Asia’s surging wealth is creating more millionaires and billionaires than any other region of the world. Private bank Julius Baer forecasts that the wealth of the region’s 3.3 million high net worth individuals (HNWIs) will triple to nearly $15.81 trillion by 2015.
Strong economic growth, coupled with booming stock and property markets, have helped some of Asia’s largest businesses expand at a rapid pace. Given Asia’s culture of family businesses, many of the region’s biggest companies are family enterprises, with brothers, sons and daughters taking an active part. These families have shaped entire industries in places such as Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
We’ve compiled a list of Asia-Pacific’s 10 richest families with figures from Wealth-X, a research firm that provides information to private banks and consulting firms. Each family’s net worth was calculated based on public and private holdings, estimated cash salaries, dividends, and all other investible assets. All the families on our list have at least two members involved in the business.
So, which families are among the richest in Asia? Click ahead to find out.
By Rajeshni Naidu-Ghelani
Posted Oct. 26, 2011
Business: Formosa Plastics Group
Estimated net worth: $8.6 billion
The Wang family are founders of Formosa Plastics Group, one of the world’s largest plastic manufacturers and Taiwan’s biggest diversified company. The firm is also one of the major petrochemical producers in Asia and controls more than 100 companies including hospitals and schools.
Brothers Yung-ching (pictured) and Yung-tsai Wang founded the group in 1958. Rising from modest roots with Yung-ching only having an elementary school education, the brothers turned the company into one Asia’s biggest industry groups, with four major publicly listed units — Formosa Petrochemical, Formosa Plastics, Nan Ya Plastics and Formosa Chemicals & Fibre. Both brothers retired from their official posts in 2006 and passed on the reins for the group to a committee, which includes Yung-ching’s daughter Cher Wang and Yung-tsai’s son Wen Yuang Wang. Founder Wang Yung-ching died in 2008 at the age of 91 with an estimated fortune of $5.5 billion, according to Forbes. The business tycoon is survived by his three wives and 10 children.
Cher Wang, 53, the daughter of Yung-ching, has come closest out of all siblings in matching her father’s success. Her smartphone company HTC had revenues of $9.8 billion in 2010. Cher and her husband Wen Chi Chen are ranked the richest people in Taiwan by Forbes, with an estimated net worth of $8.8 billion this year.
Business: Far East Organization, Sino Group
Estimated net worth: $8.9 billion
The Ng family owns Singapore’s largest private property development firm Far East Organization and Hong Kong-based sister company Sino Group. Together, the firms are one of Asia’s largest real estate groups with annual revenue of $4.3 billion.
The companies were founded by Ng Teng Fong, who died from a brain hemorrhage in 2010 at the age of 82. Ng was well known for his frugal lifestyle, living in the same home for 30 years even as his wealth grew. After his death, Ng’s older son Robert (pictured), 59, took over the reins at Sino Group, while younger son Philip heads the Far East Organization. The firm’s presence in Singapore is renowned, with ownership of historical landmarks like the Fullerton Hotel along with 700 other properties. A big chunk of the family’s fortune also comes from its five publicly-listed subsidiaries.
In July, reports surfaced that the Far East Organization planned to raise at least $410 million by listing some of its hotel and serviced residence assets in a real estate investment trust (REIT) next year. Singapore’s REIT market is the third-largest in the world after Japan and Australia.
Business: Djarum Group
Estimated net worth: $11 billion
The Hartono family is the richest family in Indonesia and owners of one of the world’s biggest clove-flavored cigarette makers — Djarum Group. The group also has a majority stake in one of the country’s biggest banks — Bank Central Asia, from which the family gets the bulk of their fortune.
Brothers Robert Budi Hartono and Michael Bambang Hartono inherited their wealth from their Chinese father Oei Wie Gwan, who founded Djarum in 1951. After his death in 1963, the brothers took over the business, invested in research and development, and began exporting cigarettes almost 10 years later. The company’s tobacco products accounted for 97 percent of the U.S. clove cigarette market in 2009, before the Obama administration banned the sale of flavored cigarettes other than menthol, because critics claimed they appealed to teenagers.
Robert Budi Hartono’s son Armand Wahyudi (pictured) is also involved in the family business and has been the director of Bank Central Asia since 2009. With the recent market volatility, the Hartono family’s wealth has also shrunk. In the two weeks to Oct. 5, Robert Budi saw his wealth drop by 8 percent to $10.5 billion, according to newspaper reports in Indonesia.
Country: South Korea
Business: Samsung Group
Estimated net worth: $11.6 billion
Lee Kun Hee (pictured) is the chairman of Samsung Electronics, the flagship company of the Samsung Group, South Korea’s biggest business conglomerate with nearly 70 affiliates. The group accounts for about one fifth of the country’s GDP.
The Samsung Group was founded by Lee Kun Hee’s father Lee Byung Chull in 1938. Kun Hee, the third son, became chairman of the firm after his father’s death in 1987. He’s been credited with turning the company into a major global player in the technology industry. Samsung Electronics is now the world’s biggest chipmaker, the second biggest smartphone maker after Apple, and competes with Hewlett Packard for the title of the world’s largest technology firm by revenue. Other family members in the business include Kun Hee’s only son and heir apparent, Jay Y. Lee, who is president of Samsung Electronics, and daughter Lee Boo Jin, who is the senior vice president of the group’s luxury hotel chain — Shilla Hotels and Resorts.
But as head of the group, Lee Kun Hee has also faced a string of controversies in recent years. The 69-year-old was convicted of tax evasion and breach of trust in 2008 and given a three-year prison sentence, but was later pardoned by the country’s President in 2009. During that period he stepped away from the company for two years and returned in 2010.
Country: Malaysia, Singapore
Business: Kuok Group
Estimated net worth: $16.1 billion
The Kuok family is the richest family in Southeast Asia, and owners of the Kuok Group — one of Asia’s most diversified firms with interests in agriculture, real estate, and financial services, to name a few.
The Malaysian group was founded in 1949 by the three Kuok brothers, the youngest of whom is Robert Kuok (pictured), now 88. Starting out in agricultural trading, the group expanded to Singapore in 1952, and then went on to open operations in Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong and China. Robert’s son Khoon Chen, 57, is the executive director of Kuok Group and its subsidiary Kerry Properties, Hong Kong’s largest property development firm. His younger son Khoon Ean, 56, is the chairman of hotel chain Shangri-La Asia. However, the family’s biggest source of wealth comes from its majority stake in Wilmar International, the world’s largest publicly-listed palm oil company. Robert’s 61-year-old nephew Khoon Hong is the chairman of Wilmar International.
The palm oil giant has recently recovered after two quarters of poor results in the second half of last year, during which it posted pre-tax losses of more than $200 million from its oil seeds and grains business. The company reported a 56 percent increase in revenue in the three months ending June to $10.6 billion, compared to a year ago.
Business: Bharti Group
Estimated net worth: $16.5 billion
Sunil Bharti Mittal is the founder of the Bharti Group, and chairman of flagship firm Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile phone provider. It’s also the world’s fifth-largest telecom with over 200 million customers.
Mittal (pictured) founded the group in 1976, at the age of 18, as a bicycle parts manufacturer with less than $500 from his father. The 54-year-old tycoon went on to establish Bharti Telecom, the first company in India to introduce push-button telephones in the 1980s and fax machines and cordless phones a decade later. The group now has interests in retail, financial services and manufacturing, with operations in 19 countries. Brothers Rakesh and Rajan Mittal (pictured) are also involved in the family business as heads of the retail and agriculture operations.
Sunil Mittal’s twin sons Kavin and Shravin, 25, have also recently made news by joining the family business. Kavin will head a joint venture with Japanese telecom giant Softbank to develop social media, gaming, and e-commerce businesses in an effort accelerate the spread of mobile internet in India. The country is home to the world’s second-biggest mobile phone market with nearly 866 million subscribers.
Country: Hong Kong
Business: Sun Hung Kai Properties
Estimated net worth: $22 billion
The Kwok family are the founders of Sun Hung Kai (SHK) Properties — Asia’s largest property developer by market value.
The company was founded in 1963 by mainland Chinese businessman Tak Seng Kwok, and partners Fung King Hey and Lee Shau Kee. It was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 1972 and soon became one of the top firms on the benchmark by market cap. The firm’s market cap now stands at $34.25 billion. Tak Seng died in 1990, leaving the reins of the family business to his wife, Kwong Siu-hing, and their three sons, Raymond (pictured left), Thomas (pictured), and Walter Kwok. The company has continued to do well because of Hong Kong's and China’s red-hot property markets. Last month, the group posted a 55 percent rise in underlying profit to $2.75 billion for the year ended June. The group completed construction of Hong Kong’s tallest building in 2010 — the International Commerce Center — marking another milestone for the company.
The family has also made headlines with a bitter feud and court battle, which led the eldest son Walter, 66, to step down as chairman of the firm he worked at for 33 years in 2008. His mother Kwong Siu Hing, who is the controlling shareholder of the group, took over the leading role, with younger brothers Thomas and Raymond managing operations.
Country: Non-resident Indian
Estimated net worth: $28 billion
Lakshmi Narayan Mittal is the founder of ArcelorMittal — the world’s biggest steel-producing company. Mittal is also considered the sixth-richest man in the world, according to Forbes magazine.
The steel tycoon, 61, founded the company in 1989 as Mittal Steel, parting ways from his India-based family business to venture out on his own. The firm went on to merge with Arcelor in 2006 to form its current conglomerate, based in Luxembourg. Mittal (pictured - left) is the chairman and CEO of the group and owns 40 percent of its shares. Other family members involved in the business include his son and heir apparent Aditya, who is the CFO, while daughter Vanisha (pictured - right) is one of 11 board members.
Vanisha’s 2004 wedding to Amit Bhatia (pictured - right) made headlines for its extravagance and is considered the third most expensive wedding in modern times, costing a whopping $60 million. The wedding took place at France’s Versailles Palace and the senior Mittal reportedly paid for 1,000 guests to stay one week at five-star hotels in Paris.
The family is continuing to expand globally. ArcelorMittal recently joined forces with U.S. coal giant Peabody to buy a nearly 60 percent stake in the world’s biggest coking coal producer Macarthur Coal for $5 billion.
Country: Hong Kong
Businesses: Cheung Kong, PCCW, Hutchison Whampoa
Estimated net worth: $32 billion
Li Ka-shing is considered one of the most powerful business figures in Asia, and his companies have a total market cap of $92 billion (HKD 710 billion) on the Hong Kong stock exchange.
Starting from humble beginnings, the Chinese business magnate quit school at age 12 and fled from mainland China to Hong Kong with his family in 1928. After working at a plastics company, Ka-shing (pictured - right) started his own plastic manufacturing business at age 22, which is now Cheung Kong Industries — one of Hong Kong’s leading real estate investment firms. The business was publicly listed in 1972 and continued to expand, acquiring Hutchison Whampoa and Hong Kong Electric, to name a few. Ka-shing’s business is now so diversified that it includes everything from shipping and telecommunications to biotechnology, and operates companies in China, the U.K., and Australia. His two sons, Victor Tzar Kuoi (pictured), 47, and Richard Tzar Kai Li, 44, are leading businessmen in their own right. Victor heads Cheung Kong, Hutichson Whampoa, and KC Life Sciences and is seen as the heir-apparent, while Richard is the chairman of telecommunications firm PCCW.
Eighty-three-year-old Ka-shing’s reputation for savvy business deals has earned him the nickname “superman” by local media. In August, the tycoon made headlines by announcing the biggest takeover of a British listed company this year. He agreed to buy utility Northumbrian Water Group for $3.8 billion.
Business: Reliance Industries & Reliance Group
Estimated net worth: $37.6 billion
The Ambanis are the richest family in the Asia-Pacific region, and founders of Reliance Industries — India’s largest publicly traded company by market cap, at $55.6 billion.
The company was founded by Dhirubhai Hirachand Ambani in 1966 as a textile business and has since grown to have interests in petrochemicals, communications and power. Dhirubhai’s tale of humble beginnings from a worker to a business tycoon lifted him to icon status in India. Reliance Industries went public in 1977, selling shares to the public. The company’s annual meetings were held in stadiums to accommodate the masses. Following Dhirubhai’s death in 2002, his sons Mukesh (pictured - right) and Anil Ambani (pictured) took over the family business, but a feud between the brothers led the group to be divided in 2006. Older brother Mukesh, 54, took over Reliance Industries, which accounts for the group’s oil assets, while Anil, 52, is the chairman of Reliance Group, which has interests in telecom, power, and healthcare, to name a few sectors.
No stranger to controversy, the Ambani family made headlines over the past decade for official investigations into its business practices and allegations of corruption. Last month, reports surfaced that federal authorities were examining Anil Ambani’s role in an alleged multi-billion-dollar telecom licensing scandal. Mukesh Ambani, meanwhile, has garnered global attention by building the most expensive home in the world, in Mumbai, at a cost of about $1 billion.