Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Inspiring family business saga! The 30-year-old Lynsi Torres is called the billionaire "Burger Queen" of America due to the inspiring business success of her closely-held family enterprise In-N-Out Burger, wow!

(Image below of Lynsi Torres sourced from huffingtonpost.com)

(Image below sourced from gearpatrol.com)

(Image below of the mansion of Lynsi Torres , plus the logo of her In-N-Out Burger super-imposed, sourced from la.curbed.com)

Below is an interesting article featuring the inspiring success story of In-N-Out Burger:

Youngest American Woman Billionaire Found With In-N-Out


Lynsi Torres' Rise to Billionaire Burger Queen
Lunchtime at the flagship In-N-Out Burger restaurant in Baldwin Park, California, is a study in efficiency. As the order line swells, smiling workers swoop in to operate empty cash registers. Another staffer cleans tables, asking customers if they’re enjoying their hamburger. Outside, a woman armed with a hand-held ordering machine speeds up the drive-through line.

Feb. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Bloomberg Billionaires Editor Matthew G. Miller talks about Billionaire Drag Racer and In-N-Out Burgers President Lynsi Torres. He speaks on Bloomberg Television's "In The Loop." (Source: Bloomberg)

Feb. 4 (Bloomberg) -- John Gordon, founder of San Diego-based restaurant consultant Pacific Management Consulting Group, talks to Bloomberg's Seth Lubove about In-N-Out Burger restaurant's 30-year-old owner Lynsi Torres and the possibility she will maintain ownership after gaining full control of the franchise in five years. Torres's most visible presence has been on the drag strip. She competes in the National Hot Rod Association’s Super Gas and Top Sportsman Division 7 categories. (Source: Bloomberg)

Feb. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Watch Bloomberg's Joe Wiesenthal, Tom Keene, Max Abelson, Stephanie Ruhle and Erik Schatzker sample the best burgers on Wall Street. They eat on Bloomberg Television's "Market Makers." (Source: Bloomberg)

Youngest American Woman Billionaire Revealed With In-N-Out Chain

Youngest American Woman Billionaire Revealed With In-N-Out Chain

Youngest American Woman Billionaire Revealed With In-N-Out Chain
Adam Lau/AP Photo
Cars line up in the drive-thru lane at In-N-Out Burger in Baldwin Park, California.
Cars line up in the drive-thru lane at In-N-Out Burger in Baldwin Park, California. Photographer: Adam Lau/AP Photo

Such service has helped In-N-Out create a rabid fan base -- and make Lynsi Torres, the chain’s 30-year-old owner and president, one of the youngest female billionaires on Earth. New store openings often resemble product releases from Apple Inc. (AAPL), with customers lined up hours in advance. City officials plead with the Irvine, California-based company to open restaurants in their municipalities.

“They have done a fantastic job of building and maintaining a kind of cult following,” said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Chicago-based food industry research firm Technomic Inc. “Someone would love to buy them.”

That someone includes billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who told a group of visiting business students in 2005 that he’d like to own the chain, according to an account of the meeting on the UCLA Anderson School of Management website.

The thrice-married Torres has watched her family expand In- N-Out from a single drive-through hamburger stand founded in 1948 in Baldwin Park by her grandparents, Harry and Esther Snyder, into a fast-food empire worth more than $1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Biblical Citations

Famous for its Double-Double cheeseburgers, fresh ingredients and discreet biblical citations on its cups and food wrappers, In-N-Out has almost 280 units in five states. The closely held company had sales of about $625 million in 2012, after applying a five-year compound annual growth rate of 4.6 percent to industry trade magazine Nation’s Restaurant News’s 2011 sales estimate of $596 million.

In-N-Out is valued at about $1.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg ranking, based on the average price-to-earnings, enterprise value-to-sales and enterprise value-to-earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization multiples of five publicly traded peers: Yum! Brands Inc. (YUM), Jack in the Box Inc., Wendy’s Co. (WEN), Sonic Corp. (SONC) and McDonald’s Corp. (MCD) Enterprise value is defined as market capitalization plus total debt minus cash.

One private equity executive who invests in the food and restaurant industry said the operation could be valued at more than $2 billion, based on its productivity per unit, profitability and potential for expansion. The person asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak about his company’s potential investments.

Plane Crash

“In-N-Out Burger is a private company and this valuation of the company is nothing more than speculation based on estimates from people with no knowledge of In-N-Out’s financials, which are and always have been private,” Carl Van Fleet, the company’s vice president of planning and development, said in an e-mailed statement.

Torres, who has never appeared on an international wealth ranking and declined to comment for this article, came to control In-N-Out after several family deaths. When her grandfather Harry died in 1976, his second son, Rich, took over as company president and expanded the chain to 93 restaurants from 18.

Torres’s father, Harry Guy Snyder, became chief executive following Rich’s 1993 death in a plane crash at age 41. The chain expanded to 140 locations under Guy, who inherited his father’s passion for drag racing.

Ford Cobra

When he died of a prescription drug overdose at age 49 in 1999, Snyder’s estate included 27 cars and other vehicles, including a 1965 Ford Cobra and a pair of 1960’s-era Dodge Dart muscle cars, according to his will.

Torres’s grandmother Esther -- Harry’s widow -- maintained control of the company until her death in 2006 at age 86. When she died, Torres was the sole family heir. She now controls the company through a trust that gave her half ownership when she turned 30 last year, and will give her full control when she turns 35.

The company has no other owners, according to an Arizona state corporation commission filing.
Few in the restaurant industry have met or know much about the hamburger heiress.

“I have no clue about her,” said Janet Lowder, a Rancho Palos Verdes, California, restaurant consultant, who said she was one of the few people to extract the company’s internal finances from Esther Snyder in the 1980’s for industry-wide surveys. “I was even surprised there was a granddaughter.”

Limited Menu

Technomic’s Goldin said the lack of visibility extends to management.
“I’ve been in the industry a long time, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of their people at an industry meeting,” he said. “They’re very quiet. That’s their culture.”

Torres has little formal management training and no college degree. The company was structured to carry on after the demise of its founders, according to a 2003 Harvard Business School case study. In-N-Out has never franchised to outside operators, the Harvard researchers said, giving up a low-cost revenue stream in exchange for maintaining quality control.

In a 2005 article in the Harvard Business Review, Boston- based Bain & Co. consultants Mark Gottfredson and Keith Aspinall attributed the company’s estimated 20 percent profit margins at the time to the simplicity of its limited menu. Contrast that with competitors such as Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald’s and Miami-based Burger King Worldwide Inc. (BKW), which regularly change their food offerings.

Over-sized Tires

“Other chains seem to change positions as often as they change their underwear,” said Bob Sandelman, chief executive officer of San Clemente, California-based food industry researcher Sandelman & Associates.

Butchers carve fresh beef chuck delivered daily to the company’s distribution facility in Baldwin Park, where hamburger patties leave for restaurants on 18-wheeled refrigerated trucks outfitted with over-sized tires so the In-N-Out logo can be better seen on the highway. The company only expands as far as its trucks can travel in a day, either from the Baldwin Park complex or a newer facility in Dallas, the only two places where the company makes hamburger patties.

‘Calculated Growth’

In-N-Out expanded to Texas in 2011, after building a warehouse and the patty facility. There are now 16 units in the state. Conrad Lyon, a Los Angeles-based senior restaurants analyst for B. Riley Caris, said additional expansion will continue to be gradual.

“I would expect slow, calculated growth,” he said in a phone interview. “To outsiders the company’s growth out West likely appears sluggish. However, it was management carefully leveraging its brand, real estate and distribution. As a private company-owned system, In-N-Out has the luxury of calling the shots to replicate its success without succumbing to potentially detrimental outside influences.”

The company’s pace of expansion was one of the issues at stake in an exchange of lawsuits in 2006 between Torres, In-N- Out executives and Richard Boyd, the company’s former vice president of real estate and development. Boyd was one of two trustees overseeing the trust that controls the company’s stock on behalf of Torres.

Complaints, Allegations

Among other allegations filed in California state court in Los Angeles, Boyd claimed Torres and Mark Taylor -- her brother- in-law from a half-sister -- conspired to remove Esther Snyder from the company to gain control of In-N-Out. He filed a separate petition with the probate court seeking to prevent Torres from removing him as a trustee.

Torres denied the allegations in both a formal answer to Boyd’s complaint and a 2006 letter to the editor published in the Los Angeles Times, in which she said she only had “minimal involvement” in the company’s business decisions, and didn’t favor rapid expansion.

The company in turn filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Boyd, alleging fraud and embezzlement in connection to Boyd’s relationship to one of In-N-Out’s outside construction firms. Boyd’s lawyer, Philip Heller of Fagelbaum & Heller LLP in Los Angeles, said all the litigation was dismissed following a confidential settlement. Boyd resigned from the company and the trust.

“They were all in the end amicably resolved,” Heller said.

16 Bathrooms

Since then, Torres has refused most interview requests, even by author Stacy Perman, who wrote a 352-page book about In- N-Out in 2009. Torres asked to set up a meeting with the author after the book’s publication, but it never occurred, Perman wrote in an afterword to the 2010 paperback edition.

Torres popped up in real-estate blogs in September, after buying a $17.4 million, 16,600-square-foot mansion in the wealthy enclave of Bradbury, California, in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. A Realtor.com listing for the house described it as having seven bedrooms, 16 bathrooms, a pool, a tennis court and other amenities.

Torres is one of almost 90 hidden billionaires discovered by Bloomberg News since the debut of the Bloomberg Billionaires Index in March 2012. Among them: Dirce Camargo, the richest woman in Brazil, and Elaine Marshall, the fourth-richest woman in America.

Like Camargo and Marshall, Torres maintains a low profile. Her most visible presence has been on the drag strip. She competes in the National Hot Rod Association’s Super Gas and Top Sportsman Division 7 categories, alternating between a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda and a 1984 Chevrolet Camaro, according to NHRA results. Her third husband, Val Torres Jr., is also a race- car driver.

‘Open Question’

She also inherited her Uncle Rich’s interest in religion, funding a non-profit organization called Healing Hearts & Nations that proselytizes in Africa, according to a 2010 Form 990 foundation filing that lists Torres as the chief financial officer. Former In-N-Out executive Boyd alleged in his 2006 cross-complaint against the company that Torres attempted to fire him because he was not a “man of God,” and because he didn’t attend prayer meetings at her home. She denied Boyd’s claims in the company’s answer.

Whether the mother of twins will maintain ownership in the chain after she gains full control in five years is uncertain, said John Gordon, founder of San Diego-based restaurant consultant Pacific Management Consulting Group.

“It’s an open question whether she may have different feelings later,” said Gordon. “Like most kids, or second or third generations of a very wealthy family, I don’t know that she has restaurant blood in her veins, or if she’s a trust fund baby.”

Friday, February 1, 2013

Congratulations to this visionary business taipan of Thailand, Dhanin Chearavanont (Chinese name in simplified characters: 谢国民)!

He is one of the most talented and gutsiest entrepreneurs in the world whom I admire very much.

I had seen Dhanin Chearavanont made an eloquent speech and answer questions at an open forum in fluent Mandarin at the last 2011 World Chinese Entrepreneurs Convention held in Singapore, and he had brilliant as well as wise ideas!

(This Forbes magazine cover image sourced from nationmultimedia.com)

(Image below sourced from economist.com)

HSBC Sells $7.4 Billion Ping An Stake to Thai Billionaire Dhanin

HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA)’s $7.4 billion sale of its stake in Ping An Insurance (Group) Co. (2318) to Thai billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont was cleared by regulators, ending six weeks of speculation over the deal’s fate.

Dhanin’s Charoen Pokphand Group Co. and HSBC said payment was made in cash after the China Insurance Regulatory Commission approved the sale of 976.1 million Hong Kong-traded shares in the nation’s second-largest insurer. The transfer will take place by Wednesday, HSBC said in its statement.

China Approves HSBC’s Sale of Ping An Stake to Thai Billionaire

China Approves HSBC’s Sale of Ping An Stake to Thai Billionaire

China Approves HSBC’s Sale of Ping An Stake to Thai Billionaire
Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg
Pedestrians walk past a Ping An Insurance (Group) Co. advertisement in Beijing.

The transaction will generate a $2.6 billion profit for London-based HSBC, bolstering Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver’s efforts to revive earnings. CP Group said on Jan. 11 it had the resources to complete the purchase, damping concern the deal would collapse after Caixin Online reported that China Development Bank Corp. withdrew financing.

“Given all the twists and turns, this outcome is quite a surprise and the best for all,” said Li Wenbing, a Beijing- based analyst at Bocom International Holdings. “With a relatively passive investor like CP, Ping An’s management can maintain their control on the firm’s operation and leverage some of CP’s expertise in tapping the rural financial sector.”

Shares in Ping An have gained 23 percent in Hong Kong trading since Dec. 4, the day before the sale was announced. That’s 20 percent more than the HK$59-a-share that CP Group agreed to pay.

HSBC, which has gained almost 12 percent in the same time- frame, fell 0.3 percent to close at HK$88 on Feb. 1. The stock has advanced about 13 percent in London since Dec. 4.

Chinese Funding

HSBC agreed on Dec. 5 to sell its 15.6 percent holding in Ping An to four subsidiaries of CP Group in two phases for about $9.4 billion. The first stage, comprising shares valued at about HK$15 billion ($1.93 billion), was completed Dec. 7. The rest required approval from the China Insurance Regulatory Commission by the end of today.

The acquisition of four-fifths of the shares would be funded with cash as well as a financing agreement from the Hong Kong unit of China Development Bank, HSBC had said in December.

CP Group didn’t use that credit facility from China Development Bank, which is a policy lender based in Beijing, to finance any part of the purchase, said a person with knowledge of the transaction. The person, who asked not to be identified, didn’t say how CP Group raised funds for the deal. Today’s statements made no mention of how the deal was funded.

Seed Business

Dhanin, 73, planned to make a foray into financial services after spending more than four decades building a family seed business into Thailand’s biggest agricultural company and conglomerate. His net worth was an estimated $6.6 billion as of today, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Almost 60 percent of the fortune is from overseas private companies.

The group’s historical ties to China include becoming the first foreign investor after Deng Xiaoping opened the economy in 1979, and continued management of local agricultural projects. CP said it could help develop rural areas in China through its investment in Ping An.

“This is good news as it removes the uncertainty,” Olive Xia, a Shanghai-based analyst at Core Pacific-Yamaichi International Ltd. who recommends investors buy the shares, said by phone. “We still prefer Ping An among Chinese insurers and the stock has some upside.”
One of the world's great entrepreneurs whom I admire is the respected ethnic Chinese billionaire Robert Kuok Hock Nien  (his full name in traditional Chinese characters: 郭鶴年; simplified Chinese characters: ) of Malaysia and of the famous Shangri-la Hotel Group.

Robert Kuok is visionary, global in thinking, Confucian in values, an inspiring Asian business taipan!

(Image below sourced from sabahkini.net)

(Image below sourced from forbes.com, which sourced it from SPH or Straits Times)


Here is a latest story in Bloomberg News about this remarkable world-class success:

Billionaire Kuok Says His Empire Can Last ’Generations’

Bloomberg Markets Magazine

When billionaire Robert Kuok introduced a luxury hotel brand in 1971, he named it Shangri-La, after the fictional utopia in which inhabitants enjoy unheard-of longevity.

Ensconced in his executive suite 32 floors above Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor -- the room decorated with a pair of elephant tusks gifted by the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first prime minister of Malaysia -- the world’s 38th-richest person appears to have defied the aging process himself.

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’
Jumper/Getty Images
Western Europe's tallest office building will be home to one of Robert Kuok's new luxury Shangri-La hotels. Six are scheduled to be opened worldwide during the third quarter.

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’
Grischa Rueschendorf/Bloomberg
Robert Kuok shovels dirt at a ground breaking ceremony for the Shangri-La Asia Ltd.'s new hotel in Guangzhou on Feb. 26, 2004. Through the unlisted family-owned holding company, Kerry Group Ltd., which he chairs, Kuok controls listed enterprises with a total market value of about $35 billion.

Kerry Group chairman Robert Kuok

Kerry Group chairman Robert Kuok

Kerry Group chairman Robert Kuok
Grischa Rueschendorf/Bloomberg
The world’s 39th-richest person, who named his Shangri-La hotel chain after the fictional utopia in which inhabitants enjoy unheard-of longevity, is trim, dapper and straight backed at 89. The public and private companies his family controls include investments in Beijing’s tallest building and cooking oil brands that have gained a 50 percent market share in China.

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’
Pedestrians walk past the headquarters of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Robert Kuok's daughter, Kuok Hui Kwong, 35, is executive director of SCMP Group Ltd., which Robert Kuok took control of in 1993, when he paid Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. $349 million for a 35 percent stake.

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’
Qilai Shen/Bloomberg
Wilmar International Ltd.’s cooking oil brands —led by Jin Long Yu, meaning Golden Dragon Fish, seen in this photo — grease half of China’s woks and generate 48 percent of the company's revenue.

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’
Eric Piermont/AFP/Getty Images
A waiter serves a customer at the bar at the Shangri-La Hotel in Paris.

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’
Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg
The development site for the Shangri-La Residences stands in Yangon, Myanmar on Nov. 20, 2012.
Photographer: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg

Enlarge image Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’

Kuok Says With Right Heir His Empire Can Last `Four Generations’
Marco Flagg/Bloomberg
A visitor looks out the window of Island Shangri-La hotel, owned by Shangri-La Asia Ltd., in Hong Kong. Robert Kuok’s second son, Kuok Khoon Ean, 57, heads Shangri-La Asia, of which the family owns 50 percent.

Kerry Group chairman Robert Kuok

Kerry Group chairman Robert Kuok

Kerry Group chairman Robert Kuok
ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images
Robert Kuok, chairman of Kerry Group Ltd., holds a trophy during the 2012 CCTV China Economic Person of The Year award at China Central Television in Beijing on Dec. 12, 2012.

Kuok had accumulated a fortune of $19.4 billion as of Jan. 31, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Trim, dapper and straight backed at 89, he shows no signs of stopping there, Bloomberg Markets magazine will report in its March issue.

This year, the media-shy Malaysian-born magnate will likely open his 71st sumptuously appointed Shangri-La. Six of them are scheduled to be opened in the third quarter alone, including one perched in the Shard, the 72-story London skyscraper that’s the tallest office building in Western Europe.

Meanwhile, the public and private companies his family controls continue to pump money into his ancestral homeland, China, where his investments range from Beijing’s tallest building to cooking oil brands that have gained a 50 percent market share in the world’s most populous nation.

‘Personally Powerful’

One of Kuok’s companies, Singapore-listed Wilmar International Ltd. (WIL), is the world’s biggest processor of palm oil and eighth-biggest sugar producer.

Others operate shipping and logistics businesses, a property portfolio stretching from Paris to Sydney and East Asia’s most influential English-language newspaper, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

“He’s so vital, so active and continues to be so personally powerful,” says Timothy Dattels, San Francisco-based senior partner at U.S. buyout firm TPG Capital LP and a director of Kuok’s Hong Kong-listed Shangri-La Asia (69) Ltd. “I can’t imagine a day without him at the top.”

Others can, which is why the question of succession looms over the Kuok empire as the patriarch prepares to mark his 90th birthday in October.

Through the unlisted family-owned holding company, Kerry Group Ltd., which he chairs, Kuok controls listed enterprises with a total market value of about $40 billion.

As it stands, the family enterprises are seeking to recover from a rocky 2012 that featured some sharp share-price and profit drops.

First Interview

In his first interview with Western news media in 16 years, Kuok, who has eight children and numerous other relatives sprinkled through his executive ranks, says he won’t be worried when that day eventually comes.

“Everything on earth is dynamic,” he says in perfectly enunciated English. “I can only give my children a message, not money. If they follow it, we can go another three or four generations.”
Relatives run the most important of the Kuok businesses.

Kuok’s second son, Kuok Khoon Ean, 57, heads Shangri-La Asia, of which the family owns 50 percent.
A nephew, Kuok Khoon Hong, 63, co-founded and chairs Wilmar International, the largest Kuok-controlled company, with a market value of almost $20 billion, in which the Kuok family controls a 32 percent stake.

A daughter, Kuok Hui Kwong, 35, is executive director of SCMP Group Ltd., publisher of the 109-year-old South China Morning Post, which Kuok took control of in 1993, when he paid Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. $349 million for a 35 percent stake.

Focus Attention

As to who will succeed the master, most investors in Kuok enterprises focus attention on his eldest son, Kuok Khoon Chen, 58, who’s known as Beau.

Robert declined to confirm that Beau, who is deputy chairman of Kerry Group, will succeed him.
“Newshounds like excitement in their stories, whereas leadership of a business group is always a serious matter, and it would be wrong to put in writing any kind of assumption,” Kuok wrote in an e-mail following the interview.

Beau, who’s worked in his father’s businesses since 1978, is chairman of Kerry Properties Ltd. (683) The firm, 55 percent owned by Kerry Group, develops luxury apartments, shopping malls and offices mostly in China and Hong Kong.

“I know Beau, and he has a good team,” says Peter Churchouse, founder of Hong Kong-based property investor Portwood Capital Ltd. “But you have to wonder whether the second and third generations have the entrepreneurial and trading instincts that the father has.”

‘China Watcher’

The father’s instincts were honed over decades of personal and historical turbulence inconceivable to the generation vying to take over the family business.

That experience helped him become one of the first -- and best-connected -- foreign investors in China following Mao Zedong’s communist revolution.

“Robert is the best China watcher in the business,” says Simon Murray, chairman of Glencore International Plc, the world’s biggest commodities-trading company. “He understands the steel backbone of the Communist Party, but while other Hong Kong tycoons tend to be hugely subservient to Beijing, he is in no way obsequious.”

For all of Kuok’s prowess, 2012 was a tumultuous year for investors in his enterprises.

While Kerry Properties stock surged 57 percent in Hong Kong last year -- more than double the increase in the Hang Seng Index -- Wilmar International’s shares plummeted 33 percent, making it the worst performer in Singapore’s Straits Times Index. (FSSTI)

‘A Fraction’

The plunge wiped the equivalent of more than $8 billion from the company’s market value -- and almost $3 billion from the family’s fortune. This year, Wilmar’s share price has rebounded, rising 14 percent in January.

In any event, Kuok disputes Bloomberg’s valuation of his personal wealth at $19.4 billion; he says it’s “a fraction” of that amount, though he does not volunteer an alternative figure.

Wilmar’s woes stem from its massive exposure to China, where its cooking oil brands -- led by Jin Long Yu, meaning Golden Dragon Fish -- grease half the country’s woks and where it gets 48 percent of its revenue.

Beijing limited price increases on edible oils during most of 2011 and part of 2012, Wilmar said at the time.
Furthermore, the rising cost of soybeans, which Wilmar uses to produce cooking oil, hit a record $17.89 a bushel in September, squeezing earnings.

Rough Ride

In the first nine months of 2012, profit fell 29 percent to $779 million from $1.1 billion a year earlier.
Kuok’s Hong Kong-based companies have had a rough ride since the global financial crisis.

As of Jan. 31, Shangri-La Asia and Kerry properties shares were both down 19 percent compared with a 1 percent increase in the Hang Seng Index. Asked about such underperformance (583), Kuok says enigmatically, “It is right and proper for the investor to like or dislike a share.”

Underperformance isn’t the only problem at SCMP Group, whose share price had declined 69 percent as of Jan. 30 since Kuok acquired it. In 19 years, the South China Morning Post has churned through 11 editors, including one who served twice.

And although Kuok says his news executives publish without fear or favor, present and former staff members have publicly complained that the paper sometimes self-censors stories it thinks the Chinese government wouldn’t like.

‘Toned Down’

“Under his ownership, criticism of China has been toned down,” says David Plott, managing editor of Global Asia, a Seoul-based quarterly. “And if you look at the turnover of editors, it tells you one of two things: either Robert Kuok doesn’t know what he wants or he knows what he wants and he hasn’t gotten it.”
If that’s true, it might be a first for Kuok, whose life story has been one of single-minded achievement.

The son of Chinese immigrants who had settled in British- controlled Malaya, Robert Kuok Hock Nien -- his full name -- grew up speaking his parents’ Chinese Fuzhou dialect, English and even Japanese during Japan’s wartime occupation of the region.

Significantly, given the role China would play in Robert’s life, his mother encouraged him to achieve fluency in Mandarin and embrace his Chinese heritage.

Kuok’s parents ran a shop that sold rice, sugar and flour. Kuok recalls living with the smell of his addicted father’s opium pipe in his nostrils.

Family Business

Still, there was enough money for Robert to progress from a local English school to Raffles College in Singapore, where fellow students included Lee Kuan Yew, later the founder of modern Singapore.

Kuok never finished his studies. In 1941, Japanese troops stormed through the Malay Peninsula and in February 1942 captured Singapore. Kuok took a job with Mitsubishi Corp. With Japan’s defeat in 1945, his family resumed doing business under the British.

In 1949, after his father died, Robert; a brother, Philip; and other relatives founded Kuok Bros. Sdn., which later specialized in sugar refining.

Philip went on to become a Malaysian diplomat, and a second, much-admired brother, William, took an entirely different path again by joining the communist revolt against colonial rule. In 1953, William Kuok was killed by British troops in a jungle ambush.

Furtive Rendezvous

Robert Kuok, by contrast, used his English-language skills on visits to London to learn the sugar business while remaining based in Malaysia and later Singapore.

During the Cold War, he traded with both Western and communist blocs, meeting Cuba’s Fidel Castro and doing business with China’s Mao from as early as 1959.

In 1973, with China in the grip of the Cultural Revolution, Kuok was summoned to Hong Kong for a furtive rendezvous with two of Mao’s trade officials.

They confided that China was facing a sugar shortage. Kuok stepped into the breach, transferring his headquarters to Hong Kong that year.

It was a prescient move. In 1976, Mao died, and in 1978, Deng Xiaoping tore down the so-called Bamboo Curtain, initiating reforms that sparked 34 years of surging economic growth.

In 1984, Kuok opened his first Shangri-La on the mainland. The following year, he partnered with China’s foreign trade ministry to begin building the China World Trade Center (600007) in Beijing.

Enduring Mystery

In 1988, at his nephew Khoon Hong’s suggestion, he branched out into edible oils. By 1993, Coca-Cola Co. was impressed enough with Kuok’s China connections to form a bottling joint venture with him.
That lasted until 2008, when Coke bought back Kerry Group’s stake for an undisclosed amount, both companies pronouncing the outcome a success.

The family’s history of that period harbors an enduring mystery: a 16-year parting of the ways between Robert and Khoon Hong, who in 1991 left the Kuok Group to set up Wilmar with Indonesian entrepreneur Martua Sitorus.

It wasn’t until 2007 that Robert acquired a 32 percent stake in Wilmar and injected most of his agribusiness into it. Neither Robert nor his nephew would discuss the split.

For all his triumphs in the capitalist world, Robert Kuok says the biggest influences on his life were his devoutly Buddhist mother and his communist revolutionary brother, William.

‘Good Boys’

“Otherwise, probably I would have been an arrogant middle-class Chinese, only caring about materialism, worldly pleasures and fleshpot pleasures,” Kuok says, his moist eyes betraying a momentary sadness.

“When I am tempted, I think of what William went through. He sacrificed his life trying to help the underprivileged.”

Kuok says he has tried to pass on those values by not cocooning his children in privilege. Nor, he adds, does he place much emphasis on scholastic qualifications, including MBA degrees, when hiring senior staff.

Beau Kuok earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Monash University in Melbourne; Ean holds a similar qualification from the University of Nottingham in England. Kuok describes Beau and Ean as “good boys.”

Among members of the extended family, Kuok speaks highly of Khoon Hong, his nephew at Wilmar.

‘Stupid Ones’

“There are stupid ones, there are mean ones, but he’s one of the cleverest,” Robert Kuok says. None of the second- generation Kuoks would comment for this article. Kuok says they make their own decisions. “I never control my children,” he says. “We are a very liberal, democratic family.”

The perils of succession are acute in Kuok’s bailiwick, according to researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Their study of 250 family-controlled businesses in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan from 1987 to 2005 shows that stocks typically plunged 60 percent over an eight-year period before, during and after a founder’s relinquishing control.

Joseph Fan, the finance professor who led the research, attributes this wealth destruction to the inability of the patriarch to pass on, even to family members, his most valuable, intangible assets, including relationships with governments and banks. “The founder is the key asset,” Fan says.

That’s why, Fan says, so many tycoons remain at the helm of their businesses well into their 80s and don’t disclose succession plans.

Octogenarian Rivals

Last year, following investor concerns over feuds that have split the second generation of some of Hong Kong’s most prominent families, two of Kuok’s octogenarian billionaire rivals in the property business, Li Ka-shing of Cheung Kong Holdings Ltd. and Lee Shau-kee of Henderson Land Development Co., finally disclosed which of their progeny would eventually take control.

TPG Capital’s Dattels says succession isn’t a concern when it comes to the Kuok businesses.

“There’s only one Robert Kuok, there’s no doubt,” he says. “But he has instilled his business philosophy deep into the family. With what he has built, they are well set to continue, whatever happens.”

Back at his Hong Kong headquarters, Kuok asks an assistant to bring him a favorite quotation. Written by his mother in Chinese and engraved on a steel plate, the aphorism reads:

“If my children and grandchildren can be like me, then they don’t require material inheritance. But if they are not like me, then of what use is my wealth to them?”

Those words beg the question investors in Kuok’s far-flung businesses are asking now more than ever: How like Robert Kuok are his heirs?