Decades after leaving home, tycoon Robert Kuok says rooted to Malaysia

Malaysia’s richest man Robert Kuok (centre) receives a souvenir from a Chinese official (right) during his visit to Fuzhou, in southeastern China’s Fujian province, 18 April 2005, as president of the Kuok clan in Malaysia. — AFP pic
Malaysia’s richest man Robert Kuok (centre) receives a souvenir from a Chinese official (right) during his visit to Fuzhou, in southeastern China’s Fujian province, 18 April 2005, as president of the Kuok clan in Malaysia. — AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 9 — Southeast Asia’s richest man Robert Kuok may run his HK$300 billion (RM123.5 billion) conglomerate from Hong Kong but has not lost his affection for the country of his birth, Malaysia.

The Johor-born Kuok, worth a net US$15.7 billion according to the latest Bloomberg Billionaire Index score yesterday, shifted his operations east to Hong Kong — now a Special Administration Region of China — four decades ago, ostensibly for its lower taxes.

But the low-profile tycoon told Singapore daily Straits Times in a rare interview published today: “I haven’t lost my affection for Malaysia.”

The man who built up a multi-industry empire from trading in sugar, recently showed the strength of his bond by donating RM100 million to build Xiamen University’s campus — China’s first overseas — in Salak Tinggi, Selangor.

“Our family enjoyed relative success due to the benevolence of the host country where my parents settled,” he was quoted saying.

Kuok’s parents had migrated to Malaya from Fujian province in China and set up shop selling rice, flour and sugar.

Kuok and his two older brothers took over in 1948 after their father died under the Kuok Brothers label; the business flourished, especially in sugar trading.

He once controlled 5 per cent of the world’s sugar market, which earned the youngest son the moniker of “Sugar King”.

His empire has now spread to include interests in commodities trading, mining, shipping, logistics, publishing and property development.

Kuok controls 55 per cent of Hong Kong-based builder Kerry Properties and half of hotel chain operator Shangri-La Asia.

He also owns the South China Morning Post newspaper.

Just turned 90 — his birthday was Sunday — Kuok is said to enjoy close ties with China’s top leaders in Beijing.

But he told the Singapore broadsheet that his home would always be Malaysia.

“Roots are roots, except that my other root is the root of my parents — and that is China.

“I am twin-rooted,” he said.

However, he passed on a chance to comment when asked about racial discrimination among the Chinese in Malaysia.

“This will lead only to highly controversial statements, which is not good for anybody. One must never hurt those Chinese who are living in Malaysia, never be the cause of any kind of interracial hostility.

“We all feel it, but there may come a day, with the proper platform (do we then talk about it),” he told the Singapore paper.

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