Be it inherited and then expanded upon or self-made, these men – through their acumen have amassed fortunes that echoes the regality for the region
Asia is the home of the majestic Bengal Tiger and also mythic tales of dragons. The vast region also is home of investors, entrepreneurs and businessmen who are no less tigers and dragon in their acumen for making money and turning it into a fortune of great proportions.
Be it inherited and then expanded upon or self-made, these men – through their acumen have amassed fortunes that echoes the regality for the region.
Here are the stories of how Asia's top billionaires amassed their wealth:
Mukesh Ambani: Inheriting wealth and turning it into fortune
Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani presently is the richest man in Asia with a net worth of $75 billion. While Ambani, along with his brother Anil, inherited the wealth from his legendary father - Dhirubai Ambani; the position of being Asia's richest person however, he earned through a series of wise business moves.
Ambani is also the richest person in India and tenth-richest on the planet.
He took over as chairman of Reliance Industries when his father, the company's founder, died in 2002. Reliance Industries is an oil and gas company that Mukesh Ambani owns 42% of, according to his Bloomberg Billionaires profile.
Leaving Ivy League MBA and joining the family business
Mukesh Ambani has Bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Mumbai. In 1981 he was pursuing his MBA from Stanford University when he dropped out to assist his father in the construction of a polyester filament yarn plant after it got a license from the Indian government that year.
The plant produced polyester filament yarn and beat the likes of other well-known Indian business houses such as the Tatas and Birlas.
Since joining the family business, Mukesh Ambani oversaw its backward integration from polyester into textiles and then into petrochemicals in 1986 and later into oil & gas exploration, and more recently into other unrelated sectors.
A new petroleum subsidiary was set up in 1991 and its IPO was launched in 1993, making it India's largest ever IPO at that time. The company also issued Global Depository Receipts (GDR's) in 1993-94 in Luxembourg, becoming the first ever Indian company to do so.
Mukesh's period at the top saw revenues increase more than 6 times and profits increase around 3 times since 2005.
Billionaire brothers' split, and Mukesh's forays of the new millennium
By 2002 Reliance had grown into a $15 billion conglomerate. Following the death of Ambani empire's patriarch in 2002, Reliance was headed by his two sons. The Reliance ADA Group was formed in 2006 after the two brothers Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani, split Reliance Industries in December 2005.
Mukesh got the "old industries" of refining and chemicals. However, Dhirubai's eldest son's forays into retail, 4G wireless broadband and media signaled areas of future growth for Reliance. It has already started an online service for its brick-and-mortar grocery business, Reliance Fresh. It has additionally entered the fiercely competitive telecom sector again with its 4G broadband venture.
The acquisition of Network 18, a television company in India owning a range of TV channels, created a lot of furor in the country over Reliance's intentions and whether it wanted to curb press freedom in India by trying to strangle any negative publicity against it in the media. From a business perspective, it fits into its strategy that aims at providing content for its 4G consumers. It has also bought stakes in an online tutoring company to expand the services it can deliver via 4G.
Mukesh Ambani founded Jio, a 4G phone service and owns the Mumbai Indians, a professional cricket team, and a property worth more than $400 million.
Reliance as a company has not been a technologically disruptive organisation, but by adopting the most modern technologies and processes and by putting in place proper systems it has been able to build a robust supply chain and achieve significant economies of scale.
In the space of eight months since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, Ambani's wealth increased by around $22 billion. Focusing on e-commerce, his company Jio Platforms has attracted big name investors like Facebook and Google in 2020.
Ambani also faces a turning point in a battle for preeminence against Jeff Bezos in India's booming, nearly trillion-dollar retail market. The outcome of a legal dispute which has embroiled the billionaires' Amazon.com and Reliance Industries Ltd empires - where a court ruling is imminent - may shape India's retail landscape for years to come.
Mukesh Ambani has expanded and solidified the business created by his father, to a larger extent than his brother - the former billionaire, Anil Ambani. Mukesh's Dhirubhai Ambani overcame a lot of odds to establish Reliance in a country that was perceived as anti-privatisation and favored the status quo. But it is also fair to say that Dhirubhai to a certain extent did benefit from the license system in pre-liberalisation India by gaming the system to his advantage. Some of those relationships still benefit Reliance even today, but the future definitely will not favor such businesses.
Beside monetary gain, Ambani has also seen a growing obsession with his family, extending outside India now to become a global fascination, resulting in a cult-like following.
Zhong Shanshan: The "bottle" billionaire
Zhong is the chairman of Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise, a maker of vaccines and hepatitis test-kits. He is also chairman of Nongfu Spring, the Hangzhou-based beverage company, the largest in China.
The 65-year old self-made billionaire's current net worth is $62 billion. He is currewntly China's most wealthy and the world's 17th wealthiest person.
Zhong dropped out of elementary school during China's chaotic Cultural Revolution. He later had jobs as a construction worker, a newspaper reporter and a beverage sales agent before starting his own business.
In September this year, Zhong Shanshan overtook the Alibaba founder Jack Ma to become the top billionaire in China. Little is known about Zhong, a largely private person who does not grant many interviews and rarely makes public appearances, earning him the nickname "lone wolf".
Beverage, bottles, vaccines and dollars in billions
Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy, which went public on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in April 2020; Nongfu Spring listed its shares in Hong Kong in September 2020 – earning Zhong the big digits in his bank balance.
Zhong Shanshan owns 84.4% of Nongfu Spring. Nongfu Spring - which sells tea, coffee, fruit juice and even fresh produce - closed 54% above the issue price on debut, after soaring nearly 85% at the open, China Daily reported.
He is the biggest shareholder in vaccine maker Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy which has been traded on the Shanghai Stock Exchange since early this year.
In 1993, he founded Yang Sheng Tang to develop healthcare products, including "turtle pills" to treat erectile dysfunction in the 1990s. In 1996, the company established Nongfu Spring as a subsidiary selling packaged drinking water.
In an exclusive interview with China Daily in 2016, Zhong said Nongfu Spring's major breakthrough came in 1999 when he announced the company would stop selling purified water to focus on mineral water as the former offered no health benefits. Sales skyrocketed instantly.
Ma Huateng: Tencent titan
Ma Huateng also known as Pony Ma is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Tencent Holdings, a Chinese instant messaging, mobile gaming and online payment service provider.
His current net worth is $58.1 billion and stands as China's second top billionaire and world's 19th.
The Shenzhen-based company reported revenue of $54.6 billion in 2019. Its mobile messaging application WeChat has about 1.2 billion users. The group listed its music-streaming subsidiary, Tencent Music, on the New York Stock Exchange in December 2018.
In contrast to his outgoing rival at Alibaba, Ma has a low-profile style that befits his engineering background.
Founding Tencent and making it a titan
After graduating with a bachelor's degree in computer science from Shenzhen University, Ma started his career as a programmer with China Motion Telecom Development, a company known for developing software for pagers. He reportedly used to earn $176 per month.
After leaving CMMobile, Ma landed a job at Shenzhen Runxun Communications. He worked there in the research and development department for Internet calling services.
In 1998, aged 27, Ma along with four of his classmates, co-founded Tencent. The company's first product was the Internet instant messaging service software QICQ or Open ICQ. Even though QICQ was a rip off of Israeli instant messaging ICQ, the service became extremely popular in China within months of launch.
At one point in time, QICQ had 350 million users in China. Tencent later changed the name of the service to QQ after AOL (American Online} filed a lawsuit for violating QICQ's domain names.
The big moment came in Ma's life when he launched WeChat in 2011.
WeChat is China's most popular messaging service, just behind Facebook's WhatsApp and Messenger. Many say it's impossible to communicate in China without WeChat. The app, which has over a billion users, can be used for payments, booking cabs, shopping and even playing games.
He holds a 9.7 per cent ownership of Tencent. Not many know that Prosus, a subsidiary of South African consumer internet conglomerate Naspers, owns 31 per cent of Tencent. The stake is currently worth over $120 billion.
Jack Ma: Former English teacher richer than the tales of Ali Baba
Jack Ma, or Ma Yun is the founder of Alibaba Group, China's biggest e-commerce company. The Hangzhou-based business runs Taobao, an online shopping site, and Tmall, a facilitator of online stores.
The group had revenue of $73.2 billion in the year to March 2020. Ma also has a stake in online payment service Ant Group.
The former English teacher's current net worth is $55.4 billion, and ranks third on China's richest and 22th in the world's richest list.
After 20 years at Alibaba, Ma announced in September 2019 he will be stepping down as executive chairman of Ali Baba.
$15 a month English teacher, rejected from 30 jobs and by Harvard
Ma is a self-made billionaire who once worked as an English teacher earning around $15 a month.
Harvard University rejected him 10 times, and he was turned down for jobs at an estimated 30 companies, including KFC.
Dot com boom, founding Alibaba and getting ahead
Ma saw an opportunity with the introduction of the internet; and with no tech or business background, he founded Alibaba with the help of 17 friends in 1999.
The digital marketplace connected Chinese customers with manufacturers. Alibaba's start was initially rocky, facing the dot-com-bubble burst in 2000 and competition from eBay's Chinese venture, EachNet. But with some help from investments from Yahoo, the company found its feet by the mid-2000s.
In the early stages of the Alibaba, Ma attempted to raise funds in Silicon Valley. He was generally unsuccessful, receiving criticism of his business model at the time. By late 1999, however, Ma had succeeded in enticing Goldman Sachs and SoftBank to invest $5 million and $20 Million in Alibaba, respectively.
In 2003, still unprofitable with Alibaba, Ma and his team lunched an online auction site named "Taobao" charged zero commission, aiming to take on multinational e-commerce giant eBay, which already had the lion's share of the Chinese online auction market.
Determined to win against eBay, Taobao remained a commission-free marketplace for millions of online traders, putting the fledgling Alibaba under significant financial strain. To stay afloat while maintaining the platform's commission-free policy, Ma and his team began offering peripheral value-added support services for a small fee.
Taobao eventually gained traction in the Chinese market, and eBay subsequently withdrew from China. Ma reflected on this challenging period later on, suggesting that "if eBay are the sharks in the ocean, we are the crocodiles in the Yangtze River."
Taobao was the first successful subsidiary of Alibaba, with many additional offshoots to follow in subsequent years.
In 2014, Alibaba went public in what was the largest IPO in US history. The sale made Ma the richest man in China. Alibaba rakes in money through the retail site Taobao; the payment-processing service Alipay, of which Ma holds a nearly 50% share; and the popular Chinese social-media site Weibo.
Since Ma became executive chairman in 2013, Alibaba's revenue has grown by 1,100%. And as of September 2019, the company's market cap has reached $465 billion - making Ma's 5.3% share in Alibaba worth a whopping $24.6 billion.
Business beyond e-commerce
Under Ma's leadership, Alibaba group company now owns the South China Morning Post and even a movie studio that is invested in films such as "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" and "Star Trek Beyond."
Ma's income stream is impressively diverse and goes beyond just Alibaba group.
In 2010, Ma and four associates founded the venture-capital firm Yunfeng to handle much of Ma's personal investing.
Ma also has stakes in Yahoo China. Ma successfully convinced Yahoo to invest $1 billion in exchange for a 40% stake in Alibaba in 2005. Besides securing crucial funds necessary to help Alibaba execute its international growth strategy, that investment earned Alibaba a valuation of $2.5 billion at just six years of age. The gamble paid off for Yahoo as well; the American internet company earned about $10 billion during Alibaba's IPO.
Colin Huang: Chinese made, US mended
Huang is the founder and chairman of Pinduoduo, a Chinese e-commerce operator backed by Tencent. Huang founded the company in 2015.
The Shanghai-based company, known as PDD, has more than 628 million active buyers and reported revenue of 30.1 billion $4.2 billion in 2019.
Pinduoduo is a gamified online marketplace that connects buyers and sellers and has a market value of $101 billion — more than Uber or Sony. Huang, who owns 29.4% of the company. Pinduoduo became publicly traded in the US in 2018 and raised $1.6 billion in IPO amid criticism over its alleged sale of counterfeit products.
At age 40, Colin Huang is one of the youngest billionaires in the world with his $50.8 billion fortune.
A serial entrepreneur, Huang earlier founded online game company Xinyoudi and online e-commerce platform Ouku.com.
Chinese by born, educated and mended in US
Huang interned at Microsoft in both Beijing and Seattle before starting his career at Google in the US in 2004.
Huang holds a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he majored in computer science.
Huang on July 1 stepped down as chief executive of Pinduoduo, which has managed to rack up a market cap of more than $100 billion in less than five years.
Tadashi Yanai: Uniqlo Shogun
Japan's richest person is the chairman and biggest shareholder of Fast Retailing, the largest clothing retailer in Asia and parent of Uniqlo.
The Tokyo-based group has about 1,000 stores and reported revenue of $20.8 billion in 2019.
Yanai also owns two golf courses on Hawaiian island, Maui and has a net worth of $41 billion.
Tadashi Yanai is the most successful businessman in Japan and the founder and president of Fast Retailing, now the world's fourth-largest apparel company, with over 2,000 retail stores and a portfolio of brands. Uniqlo alone aims to increase sales to $50 billion by 2020, based largely on expansion in US, China and online.
Uniqlo: Joining the family's business and expanding
Yanai attended Ube High School and later Waseda University, graduating in 1971 with a Bachelor's degree in Economics and Politics.
Yanai built and runs Tokyo-listed retail clothing empire Fast Retailing, parent of the Uniqlo chain. In 1984, Yanai became president of his father's clothing chain - which at that point comprised 22 stores, he opened a new store in Hiroshima called the Unique Clothing Warehouse, later shortened to Uniqlo. By 1998, there were more than 300 Uniqlo stores across Japan.
Yanai is fond of saying that "Uniqlo is not a fashion company, it's a technology company."
The company reported net profit of $2.3 billion for fiscal year ended August 2019 on revenue of $21.3 billion.
Li Ka-Shing: Hong Kong's "Superman"
Li is the founder of CK Hutchison Holdings, a Hong Kong-based infrastructure conglomerate, and CK Asset Holdings, an asset manager and real estate service provider.
CK Hutchinson reported revenue of $38 billion in 2019.
The 90-year old has a net worth of $35 billion.
Li's son Victor replaced him as chairman of both companies in May 2018.
Rags-to-riches story of a "Superman"
Li was born into a poor family who fled mainland China for Hong Kong in 1940 after Japanese invasions.
Without much formal education, Li began his career in Hong Kong as a salesman and eventually formed a plastics company. Li started Cheung Kong plastics, named after the Yangtze River, in 1950 at age 21 with $6,500 in savings and loans from relatives. Business boomed throughout the 1950s, when Cheung Kong began making artificial flowers and exporting them to the United States.
As the firm prospered, Li began to acquire property at a rate that by the late 1970s made him Hong Kong's leading private developer. In 1979 Li became the first Chinese businessman to buy one of the large British-owned local trading companies when he purchased a controlling interest in Hutchison Whampoa. Under his leadership, Hutchison emerged as the world's largest independent operator of ports.
The company also bought out Husky Oil in Canada and set up mobile-phone operations in Australia, Europe, and the United States. Among Li's other ventures was an Internet service, Tom.com, that proved highly popular in China.
Characteristic of Li's approach to business was the way Hutchison made money in the mobile-phone business in the United Kingdom. After getting a foot in the door by investing in a money-losing phone operation called Rabbit, Hutchison launched a service called Orange that was later sold for $14.6 billion. Shortly thereafter, Hutchison jumped back into the telecommunications business in the United Kingdom, acquiring a license for a wireless Internet service.
For Li, making money involved identifying potentially lucrative technologies before they became lucrative, investing in them, and then selling when the properties hit peak value.
Often called "Superman" and Asia's answer to Warren Buffet by the media, Li went from dropping out of school as a child to support his family to becoming the first person of Chinese origin to buy one of the British-built Hong Kong companies that dominated the city since its colonial days.
His Li Ka Shing Foundation has donated more than $3.3 billion; over 80% has gone to Greater China.
He Xiangjian: Man whose rise echoes China's own
He Xiangjian is founder and largest shareholder of Midea Group, China's biggest exporter of air conditioners. The Foshan, China-based company reported revenue of $39.4 billion in 2018. Publicly traded Midea produces a range of household products, including heaters, refrigerators and washing machines.
Entrepreneur He Xiangjian built Midea Group into one of the world's largest appliance makers, and in the process earned himself a fortune of whopping $34.1 billion – ranking at 34th spot in the world's richest list.
The 78-year-old founded Midea in 1992 and stepped down as chairman in 2012.
Tale that parallels China's own growth
His tale of success parallels China's own, beginning when the Chinese economy opened up to the world four decades ago and welcomed foreign investment and private ventures.
The self-made billionaire's story began in 1968, when the 26-year-old He led a group of 23 residents, hailing from the town of Beijiao in Guangdong province, and opened a bottle lid production workshop with $706.
After initially producing bottle lids and car parts, the company focused on manufacturing entire products, specifically electric fans, and later commercial air conditioners, which still prevail as a core Midea business product today. Fuelled by demand from progressively affluent consumers in China, the company gradually expanded into a wide variety of electrical home appliances, culminating in its first modern industrial estate built in 1990 with a 100 million yuan investment.
As one of the first few Chinese companies to lead growth in the hi-tech and consumer appliance industries, the company reported global revenue exceeding 5 billion yuan in 1998. Within just two years, its revenue doubled.
International expansion began in 2007, when Midea opened its first overseas production facilities outside Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. It went on to form several strategic joint venture partnerships with an American air-conditioner manufacturer, Carrier Corporation, in Egypt, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and India. The company also achieved a milestone of annual sales revenue topping over $14.1 billion that same year.
Midea Group, which trades its shares on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange and has more than 200 subsidiaries, which include the German firm Kuka, the world's largest producer of robots and appliances, and 80.1% controlling stake in Toshiba Home Appliances Group.
He continues to be involved in the company as its controlling shareholder, while his family controls about a third of the business.
Goh Cheng Liang: Painting into fortune
Goh is the founder of Wuthelam Holdings, a closely held paint and coatings maker.
The Singapore-based company's joint venture with Japan's Nippon Paint Holdings has over 23,000 employees, and operations in 17 countries, including China and India. It's also the largest shareholder in Nippon Paint, Asia's biggest paint maker.
The Singaporean nonagenarian has a net worth of $32.3 billion.
A Singapore success story through paint
Goh Cheng Liang gets the bulk of his wealth from a stake in Japan's Nippon Paint Holdings, the fourth largest paint manufacturer in the world. He started making paints in a small factory in Singapore before he went on to partner with Japan's Nippon Paint in 1962.
His big break came in 1949 when he was able to buy some surplus stock at auction: rotting barrels of paint which, armed with his Chinese chemicals dictionary and knowledge from working in the hardware store, he started experimenting with. This was how his Pigeon Brand paint was born.
When the Korean War started in 1950, imports were restricted and his paint business found a ready market in Singapore. It was after his thorough grounding in the technology and business that Nippon Paint came to him with a business proposal.
A skilled businessman by this time, he was able to strike a deal that led to a Nippon mixing plant being sited in Singapore, and from the 1960s onwards, he dominated the field in Singapore and increasingly well beyond.
He built the former shopping centre, Liang Court, and Mount Elizabeth Hospital.
Presently, his companies Wuthelam Holdings and Yenom Industries include a vast array of businesses, from retail and distribution, to golf courses, logistics, a Chinese mining company, marinas, hotels, and housing developments all over the world.
Goh's son, Hup Jin, was appointed chairman of Nippon Paint in March 2018 and also runs their privately held joint venture, Nipsea.
Gautam Adani: India's ports tycoon
Gautam Adani is founder of Adani Group, the largest port operator in India. The India-based infrastructure group is also India's largest closely held thermal coal producer and largest coal trader.
Adani Enterprises, the group's listed trading house, reported revenue of $6.1 billion in the year to 31 March, 2020.
The 57-year old has a net worth of $31.9 billion.
Ports, coal, and Modi has a friend
The art of making money cannot be taught in a school. This adage is proven letter and word by billionaire Gautam Adani who quit college at the age of 18, took a train to Mumbai with a few hundred Rupees in his pocket.
This middle class boy became a trader and now sits on top of a business empire that, amongst others, owns and operates India's largest private port at Mundra. His $13 billion Adani Group's interests span commodities, power generation and transmission, real estate and defence.
Most of the Adani's wealth comes from his 62% stake in Adani Ports & Special Economic — a spin off from Adani Enterprises in 2015. He controls 75% of all the five Adani companies — Adani Enterprises, Adani Power, Adani Transmissions and Adani Gas.
The Adani Group — which constitute of six companies — saw turnover Rs77,000 crore with Rs20,141 crore as operating profits in 2017-18. He also built India's largest edible oil refinery that produces 10,105 tonnes of oil per day.
Over the course of six years, the group has expanded its operations in its port, coal imports, coal mining, power generation, city gas distribution and edible oil imports. He also has business interests in airports, urban water management, small and medium sector lending, power transmission and distribution, data centres, aerospace and defence.
The growth of Adani group between 2014 and 2019 can be credited to the Indian government. The conglomerate were growing even when other infra companies were not — though with lower profits. The group reportedly announced capital expenditure worth Rs167,000 crore for acquisitions and new businesses. A factor for this success could be Adani's close relations with Indian PM Narendra Modi.
The Indian government awarded a record number of contracts at 126 to set up fuel stations and piped natural gas across India. And, Adani won as many as 25 of these. Adani shares a symbiotic relationship with Modi. His businesses started expanding in his home state Gujarat when Modi became the chief minister in 2001. In 2013, the group was operating 44 projects which rose to 92 by the end of 2019. However, the group also raked up huge debt to the tune of Rs99,181.09 crore in 2018.
Gautam Adani owns Abbott Point, a controversial coal mining project in Australia, whose Carmichael coal mine is billed as one of the world's largest. He has not studied risk management, yet does not shy away from making gnarly moves. Even after knowing that he might lose it all, Adani had bet a massive $10 billion on an Australian coal mine — his highest best so far. In June 2019, Adani got permission to start work on the Australian coal mine after a 9-year wait.
Adani has recently expanded into new ventures such as airports and data centers. Adani acquired a 74% stake in Mumbai International Airport, India's second-busiest, in September 2020.