Nippon Paint tycoon Goh Cheng Liang overtakes UOB's Wee Cho Yaw as Singapore's richest

SINGAPORE - Mr Goh Cheng Liang, founder of Nippon Paint South-East Asia Group (Nipsea), is Singapore's richest man with a US$8.2 billion (S$10.8 billion) fortune, according to a Bloomberg report out on Monday (Jan 19).

Mr Goh's wealth puts him ahead of Mr Wee Cho Yaw, the largest shareholder of United Overseas Bank with a US$6.9 billion fortune, who was the richest individual Singaporean on Forbes 2014 list. Madam Tan Kim Choo, the widow of late property tycoon Ng Teng Fong, is next with a US$4.9 billion fortune. Her sons Philip and Robert Ng have fortunes of US$4.6 billion and US$4.5 billion, respectively, Bloomberg said.

Mr Goh, 87, and Osaka-based Nippon Paint Holdings jointly own Nipsea, with the billionaire recently boosting his stake in Nippon Paint to 39 per cent, making him the largest shareholder in Nipsea, Bloomberg reported. His stake in the joint venture is held through his private investment company, Wuthelam Holdings.

A profile of the publicity-shy tycoon in Forbes magazine in 2013 details his rags-to-riches story:

He was born to a poor family in a one-room tenement in 1928, one of four siblings. As a boy, he sold fishing nets and worked in a hardware store, learning business skills that were to shape his destiny. In 1949, he bought barrels of rotten paint, surplus World War II stocks the British were auctioning off, for a song. With a Chinese dictionary of chemicals in hand, he went about mixing solvents, pigments and chemicals to make his own brand of paints called Pigeon. The following year, the Korean war broke out and an import ban landed Goh a whopping profit windfall.

Business was booming when an opportunity to tie up with Nippon Paint of Japan surfaced. Goh took the plunge with a 60-40 holding in a joint venture called the Nipsea Management Group. From nothing rose a paints conglomerate whose Nippon brand is today a household name in Asia.

Nipsea now operates in 15 Asian countries and is Asia's biggest paintmaker. Mr Goh's son, Goh Hup Jin, 61, has headed the company since the 1980s, according to Bloomberg.

Over the years also, Mr Goh built up the Wuthelam group by investing in property like its building of Liang Court shopping complex, hotels, electronics, logistics, manufacturing and trading.

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