Lim Goh Tong is a deceased Malaysian-Chinese businessman and
billionaire who is famous for his extraordinarily risky and
successful development of gambling in Malaysia. He may not have
much in the way of name recognition in the United States, but he
played a pivotal role in developing gaming in Asia.
It’s hard to overstate how much of an influence Lim Goh Tong
had in Malaysia. He was recognized numerous times throughout his
life with rewards for entrepreneurship, business development and
excellent working conditions for his employees. When he passed
away in 2007, more than 20,000 people either attended his wake
or sent condolences to the family.
Lim married Lee Kim Hua in 1944. They had three daughters, three sons and 19 grandchildren, according to his biography. His second son Lim Kok Thay, is Genting's chief executive officer. Kok Thay succeeded his father as president and CEO in 2002, before becoming chairman in December 2003. He took over from Mr Goh Chok Tong as Prime Minister in 2004, after serving under him as Minister For Trade and Industry, Minister for Finance and Deputy Prime Minister. He is also currently heading the PAP team in the Ang Mo Kio GRC. Read our story on how PM Lee and his father fare against each other in a head-to-head comparison.
The Early Years: Hardship and War
Lim Goh Tong was born in the Fujian province in China in
1918. He grew up in a peaceful village that was mostly removed
from the political unrest that followed the Chinese Revolution
of 1911. He was able to attend school until his father died when
he was 16 years old.
The death of his father forced Tong to withdraw from school
so he could help provide for his mother and six siblings. He
stayed in China for three more years, but things continued to
deteriorate in China. At the age of 19, he left China for
Malaysia in search of new opportunities and a better place to
There, he met his uncle and worked as a carpenter for several
years. He learned the language, acquired experience in
contracting and even took on several of his own jobs. Things
were looking up until Japan invaded Malaysia in 1941. Once
again, war would throw his life into turmoil.
Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong also take a risk of investing all his time, capital and financial resource including the resources of his family company, Kien Huat Berhad, to ensure that the construction of the hotel-cum-resort happened without incident, thus moving closer to making this 'dream resort' a reality and it take almost 7 year of unearned. Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay (林国泰; born 16 August 1951) is a Malaysian Chinese billionaire businessman. He is the chairman of Genting Group, a casinos, resorts and palm oil conglomerate with a market capitalization of almost US$40 billion, and the second son of fellow billionaire Lim Goh Tong, the company's founder. Stephen Tong (b. 1940), Chinese Indonesian Reformed evangelist; Lim Goh Tong (1918-2007), prominent wealthy Malaysian Chinese businessman; Prof. Tong Sun O.B.E., British Professor of Sensor Engineering for City University of London, was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire on 8th June 2018, for services to Engineering.
Numerous biographical accounts state that Lim Goh Tong nearly
died several times during the invasion, but there are no details
regarding these experiences. But considering the brutality of
Japanese forces during WWII, this was a dangerous time in the
life of the young entrepreneur. The Japanese invasion began with
a bombardment and followed with troops physically invading
Malaysian-Chinese people in Malaysia were subject to
especially harsh treatment. At the time, Japan was fighting a
brutal war with China that was marked with wide scale
bombardment of civilian targets in China, and atrocities such as
of Nanking. Suspected Chinese sympathizers in Malaysia were
subject to imprisonment, interrogation, and torture.
So although we don’t have the details of Lim Goh Tong’s “near
death” experiences, we can assume life was not easy for him at
the time. He eked out a living as a vegetable farmer, and then
moved to trading. When Japanese forces finally left Malaysia,
the demand for scrap metal and machinery in Malaysia boomed.
Lim Goh Tong earned his first serious money during this time. He got
into trading used machinery, used the money from that, and
expanded into iron mining. He was then able to use his
significant capital, collection of machinery, experience in
mining, and the help of his uncle to get back into the
His contracting business was successful, and he earned larger
and larger contracts. As the name grew and his company received
national recognition for its work, Lim Goh Tong prospered. His
company was even tapped for major projects such as the Ayer Itam
Dam in Malaysia.
By the 1960s, Lim Goh Tong was a very wealthy man, but he
was just getting started.
The Genting Highlands
It was during a trip to the Cameron Highlands in Central
Malaysia that the idea for a hilltop resort hit Lim Goh Tong.
What he envisioned was a massive resort that would provide world
class gambling, accommodations, and a theme park. The resort
would be located in a beautiful area away from the hustle and
bustle of the city.
His plan was bold and risky; people told him it couldn’t be
done and that it shouldn’t be done. But he was determined to
implement his vision. He eventually settled on a piece of land a
little to the north of Kuala Lumpur. It would be called the
Genting Highlands Resort.
The area wasn’t the first place most would-be casino moguls
would settle on when planning to make a significant investment.
The area was remote, marked by a river, hills, and dense
vegetation. It would require a mammoth effort to even construct
the resort, let alone entice people to make the journey and
spend money there.
Ground broke on the project in 1965. Lim Goh Tong acquired
the land and gambling permits, and then set to work. The first
task was to construct an access road and get water, power, and
sewer access to the hilltop. It was estimated that the road
alone would take 15 years to construct. It was finished in less
than 4 years.
Lim Goh Tong devoted every bit of financial capital he had to
the project. He even tapped into the reserves of his successful
contracting company. Everything was put on the line to fund his
vision. He sold off land and invested every dollar he had. His
friends and family told him to reconsider. He came very close to
bankruptcy and it is said he nearly died several times
overseeing the construction.
Construction of the resort took a total of 6 years. He was
ready to open for business in 1971, but Malaysia was hit by
powerful rainstorms. Mudslides destroyed portions of the access
road. Undeterred, he rebuilt the roads over the next four
months. Finally, in May, 1971, the doors to the Genting
Highlands Resort were opened to the public.
As history has it, the resort was a massive success. Visitors
streamed to the Genting Highlands to gamble, sleep, and see the
sights. He earned back all of his investment and then some. Over
the next three decades, he would construct additional hotels,
restaurants, convention centers, and attractions. The resort
eventually became an international tourist destination and one
of the most popular things to do for those on vacation.
Over time, the Genting Group expanded into other industries
such as plantations, power generation, oil and gas exploration,
biotechnology and more. The Genting Group also operates
casino-resorts in other parts of the world to this day. The
company has invested in properties such as Foxwoods in the
United States and Resorts World in New York City.
Lim Goh Tong died as a billionaire on October 23rd, 2007. His
son now runs the Genting Group and continues to do business
around the world. Lim Goh Tong left behind a legacy not only for
success, but also for providing his workers with excellent
working conditions and contributing to the overall success of
Malaysia on the world stage.
With all the buzz around Kylie Jenner overtaking Mark Zuckerberg as the youngest self-made billionaire, we checked out Forbes’ 2019 Billionaire List, wondering how many Malaysians are on that list this year.
Only 13 Malaysians made it to Forbes’ List in 2019, compared to 22 in Singapore. Here, we take a look at who the Malaysians are and how they built their wealth.
Note: USD1 billion is about RM4.08 billion after conversion.
#104: Robert Kuok, USD12.8 Billion
Lim Goh Tong Family Tree 2019
Still holding onto the number spot in Malaysia is the “Sugar King”, Robert Kuok. Known for investing heavily in sugar refineries, he once controlled 80% of Malaysia’s sugar market with production of 1.5 million tonnes—equivalent to 10% of the worlds sugar production. Hence he earned the nickname “Sugar King of Asia”.
He is also the owner of Kuok Group who has interests in real estate, hotels and commodities. He is also known for founding the renowned five-star Shangri-La Hotel chain that has over 100 luxury hotels and resorts worldwide.
#149: Quek Leng Chan, USD9.4 Billion
As the executive chairman of privately held conglomerate Hong Leong Co. (Malaysia), he has extensive business experience in various sectors, including financial services, manufacturing and real estate. He has stakes in almost a dozen public companies, including property manager Guoco Group, insurer Hong Leong Financial and manufacturer Hong Leong Industries.
Unknown to most, the cigar-smoking billionaire, who indulges in high-stakes gambling to unwind, gained control of Maidenhead, England-based gaming company Rank Group in 2011 through Guoco. Rank subsequently became Britain’s biggest casino operator after it acquired 19 casinos from rival Gala Coral in 2013.
#233: Teh Hong Piow, USD6.7 Billion
Another banker billionaire, Teh Hong Piow had an early start in his banking career in 1950 as a Bank Clerk in Overseas-Chinese Banking Corporation Ltd. After rising through the ranks he then founded Public Bank Berhad in 1965.
He has since overseen its evolution into a modern and integrated financial institution with a wide network of 259 domestic and two overseas branches.
Although he has relinquished his position as as the non-executive chairman of Public Bank with effect on 1st of January 2019, he will stay on as adviser with effect from January 1, 2019 and provide guidance to support the continued growth of Public Bank and the Public Bank group.
#261: Ananda Krishnan, USD6.2 billion
Although Ananda Krishnan has been caught up in controversy for money laundering in India, he is still one of the top billionaires in Malaysia. In the early 1990s, he started diversifying into the multimedia arena and currently, he has business interests in ASTRO, MEASAT and some telecommunications like Maxis, Aircel, Axis and Sri Lanka Telecom.
He owns stakes in Tanjong Public Limited Company, an investment holding company with subsidiaries involved in power generation (Powertek), gaming (Pan Malaysian Pools), leisure (tropical islands, TGV Cinemas) and property (67% Maxis Tower etc.).
#325: Lee Shin Cheng, USD5.4 billion
Heading IOI Corporation Berhad or better known as IOI Group as its executive chairman, he began his entrepreneurial journey in the palm oil industry. Currently, IOI, which is listed on Bursa Malaysia, is a conglomerate managing oil palm plantations, producing specialty fats and oleochemicals, and developing property in Malaysia.
He is also known as the “tree talker” among journalists, rival plantation companies and bankers in Malaysia thanks to his walkabouts on IOI’s 152,000 hectares of oil palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia. In his words, “Each [tree] has her own characteristics. If one produces well, I will tell her ‘I love you’.”
#355: Chen Lip Keong, USD5 billion
His career started as a medical doctor of general practice but during 1994, he won Cambodia’s first casino license even though he didn’t have any interest in gambling. Only visiting Malaysia’s Genting Highlands once in the 1970s and Las Vegas once as a tourist, he claims that casinos aren’t in his blood.
As the self-proclaimed “accidental” gambling billionaire and the chief executive and majority shareholder of NagaCorp, he had made his mark with NagaWorld being one of the first-rank contenders in Asia’s $51 billion casino market. Its NagaWorld casino-resort complex in Phnom Penh boasts 1,700 guest rooms, 600 gaming tables and more than 5,000 gaming machines.
#436: Lim Kok Thay, USD4.4 billion
No stranger to the billionaire club, he is the second son of fellow billionaire, the late Lim Goh Tong who founded the Genting Group. Lim Kok Thay is a board executive and Chairman of Genting Group, a casinos, resorts and palm oil conglomerate with a market capitalisation of almost US$40 billion.
Under his reins, he has grown Genting Group across the region with integrated resort properties in three Asian countries that attracts millions of visitors, namely Resorts World Genting in Malaysia, Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore and Resorts World Manila in the Philippines.
#645: Lau Cho Kun, USD3.4 billion
The Sabah-based tycoon is the largest shareholder of Hap Seng Consolidated through the holding company Gek Poh and investment arm Lei Shing Hong. Starting out in timber, the group has businesses in property, palm oil, automotive and building material.
Hap Seng is also an authorised dealer of Mercedes-Benz cars, with six Autohaus showrooms in the Klang Valley, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching, the Hap Seng group participates in the wholesale distribution of the Mercedes-Benz and Fuso commercial vehicles in Malaysia.
#962: Kuan Kam Hon, USD2.4 billion
Kuan Kam Hon is the founder and chairman of Hartalega Holdings, one of the world’s largest producers of nitrile rubber. Hartalega was the inventor of the world’s first lightweight nitrile glove in 2005, which caused a demand shift from latex to nitrile gloves all over the globe.
They are now known as the largest producer of nitrile gloves in the world, capable of manufacturing 33 billion gloves a year and will progressively expand to 44.6 billion gloves in 2020.
#1349: Syed Mokhtar AlBukhary, USD1.7 billion
When Syed Mokhtar brought home his first salary of RM1,500 as a rice trader in 1974, he pledged half of his salary to 15 under-privileged families and the other half to his mother and siblings. With that he began his philanthropy work and then founded the Albukhary Foundation.
Most of his wealth comes from stakes in listed conglomerates such as MMC Corp and DRB-HICOM, MMC’s operations include sports, logistics, construction and engineering while DRB-HICOM is an automative giant that’s also involved in property and education, most famously know for Proton. A 49.9% stake in Proton was sold to Chinese auto group Zhejiang Geely in 2017.
#1349: Koon Poh Keong, USD1.7 billion
Koon Poh Keong is a founding member of Press Metal Aluminium Holdings Bhd and has been its CEO since the company’s listing on Bursa Malaysia in 1993. He and his brothers started the company by pooling USD50,000 together to start an aluminium-extruding company in Puchong, Selangor.
He and his brothers had zero experience in the business but Press Metal has now become Southeast Asia’s largest integrated aluminium producer.
#1717: Jeffrey Cheah, USD1.3 billion
Lim Goh Tong Family Tree 2017
As founder and current chairman of the Sunway Group, a Malaysian conglomerate operating in 12 industries with core businesses in property and construction, he is known for transforming Sunway City from a tin-mining wasteland into a wonderland with renown attractions which can be seen in Sunway Lagoon and Sunway Pyramid.
With a drive to create sustainable and fully-integrated green townships he has expanded Sunway outside of the Klang Valley. Including Sunway City Ipoh, which was built upon the principles of preservation and conservation cradled by 260-million-year-old limestone hills and verdant forests.
#1818: Lim Wee Chai, USD1.2 billion
In 1991, Lim Wee Chai founded Top Glove, a rubber glove manufacturing and trading business which started with only 1 factory and 1 production line.
Having invested all of his and his wife’s savings of RM180,000 into the company, Top Glove has since emerged as the world’s largest manufacturer of gloves, capturing about 25% of the world market share. Today, it is the world’s biggest manufacturer of gloves with 40 factories, 648 production lines and a production capacity of 60.5 billion pieces of gloves per year.
In the current climate, capitalism is taking some “lumps” as mentioned by Forbes.
“For only the second year in a decade, both the number of billionaires and their total wealth shrank, proving that even the wealthiest are not immune to economic forces and weak stock markets,” said Forbes on their website.
Nearly 1,000 billionaires tracked by Forbes saw declines in their estimated net worth. The world’s billionaire class is now poorer by about USD400 billion and Forbes attributed the “lump” thanks to stock market drops in 2018 and global economic slowdowns.
However, when it comes to the individual Malaysian billionaires, it doesn’t seem that most of them have taken a significant hit—if you look back at their net worth in 2017, a majority of them have grown their wealth, with a few exceptions. However, compared to last year’s list, there are now less billionaires in Malaysia (if you count their wealth in USD).
Notable figures who did not make it to the 2019 list include: Francis Yeoh and siblings of YTL, Lim Peng Cheong & Lim Peng Jin of Scientex, Lee Oi Hian & Lee Hau Hian of Batu Kawan and Surin Upatkoon of Magnum Berhad.
It is possible that they were victims of the previously mentioned stock market drops, and we’ll be looking at the 2020 list to see if they recover.
Lim Goh Tong Family Tree Philippines
- If you would like to see the full Forbes List of Billionaires for 2019, you can check it out here.
Feature Image Credit: Forbes/ SCMP/ Quek Leng Chan