Robert Kuok is a Malaysian billionaire and business tycoon who is currently the richest man in both Malaysia and Southeast Asia, with an estimated wealth of seventeen billion dollars. He owns multiple companies in numerous fields of business – from sugar mills to food products, from farms and plantations to hotels and resorts. He is most known for owning the world-class Shangri-La Hotels, a chain of hotel-resorts that now runs over sixty hotels worldwide – in cities like Tokyo, Dubai, Manila, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Vancouver and Paris.
Robert is also called the “Sugar King of Asia” for having eighty percent of the Malaysian sugar production, which accounts for ten percent of the total world production, under his control.
Robert’s amazing story of rising up from poverty and becoming Southeast Asia’s richest person has become a shining inspiration for a lot of people; Robert is a firm believer of hard work, diligence, and a broad set of thinking. He believes that these traits allow a person to achieve their goals, and enable them to properly set the course of their life.
Robert has a deep root in Buddhist and Communist beliefs, in helping others and how everyone has an equal opportunity of succeeding, but is hindered by so much corruption – not just in politics, but a corruption of the entire system of life itself. In his interviews, Robert often cites his mother and his brother as his influences, stating:
“Otherwise, probably I would have been an arrogant middle- class Chinese, only caring about materialism, worldly pleasures and fleshpot pleasures. When I am tempted, I think of what William went through. He sacrificed his life trying to help the underprivileged.”
Having a good understanding of the communist mindset, Robert has had very good relations with China, compared to other businessmen of his stature. In fact, he was among the very first foreign entrepreneurs who did business with Communist China, right after Chairman Mao Tse Tung’s “Cultural Revolution”.
Robert has established a good deal of connections in mainland China, which enabled him to successfully gain the trust and acceptance of the communist leaders. And while he does hold great favor amongst the leadership of the country, Robert is in no way subservient to them. It is said of him:
“Robert is the best China watcher in the business. He understands the steel backbone of the Communist Party, but while other Hong Kong tycoons tend to be hugely subservient to Beijing, he is in no way obsequious.”
In spite of having a lot of wealth, power and influence, Robert is a very humble man, and loves to live the simple life. He rarely indulges himself with the pleasures of life, nor does he love to be in the company of the press. In fact, Robert is known to be very media-shy, so much so that he only has had one or two interviews over the course of his entire career.
This love for the simple life has allowed Robert to remain humble in spite of all his accomplishments, and has forged in him a lifestyle that he passed down to his children, thus teaching them to wisely handle all the wealth that they have. He stated in an interview with him:
“Everything on earth is dynamic. I can only give my children a message, not money. If they follow it, we can go another three or four generations.”
Robert’s philosophy in business can be summed up into four words: work hard, work smart. From a very young age, Robert has not only learned the value of diligence and hard work, but he has also discovered that it takes brains to become successful in the business world, and life in general.
He has instilled these values in his children very well, so much so that all of his children have gone on to become very famous and successful in their own right. Tim Dattels, a high-ranking officer at TPG Capitals, says of Robert:
“There’s only one Robert Kuok, there’s no doubt. But he has instilled his business philosophy deep into the family. With what he has built, they are well set to continue, whatever happens.”
Because of the life that he has experienced, Robert has made it a mission of his to ensure that he gives the next generation the opportunity that he was not able to get by his philanthropic work, the Kuok Foundation. This charitable organization aims to provide scholarships for numerous Malaysian youth to enable them to study and work in their area of expertise. From its inception, the Kuok Foundation has given thousands of scholarships to various students throughout Malaysia, giving hope to the future of the country.
Robert’s successes in the business world have granted him a certain level of political influence, as he was instrumental in the negotiations between Malaysia and China by conveying information between both countries and setting up meetings between the two countries’ governments, resulting in the full diplomatic cross recognition between them. Aside from this, Robert was also included in the list of advisors pertaining to the future of Hong Kong, and having a minority stake in CITIC Pacific, a Hong Kong-based conglomerate holding company.
Today, even at age eighty-nine, Robert continues to actively participate in the running of his family’s companies, although he has delegated most of the managerial work to his children and nephews. He does, however, serve as a voice of reason and counsel, always encouraging the next generation to do their best to achieve their goals in life.