Covid-19 billionaires: Meet 20 men who thrived on the pandemic

(Clockwise from top left) Businessmen Ugur Sahin, David Chen, Loo Choon Yong, Anthony Tan, Shi Xu, and Teo Swee Ann became even wealthier because of the pandemic. PHOTOS: REUTERS, SEA, ST FILE, ALPHONSUS CHERN, TEO SWEE ANN

SINGAPORE - Covid-19 has not been all gloom and doom. It may have plunged economies into recession but it also prospered business owners in medical equipment, pharmaceutical and e-commerce sectors.

In some cases, the pandemic multiplied net worths from millions to billions of dollars as masks, hand sanitisers and vaccines became key in combating the outbreak.

Here are 20 Covid-19 minted billionaires who became even wealthier in the fight against the virus.

1. Timothy Springer, 73

It might surprise some to see a university professor on this list, but Dr Timothy Springer, an immunologist and professor at Harvard Medical School, is a newly minted billionaire.

That is because in 2010, when a fledgling biotech firm was founded, he saw its promise and made an early investment.

That company - Moderna - is now a household name, and Dr Springer's 3.5 per cent equity stake has propelled him into the billionaires' club.

Earlier this year, Forbes reported that the American's net worth is about US$2.2 billion (S$2.95 billion).

2. Robert Langer, 73

A founding shareholder of Moderna, Dr Robert Langer helped start the firm in 2010, and owns a 3 per cent stake in it.

The American chemical engineer is also a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is said to have received more than 220 major awards, including the United States National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

He is estimated to be worth about US$4.6 billion, according to Forbes.

3. Stephane Bancel, 49

If you have been vaccinated in Singapore, you are probably in either Team Pfizer or Moderna. Those in Team Moderna have Mr Stephane Bancel, chief executive of the American biotech firm based in Massachusetts, to thank. The vaccine has received emergency - or conditional, interim or provisional - authorisation for use in adults from health agencies in over 50 countries.

The Frenchman has seen his net worth hit US$12 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

4. Noubar Afeyan, 59

Yet another billionaire linked to a vaccine, Dr Noubar Afeyan is the chairman and co-founder of Moderna.

The American entrepreneur, who has a PhD in biochemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is no stranger to start-ups - he has co-founded or helped build more than 50 in life science and technology.

Forbes estimates his net worth at US$4.8 billion.

5. Ugur Sahin, 55

If you got a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, you helped contribute to the coffers of Dr Ugur Sahin, a German physician and immunologist, who is chief executive and co-founder of BioNTech.

He started the biotech company with his wife Ozlem Tureci, who is a physician and scientist.

Their firm partnered pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to make the first Covid-19 vaccine approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

Dr Sahin's net worth has received many shots in the arm since - to reach an estimated US$14.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

6. Liu Fangyi, 51

Go to any restaurant and chances are the servers have donned gloves and are dispensing hand sanitiser at the entrance. Both products could have been made by Intco Medical Technology, a China-based company that manufactures personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks, face shields and hand sanitiser.

Mr Liu Fangyi is the firm's chairman. While a student at the University of California, Irvine, in the 1990s, he started a disposable gloves business before returning to China to establish Intco.

His net worth spiked to an estimated US$4.2 billion in March, according to Forbes.

7. Prathap Reddy, 88

When Covid-19 patients in India suffered problems such as breathlessness and chest pain, the Apollo Hospitals group there launched post-Covid-19 recovery clinics across the hospital network to help deal with the disease's aftermath and restore patients to health.

This initiative boosted the net worth of Dr Prathap Reddy, the hospital chain's founder and chairman, which has reached US$2.6 billion, reports Forbes.

8. Arvind Lal, 72

People in India who want to know if they have Covid-19 might be familiar with Dr Lal PathLabs, which offers Covid-19 tests at its clinics and collection points across the country.

Dr Arvind Lal is executive chairman of the Indian diagnostics chain, which is a family business. According to Forbes, he is now worth some US$2.6 billion.

9. Hu Kun, 52

As one serious consequence of Covid-19 is "silent pneumonia" - when blood oxygen levels in patients drop dangerously low, even when they feel well - demand for pulse oximeters, which can measure one's oxygen levels, has surged.

Oximeters are among the devices made by Contec Medical Systems, a company located in the city of Qinhuangdao, China.

Mr Hu Kun, a Chinese national and the firm's chairman, has seen the value of his assets leapfrog to US$2.5 billion as of March, according to Forbes.

10. Li Jianquan, 64

When the pandemic broke out in 2020, masks and protective overalls and gowns became highly coveted items.

Enter Mr Li Jianquan from Hong Kong, who is president of Chinese medical products manufacturer Winner Medical, in the business of producing masks, surgical gowns, alcohol wipes and bandages.

During the outbreak, his company supplied billions of masks and millions of protective overalls to front-line workers worldwide.

His net worth - and his family's - skyrocketed to US$6.8 billion in April this year, according to Forbes.

11. Itaru Tanimura, 56

The former McKinsey & Co consultant founded online medical services provider M3 in 2000.

After a flurry of acquisitions, the Tokyo-based company became a global behemoth, running clinical studies for Moderna's vaccine. Its artificial intelligence-powered image analysis technology also remotely diagnosed Covid-19 by analysing medical images.

The Japanese national is now estimated to be worth over US$1.4 billion, as of March.

12. Sergio Stevanato, 78

Italy-based medical packaging manufacturer Stevanato Group, said to be the world's second-largest manufacturer of glass vials, churned out many of these - used to hold Covid-19 vaccines - this past year.

Mr Sergio Stevanato, whose father founded the group in 1949, is the company's majority owner and chairman emeritus. His net worth has since blown up to some US$4.2 billion, according to Forbes.

13. Forrest Li, 43

During the pandemic, many people were cooped up at home and spent their time gaming or online shopping.

This led to a rise in the fortune for Mr Forrest Li, co-founder, chairman and group chief executive officer of tech giant Sea, which owns e-commerce platform Shopee, who has been declared Singapore's richest man.

Recent reports say he is now worth US$19.8 billion, after Sea's American depositary receipts rose 67 per cent this year. The Stanford University graduate was born in China and is now a Singaporean. His Chinese name is Xiaodong, but he adopted the name Forrest after watching the drama film Forrest Gump (1994).

14. Gang Ye, 41

One of the three co-founders of Sea, the naturalised Singaporean's net worth leapt from US$1.2 billion in April last year to a staggering US$7.1 billion this April, according to Forbes.

Mr Gang Ye, a China-born Carnegie Mellon University graduate, has degrees in computer science and economics and is married.

15. David Chen, 40

The third co-founder of Sea, Singaporean David Chen is also the chief product officer of Shopee, its e-commerce platform, the go-to online marketplace for many Singaporeans.

Mr Chen holds a bachelor's degree in computer engineering with first-class honours from the National University of Singapore.

Every Shopee purchase you have made has helped his net worth climb to US$3.6 billion, as estimated by Forbes.

16. Loo Choon Yong, 72

In 1976, Dr Loo Choon Yong co-founded Raffles Medical Group with his friend, Dr Alfred Loh. From two clinics, it now operates more than 60 clinics and practices as well as one hospital here.

Raffles Medical now reportedly operates 15 vaccination centres in Singapore and helps with air border screening, pre-event testing and pre-departure swabbing of cruise passengers.

After the company became involved in efforts to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, its profit and stock price saw an upswing. According to reports, Dr Loo is worth US$1.1 billion.

17. Anthony Tan, 39

Ordered some GrabFood during the circuit breaker? Called for a GrabCar to avoid crowded buses and trains?

You helped enrich super app Grab and its co-founder and chief executive, Mr Anthony Tan, who has seen his net worth rise to US$790 million, according to Forbes.

Mr Tan, the son of Malaysia car distributor Tan Chong Motor's president Tan Heng Chew, was born in Malaysia and is now a Singaporean.

According to reports in July, his wife Chloe Tong bought a freehold property in the Bin Tong Park good class bungalow area for $40 million.

18. Shi Xu, 57

The founder and executive chairman of NanoFilm Technologies International was born in China, but is now a Singaporean.

His company, founded in 1999, provides nanotechnology solutions for smartphones and other electronics. His net worth surged to US$1.3 billion in April, according to Forbes.

Dr Shi Xu once said that he and his wife dreamt of financial stability and job security when they moved to Singapore in the early 1990s. Clearly, he has achieved both.

19. Yao Hsiao Tung, 81

Executive chairman and chief executive of contract manufacturer Hi-P International, this China-born Singaporean's net worth has soared to US$1 billion, according to Forbes.

He acquired management of the company in 1983, and today it is a global leading manufacturer in the telecommunications, lifestyle, computing and automotive industries.

20. Teo Swee Ann, 46

A Singaporean who resides in Shanghai, the chief executive of China-based Espressif Systems has seen his net worth leap from US$990 million in August last year to US$1.6 billion last month, according to Forbes.

With a lifelong passion for technology, the electrical engineering graduate has been tinkering with computers since he was eight.

It has paid off. His company manufactures the flagship ESP32 series of chips and software, as well as other cutting-edge Wi-Fi- and Bluetooth-integrated devices and solutions.

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