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The Business Empire of Asia’s Ultra-Rich: The Kweks and Queks – Part 1

At its peak, Southeast Asia was home to about 25% of the world’s top 50 richest persons. It’s an amazing statistic considering how most nations in the SEA-region are still considered developing economies. Many of these Southeast Asian tycoons have demonstrated great survival skills and adaptability that have enabled them to grow their wealth in such a hostile environment. They are also commonly known as the Asian Godfathers.

In my brief series about the Asian Godfathers, I’ll be looking into some of the individuals or families who have made their wealth in the region and provide some context on how they did it in addition to describing the extent of their current business influence in the region.

The Hong Leong Group

I’ll kick-off the series by looking into one of the most well-known families in Singapore and Malaysia, the Kweks (and Queks). Their history can be traced back to Kwek Hong Png, a migrant from China who eventually settled in Malaya. During the second world war, after Japan had conquered a huge part of South East Asia including Malaysia and Singapore, Kwek and his brother survived by trading basic commodities with the Japanese army. Knowing how risky the banana currency (the prevalent currency issued by the Japanese army during those times) was back then, the brothers had aggressively invested in land banks in Singapore back. After the war ended, the family went into the real estate business and further expanded their wealth. In the 1960’s, they branched into the provision of financial services under the Hong Leong brand.

Today, the brothers’ businesses are split between two families: Most of the business that’s based in Singapore is controlled by Kwek Hong Png’s son, Kwek Leng Beng; on the other side of the causeway, the Malaysia-based businesses went to Kwek Hong Png’s nephew, Quek Leng Chan.

The two families are currently in control of many publicly-listed entities in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and even London. In particular, Kwek Leng Beng’s family now controls City Development (SGX: C09), the second largest property developer in Singapore. The family’s also the largest shareholders of Hong Leong Finance (SGX: S41) and Hong Leong Asia (SGX: H22).

With the Quek family, they now control all the publicly-listed companies under the Hong Leong banner in Malaysia. Within that group of companies, the crown jewel  would have to be the Malaysia-listed Hong Leong Bank Berhad. Outside of banking and finance, the Quek family is also involved in real estate through GuocoLand (SGX: F17) and GuocoLeisure (SGX: B16). Those two companies in turn belong to the Hong Kong-based Guoco Group.

Foolish Bottom Line

Managing dynastic wealth is never as easy as it looks. There are many anecdotal stories of tycoons who have tried and failed, resulting in sad family feuds and bitter lawsuits. With the Kweks and Queks, things seem to be healthy. At the very least, the companies under their control aren’t embroiled in any life-threatening turmoil.

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The information provided is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be personalised investment or financial advice. Motley Fool Singapore contributor Stanley Lim doesn’t own shares in any companies mentioned.