If there really is a real sugar daddy, it’s Robert Kuok. Not because he is a Casanova or some sort, but simply because the sugar business made him a celebrity businessman.
Apart from being a king of sugar, Kuok also involves in a number of other businesses including freight & transportation, hospitality, manufacturing, distribution, oil and mining, finance, properties and publishing.
Forbes estimated Kuok to worth around $9 billion in 2008, which makes him the richest man in Malaysia as well as in South East Asia.
Just like Boon Siew and Lim Goh Tong who migrated from China main land to the then Malaya, Robert Kuok’s family too, were migrant. The difference is, it was his father who migrated from China. Kuok, the youngest of 3 brothers, was born in 1923 in Johor Bahru.
And unlike the late Boon Siew and Goh Tong, Kuok is one educated wealthy man. He received his early education in an English school and later enrolled into the Raffles College in Singapore, with Lee Kuan Yee as one of his school mates. He had a short stint working with Japanese company Mitsubishi after his studies in Raffles was halted due to Japanese invasion, before helping his father with trading business.
After his father’s death, Kuok and his two brothers made a decision to continue the business legacy, starting with sugar distribution and a few other commodities. Their business skills were picked up from their father, who was an avid trader.
Kuok’s massive involvement in sugar industry allowed his company to become the government’s supplier and Kuok opened up sugar refinery plants to grow it further. At the peak of his business, he was controlling as much as 80% of the sugar market in Malaysia, and about 10% of the global export market.
Driven by the success of his sugar business, Kuok swiftly expanded his business into flour milling, shipping, logistics, oil and gas and hotels. His rise to success, fame and prominence is attributed to both his expertise in spotting opportunities and his strong network with the big, corporate and government people. Kuok controls the Shangri-La hotel chains and is the largest shareholder of Transmile Group Berhad, which was involved in accounting irregularity scandal in 2007, plunging down the share price.
He is said to be checking his hotels every now and then to make sure that the staff are giving the service of highest quality. At times he invited taxi drivers for free lunch at the hotel’s cafe. Kuok is considered a true gentleman when dealing with people, including his employees. There is a story of Kuok asking permission from a cabin crew to smoke a cigarette in a plane he owns. When the crew told him that he wouldn’t need to ask anyone’s permission, he responded by saying that he is just asking in a capacity of a normal passenger.
Kuok also owns a string of Coca Cola bottling plants in China, as well as modern warehouse and cargo distribution centers in Hong Kong. His other regional businesses and interest include in Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia and Fiji. Robert Kuok is one of five advisers of the Iskandar Region Development Authority (IRDA), which is directly responsible to attract investment for the Iskandar Malaysia infrastructure project.
Image: Getty Images