Robert Kuok celebrates 100th birthday

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Malaysian business magnate Tan Sri Robert Kuok, known for his remarkable business judgments today, celebrated his 100th birthday.

Born in 1923 in Johor to Fujianese parents, Kuok is recognised as one of a distinguished group of Asian entrepreneurs who was shaped by wartime challenges.

He also developed businesses that evolved alongside newly independent nations, replacing Western empires.

Though he has been a Hong Kong resident since the 1970s, Kuok’s 2017 memoir revealed his enduring affection for Malaysia despite his criticism of the country’s preferential treatment of the majority Malays.

Following the election defeat of the Malay dominant party Umno in 2018, Kuok also accepted a position on an advisory council to the new multiracial government under the administration of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

His extensive political connections have also been described as unparalleled in the Asian business world.

He forged a friendship with Lee Kuan Yew during their brief time at Raffles College in Singapore, which led to Lee seeking Kuok’s counsel during Lee’s tenure as Singapore’s prime minister.

Throughout his memoir, Kuok highlighted his love for Malaysia and his duty to assist China’s economic transformation.

Known for his humility, compassion, business acumen, and charisma, Kuok concluded his memoir by pondering, “What is wealth for?”

The youngest of three sons from a prosperous family, Kuok shared that he faced challenges on his path to corporate success.

After taking over the family’s rice distribution business following his father’s death in 1948, he experienced what he described as ‘humiliation at the hands of the banks’, which drove him to strive for financial success.

The experience also paved the way for his diversification into various industries by the 1960s, earning him the moniker’ Sugar King of the East’.

At the same time, Forbes estimated that Kuok’s wealth was worth about US$10.3 billion (RM48.7 billion), spanning a wide-ranging property-to-logistics empire.

This makes him Malaysia’s wealthiest individual and the world’s 155th richest person.

His Shangri-La Group, established in 1971, currently owns, operates and manages over 100 hotels and resorts across 78 destinations.

At the same time, he was appointed as an adviser by China in 1993 ahead of the 1997 sovereignty handover.

His vast commercial interests on the Chinese mainland are underpinned by his strong ties with Beijing, dating back to his early days trading rice and sugar with China.

Meanwhile, his Kerry Group had also acquired a controlling interest in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) in the same year, holding it for 22 years until 2015.

Among Kuok’s notable mainland investments is the China World Trade Center in Beijing, a major foreign investment project following the Tiananmen Square crackdown, which contributed to his positive reputation in China.

Kuok marked his 100th birthday today with a gathering of elite figures celebrating his lifetime achievements.

He was congratulated by influential individuals, including Hong Kong’s wealthiest man, Li Ka-shing, 95, and his son Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, 59, who praised Kuok’s friendship.

The Lee family of Henderson Land Group also extended warm wishes, recognising Kuok’s visionary leadership.

“Your visionary leadership and remarkable contributions to the industry have left an incredible mark. Here’s to a century of achievements, good health, and continued happiness!” the company’s founder Lee Shau-kee, 95, and his sons Peter Lee Ka-kit, 60, and Martin Lee Ka-shing, 52 was quoted as saying.

South China Morning Post chairman Joe Tsai, a newspaper once owned by Kuok, also offered his best wishes and acknowledged Kuok’s mentorship.

“Mr Kuok has mentored me on being a good custodian of such an important Hong Kong institution as the South China Morning Post. I want to send my warmest congratulations to him on his 100th birthday,” Tsai was quoted as saying.