beijing World Trade Centre.
His political influence is attested by his having been selected as one of the advisors on Hong Kong's future in the runup to the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong, and his minority stake in CITIC Pacific. He was also instrumental in conveying information and setting up the meetings between Malaysia and China governments leading to full diplomatic cross recognition of the two countries.
Robert Kuok Hock Nien has married twice and has eight children. He officially retired from the Kerry Group on April 1, 1993. Nowadays, Kuok Khoon Ean one of Robert's sons, handles most of the day-to-day operations of his businesses. He is currently residing in Hong Kong.
BORN: Oct. 6, 1923, in Johor Baru, Malaya
EDUCATION: Raffles College, Singapore
FAMILY: Married twice, eight children
Robert Kuok Hock Nien is reputedly the richest man in Malaysia. While handing more authority to the next generation, Kuok remains the man in charge, and he is using the tough times to train his successors.
Robert Kuok Hock Nien was born in 1923 in Johor Bahru, the son of a well-off commodities trader. His ancestral town was in Fujian province, China.
An old boy of Raffles College in Singapore, he was a schoolmate of Singapore's
Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew in the late 40s. After graduation, he helped out at his father�s company, and founded the Kuok Brothers Sdn Bhd in 1949.
Acquiring the Mastery of Business
After founding the Kuok Brothers Sdn Bhd, Kuok first started investing in the sugar refinery business. In 1957, Malaya achieved independence from its English colonial master. Kuok immediately seized the opportunity to swiftly establish his business network throughout Malaysia, based on an end-to-end (raw materials Ú processing Ú distribution) business model. He also mastered the intricacies of commodities trading in London in the 50s. By the 70s, he was known as the "Sugar King" as he controlled up to 10percent of the global sugar market.
After proclaiming success in the sugar refinery business, he quickly moved into other businesses, and established the largest flour mill in Malaysia.
Since the 60s, Robert Kuok Hock Nien has relied heavily on his gentlemanly way of doing
Robert Kuok Hock Nien currently controls the Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts Chain, Kerry Group, Perlis Plantations Bhd, and dozens of other companies. In the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange, under family-owned Kuok Brothers Sdn Bhd, he commands a market worth of RM2.1 billion (as of 1997), even though his publicly-traded holdings worldwide is probably worth more than 10 times that.
Secret of His Success
When asked this, Kuoks aides will invariably say: Mr Kuok is a true gentleman. He has the power to make his opponents yield willingly, and is a genuinely amicable man. And he makes it a personal effort to ensure that all his employees embrace this �gentlemanly� way of conducting business.
Kuok�s gentlemanly ways are also well-recognised among his peers. He has
Robert Kuok Hock Nien made his fortune thanks to a sugar-trading monopoly in 1960s Malaysia. Today, his Kerry Group is a huge investor in China—with stakes in everything from hotels to Coca-Cola bottling plants to office space. Kuok has a reputation for being soft-spoken and polite; word has it that the habitual smoker once asked the crew of his own plane if he could light up.
Legendary Malaysian-Chinese tycoon Robert Kuok keeps a low profile when it comes to press interviews. Malaysian TV scooped one in 1994 but it was two years before it was broadcast and subsequent requests have been brushed aside. Kuok's handlers believe there is nothing wrong with keeping their 73-year-old boss under wraps. They point out that he built his empire through vision, tenacity, risk-taking and guanxi ­ the connections that ease business transactions. A high public profile is neither necessary nor desirable. "Mystique helps," says Joanne Watkins, one of his chief PR aides. "It creates great curiosity about him."
Kuok's publicly traded holdings are worth at least $7.5 billion. But some analysts reckon that's only about a third of the total. "I'm confident that Kuok's private holdings represent at least two-thirds of his wealth," says John Mulcahy, managing director of WI Carr (Far East), in Hong Kong.
Robert Kuok Hock Nien's riches seem set to grow even more spectacularly as China prepares to take over in Hong Kong this year. Leading overseas Chinese businessmen have offered themselves ­ sometimes with unseemly enthusiasm ­ as intermediaries between the mainland authorities and their future subjects. Among these mega-millionaire supporters of Beijing none has higher standing with mainland officials than Kuok. He began investing heavily in China well before other overseas entrepreneurs, and went ahead with his projects even when political events turned the Beijing authorities into temporary pariahs abroad. Robert Kuok Hock Nien had a neat line on this sort of situation in his TV interview. "A nimble businessman gets very wealthy when there are political developments," he says. "In every crisis, big fortunes are made."
So it's unsurprising that nobody gets better locations in China for his buildings than Kuok. By 1998, 14 Shangri-La hotels will be operating on the choicest downtown acreage in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as in lesser-known cities such as Dalian in the north-east and Wuhan to the west. Besides choice locations, Robert Kuok Hock Nien has unparalleled political clout on his side. Other entrepreneurs worry that their projects in China will be slowed by bureaucratic inertia. "With Robert Kuok that isn't a concern," says Rohan Dalziell, investment analyst at ING Baring Securities (Hong Kong). "One of the beauties of investing in his Shangri-La hotels is the certainty they will be on as fast a track as possible."
Robert Kuok Hock Nien's education was curtailed by Japan's invasion of Singapore in 1942, but he turned the occupation to his advantage by getting a job with a Mitsubishi trading company ­ and learning fluent Japanese. After the war, Kuok remained aloof from the Malayan independence movement. When his younger brother, a prominent Communist guerrilla, was ambushed by British colonial forces in 1952 and fatally wounded, Kuok moved to London to master the intricacies of commodities trading.