Asians 2nd in self-made billionaires list: Who are the top 5 richest men in Asia

Asians surpassed Europeans, but fell behind Americans in the self-made billionaires' 2015 list released by UBS and PwC on May 26. Of the 1,300 surveyed globally, some 36 per cent of the billionaires came from Asia, while those from the United States topped the list at 47 per cent.

Entrepreneurship was a strong driving force behind the Asian success stories in the last five years, according to the report co-authored by UBS, the world's largest manager of money for the rich.

Here are five of the richest self-made billionaires in Asia.


1. Wang Jianlin (China)

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Wang Jianlin runs Dalian Wanda Group, a commercial real estate powerhouse that controls more than 200 department stores, shopping plazas and luxury hotels. In August last year, the 60-year-old formed a joint venture with Internet giants Baidu and Tencent to set up an e-commerce company called Wanda E-Commerce and announced investment projects in Beverly Hills, Australia and Chicago.

Born in Sichuan Province in 1954 just after the Communist revolution, he entered the military in 1970. He remained in the military till 1986, when he took a city government job in Dalian in Liaoning Province.

The university-educated billionaire became chairman of Wanda, which was government-run, in 1989 at age 35. His net worth as of May 27, 2015, was US$39 billion (S$53 billion), making him the richest man in Asia. He is married with one child.

2. Li Ka-shing (Hong Kong)

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Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong's richest person, with a net worth of US$28.1 billion as of May 27, is the chairman of Hutchison Whampoa Limited (HWL). In January this year, he outlined plans to create two new Hong Kong-listed companies: CKH Holdings, which will take over all his non-property businesses, and CK Property, which will combine the property businesses. He owns the world's largest operator of container terminals and the world's largest health and beauty retail chain.

Li, 86, is nicknamed Superman in Hong Kong where his global business is based. He was not born rich. His family fled to Hong Kong from the mainland when the Japanese invaded China. He was young when his father died and he had to look after the family. It meant he had to sacrifice his education. He once sold plastic watchbands, flowers and belts to raise money for daily bread.

By the time he was in his early 20s, however, he had made enough money to start Cheung Kong Industries. From making plastics, Li switched to real estate. He started a real estate investment investment company in Hong Kong that was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 1972. His businesses cover almost every facet of life in Hong Kong, from electricity to telecommunications, from real estate to retail, from shipping to the Internet.

3. Lee Shau Kee (Hong Kong)

Lee Shau Kee, Hong Kong's second richest man, is one of the territory's richest landlords. The 87-year-old, who is divorced with five children, was born to a gold trader and a money changer. His wealth comes from the real estate industry.

Through his company, Henderson, he patiently accumulated large holdings of agricultural land in the New Territories. Henderson has long focused on the lower end of the market - the cheaper and smaller New Territories flats which young middle-class couples used to be able to afford.

A gradual accumulation of shares enabled Henderson to take control of other companies such as Hong Kong Ferries and Towngas, which has a citywide monopoly of piped gas - used by some 85 per cent of Hong Kong homes. As of May 27, his net worth was US$27.4 billion.

4. Jack Ma (China)

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Jack Ma, the Chinese founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, a family of highly successful Internet-based businesses, was once an English teacher. He has a Bachelor of Arts and Science from the Hangzhou Teacher's Institute, but it was the Internet that made him.

He captured the world stage in September last year with a record-breaking US$25 billion initial public offering of his e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba Group on the New York Stock Exchange.

In 1995, Ma made his first trip to the US and used the internet for the first time. After searching for "beer", he saw that no results came up relating to China. When he searched for "China" and still saw no results, he decided to set up a Chinese website. That was the beginning of his Internet ventures.

An active philanthropist, he sits on the board of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences with fellow billionaires Mark Zuckerberg and Yuri Milner. Ma has claimed that he was rejected by Harvard 10 times. As of May 27, the 50-year-old's net worth was US$24.6 billion.

5. Tadashi Yanai & family (Japan)

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Tadashi Yanai is founder and president of Fast Retailing, of which Uniqlo is a subsidiary. He is the richest man in Japan and his net worth was US$22.7 billion as of May 27.

In 1984, Yanai became president of his father's clothing chain, which then had 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 attended Ube High School and later Waseda University, graduating in 1971 with a Bachelor's degree in Economics and Politics. He then worked briefly for a supermarket chain before returning to his father's shop in Ube. Instead of selling the ready-made men's suits in which his father's business specialised, the Hiroshima store dealt in affordable casual clothes akin to those then being sold by Giordano of Hong Kong.

Sources: Forbes, Financial Times, New York Times

jalmsab@sph.com.sg