Founder, Kuok Group
A pivotal figure in Malaysia, Hong Kong, mainland China and beyond, Robert Kuok has built a formidable family business empire
Malaysia’s richest man for the past couple of decades, Robert Kuok founded and controls the Kuok Group, which has operations across the region, in sectors including hospitality, agriculture, real estate, and freight and logistics. Kuok’s biggest source of wealth is his stake in Wilmar International, the world’s largest listed palm-oil refiner, though perhaps the Kuok Group’s best-known asset is Shangri-La Hotels.
Founded in Johor Bahru, Malaysia in 1949, the company was first known as Kuok Brothers, trading rice, sugar and wheat flour. He famously once controlled 10 per cent of the world’s sugar market, which earned him the nickname “the Sugar King of Asia”.
Kuok established a base in Singapore in 1953, where he opened the first Shangri-La Hotel in 1971. In 1974, the company’s Hong Kong office was founded as Kerry Holdings, opening the Kowloon Shangri-La in 1977. The Kerry Group also became one of the first foreign companies to establish operations in Mainland China, in 1980.
Also an influential political figure, with close relationships with the governments of both Malaysia and China, Kuok has also been focused on education and fighting poverty since 1970 through the Kuok Foundation. Through his foundation, he has provided scholarships and grants, donated to the improvement of educational facilities and promoted scientific research. He has also established countless non-profit hospitals, rehabilitation centres and shelters.
Famously media shy, despite having owned media properties including the South China Morning Post, he nonetheless provided fascinating insights into his extraordinarily varied life in 2017, with his book Robert Kuok: A Memoir. Today, his various businesses are run by the next generation of Kuoks, including his children and nephew.
Did You Know?
In 2017, Shangri-La opened its 100th hotel in Xiamen, China.