Top Glove tycoon Lim Wee Chai a health advocate and charity volunteer who was raised on rubber

Tan Sri Lim Wee Chai has found his company placed as third largest market capitalisation listed on Bursa. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysian businessman Lim Wee Chai is certainly the man of the hour, going to places no Malaysian tycoons have gone before.

The boss of Top Glove Corporation, the world's largest gloves manufacturer, has found his company placed as the third largest by market capitalisation listed on Bursa.

On Thursday (July 23), Top Glove was No. 2, but slipped to the third spot when Bursa closed on Friday - Public Bank took second place.

Pole position is still Maybank's, which had a market capitalisation of RM88.244 billion (S$28.59 billion), against Top Glove's at RM70.466 billion (S$22.83 billion) on Thursday.

Maybank's share price closed at RM7.85 on Friday against Top Glove's RM25.44.

On the Singapore Exchange, Top Glove was at No.9 on Thursday, outranking bigger names like Singapore Airlines and CapitaLand.

Top Glove is expected to create Malaysian history soon by announcing the biggest jump in quarterly profit for a listed company.

The surge of the company's share price is being watched closely by many Malaysians.

Likewise, Tan Sri Lim's increasing wealth, which has grown by millions by the week.

The real-time world billionaire ranking now has him at No. 443 on a list of 2,095 of the world's richest persons with wealth of at least $5.2 billion (S$7.2 billion) as at July 23.

The 62-year-old Universiti Malaya physics graduate and Tunku Abdul Rahman College alumnus is ranked Malaysia's 14th richest person this year.

By now, many foreigners would have sat up and taken note of Mr Lim and his company's incredible showing on the stock market due to the demand for rubber products amid the Covid-19 scourge.

Most tycoons are either reclusive, eccentric, heavily guarded or flamboyant, but Mr Lim checks none of boxes for the above.

Westerners and even those of us not familiar with his name would be surprised by his modest lifestyle.

Like fellow tycoon Vincent Tan, Mr Lim is a strong supporter of Tzu Chi.

Tzu Chi, headquartered in Taiwan, is a Buddhist charitable organisation which has volunteers and supporters all over the world.

Malaysia, with a million-strong following, is an integral overseas centre.

Mr Lim has been involved in the charity's fund-raising efforts for some years, thanks to his persuasive wife, Ms Tong Siew Bee, a full-time and long-time Tzu Chi volunteer.

Sharing his experience of serving Tzu Chi, Mr Lim said he could raise only RM36 on his first outing after walking the streets for two hours.

"Nobody knew me and few donated. But that frustration did not dampen my enthusiasm to carry out good and meaningful work, " he said in an interview with The Star.

Despite having to manage a huge corporation for 6½ days a week, Mr Lim persisted in attending Tzu Chi's volunteer course to be a "qualified and certified" volunteer.

Those unfamiliar with the Tzu Chi way would be stunned if they saw a tycoon like Mr Lim seeking donations in public places, where volunteers need to bow and thank donors and the people they help.

Tzu Chi volunteers consider it an honour and privilege to engage in charitable work.

The organisation has even helped rebuild mosques and churches in areas affected by disasters.

Mr Lim's most distinctive feature is his constant reminder to his listeners - especially those meeting him for the first time - to take care of their body to remain healthy.

It hasn't been easy to do for this writer, a Penangite who loves food that includes greasy carb favourites, of which Lim would surely disapprove.

Last week, he texted me to say that he has been a vegan for the past two years, adding that his wife and son are also vegetarians.

Rule No. 1 - stay fit and healthy! That was his opening line at a talk given to entrepreneurs.

It's an important criterion for those wishing to achieve great goals in life, he said.

"When you are sick, you don't earn anything, and you continue to have to spend money on fixed expenses on top of medical costs. But when you're healthy, you can add value every day, " he said.

He also has a peculiar induction for all new employees - everyone receives a toothbrush, toothpaste, tongue cleaner and dental floss, and all staff are required to brush their teeth three times a day.

In an interview, Mr Lim said he set a goal of staying healthy and living until 100 years old.

He reportedly told The Health digital magazine that placing a priority on mental and physical well-being has helped him build his wealth.

Lim has practised what he calls his "5 Quality Wells" since he was young - clean well, eat well, work well, exercise well and sleep well - which he believes to be the formula for a long, healthy and prosperous life.

Top Glove also monitors the body mass index of its staff and has a policy of not hiring smokers.

It hires full-time nutritionists to design the company's cafeteria menu and advise workers on suitable diets.

Mr Lim exercises four days a week - two days of badminton and two more of evening golf - and on occasion, he plays table tennis, too.

Top Glove employees are also required to sign a pledge every year to vouch that they will not condone or be involved in corrupt practices, with all new staff required to attend compulsory training specifically focused on combating corruption.

It has been a tremendous journey for Mr Lim and his wife, who started their company in 1991 with their entire savings of just RM180,000.

Failure was not an option, he said, since they had no backup plan.

Fortunately, with his parents owning a small rubber plantation, he was exposed to the rubber trade early, while growing up in the small town of Titi in Negeri Sembilan.

Other tycoons who ventured into the rubber gloves business gave up because of the small profit margin then.

But Mr Lim persevered, and today Top Glove controls 26 per cent of the world's rubber glove market, with 43 factories worldwide and with an annual production capacity of over 70.5 billion gloves.

Mr Lim is certainly a good entrepreneur to emulate. A couple of years ago, I invited him to share his thoughts and experiences with readers of The Star.

On the eve of the talk, I went to the venue to make sure that the sound system and seating arrangements were in order, and I was surprised to see Mr Lim rehearsing his lines on stage.

This is a man who takes his work seriously and is driven by a goal. Yet, he remains down to earth with almost no extravagance one can think of.

Almost everyone, especially in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong, is holding their breath to see how Top Glove performs next and if its shares will surpass the RM30 mark and set a new record.

This isn't exactly a rags-to-riches tale, but certainly a fantastic story of a small-town man becoming one of the richest people in the world dealing with a commodity Malaysia knows best - rubber.

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