Image: South China Morning Post
Last week, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad put together the Council of Eminent Persons
or Council of Elders
Sounds like they just stepped out of a Lord of the Rings
or Game of Thrones
The members of this council are made up of economic and financial experts who will be advising the government during this period of transitioning power.
The experts include Tun Daim Zainuddin, Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz, Tan Sri Hassan Merican, Professor Jomo Kwame Sundram, and Tan Sri Robert Kuok.
Since the announcement of this formation, we’ve seen news after news about the newly-appointed council members meeting for discussion and updating the press about the latest developments, except 94-year-old Kuok
The billionaire tycoon has been missing in action, or shall we say from the public’s eye, mainly because he no longer lives in Malaysia.
He finally paid a visit to his home country on Tuesday (22 May) to meet with the rest of the council members.
And we’re sure you’ve seen the heartwarming pictures of what looks like a high school reunion among these Malaysian oldies making the rounds on social media.
So besides being the richest man in Malaysia
(worth RM62.89 billion to date) and among the most successful self-made Asians, what else do we know about Tan Sri Robert Kuok? We did a little digging and here’s what we found.
#1 He isn’t known as the ‘Sugar King of Asia’ for nothing
Kuok started his career as a businessman trading rice, sugar and wheat flour in 1949. Besides rice and wheat, he thought that sugar was also an important commodity.
He once shared in an interview
that even toddlers aged one or two years old know how to appreciate sugar and it is one way for parents to calm their children’s tantrums. So he felt that selling cheap raw sugar was the smartest way to get rich.
He founded the Kuok Brothers Group with his elder brothers and cousin when he was 26, trading agricultural commodities.
Then, he earned the nickname Malaysia’s ‘Sugar King’ at age 38 and levelled up to the ‘Sugar King of Asia' merely two years later when his company controlled 80 per cent of the local sugar trade and 10 per cent of the world’s sugar business!
But sugar wasn’t the only business that made his fortunes.
#2 He founded Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts
Other than sugar, Kuok has tried his hand in oil, mining, animal feed businesses, publishing, and even hotels.
In fact, he is the founder of one of the world’s most luxurious hotel chain, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts.
The multinational hospitality company, which is based in Hong Kong, now has more than 95 hotels and resorts with over 38,000 rooms in 16 countries around the world!
It also happens to be one of the largest hotel groups in Asia Pacific.
#3 He can speak Japanese
Born in 1923 to parents who had arrived from Fujian, China, Kuok is a true first-generation Malaysian.
The Johor native grew up speaking his parents’ Chinese Fuzhou dialect. His mother had always stressed the importance of remembering their roots. Hence all his siblings were taught to speak their mother tongue fluently.
Besides Chinese, the tycoon also speaks Japanese because he was raised during the Japanese occupation of Malaya back in the day.
After graduating from Raffles College in Johor, he worked as a clerk in the rice-trading department of Japanese conglomerate Mitsubishi between 1942 and 1945.
After the war, he took advantage of the skills he had learned from the Japanese and implemented them into his family business back in Johor.
#4 He currently resides in the wealthiest neighbourhood on Earth
Despite being the richest man in Malaysia, Kuok is currently residing in the land of TVB dramas.
He moved to Hong Kong in the 1970s and has lived there ever since.
He now lives in Deep Water Bay, a residential area on the southern shore of Hong Kong Island. Forbes called this area the wealthiest neighbourhood on Earth because it is home to 19 of the city’s richest billionaires, including Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka Shing.
Nevertheless, Kuok once said
that he never lost his affection for Malaysia even though he left more than 40 years ago, as proven with his return to the new Malaysia recently.
#5 He is a Mama’s Boy
Kuok has always been a devoted son, even long after the death of his parents.
But he is especially fond of his mother who heavily inspired his memoir released last year, ‘Robert Kuok: A Memoir’.
“The backdrop on the stage of my life is 70 to 90 per cent mother, 10 to 30 per cent William (his brother),” he wrote.
He and his brothers were closer to their loving and resourceful mother because their father was distant in character, as with any other typical Chinese father in the 1930s.
As a devout Buddhist, Kuok felt that his mother’s prayers and kindness had protected him from harm and evil in his business dealings, which were often very risky.
On the other hand, his relationship with his father was one that left him feeling guilty and sad till today.
Kuok’s father had suffered a heart attack after an ugly quarrel with his son and passed away just three weeks after in 1948.
“I didn’t know his health was so bad, but apparently it went into a downward spiral after that huge row. From time to time, I have felt that I had hastened his death,” he wrote.
No matter what happened, we're sure that his mother and father are proud to see what he has accomplished for the family and the country over the decades.
Dear Tan Sri Robert Kuok, now that we know your story, the only question we have for you is this: What is your secret to longevity?