Scion of palm oil magnate wants to buy 51% of Rolling Stone he doesn't own

Kuok Meng Ru said he is in talks to take over the magazine after Jann Wenner put his controlling stake up for sale two months ago. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - The 29-year-old founder of Singapore's BandLab Technologies aims to buy the 51 per cent of Rolling Stone he does not own, adding the world-famous brand to his growing global music business.

Mr Kuok Meng Ru, a member of one of Asia's richest families, said he is in talks to take over the magazine after Mr Jann Wenner put his controlling stake up for sale two months ago, relinquishing his hold on the publication he co-founded in San Francisco in 1967.

"We really believe in building on the legacy and making sure we continue the vision that Jann started," Mr Kuok said in an interview in Singapore.

"That's why we got involved in the first place. We have a great relationship with the Wenners."

Like other consumer magazines, Rolling Stone has struggled with declining newsstand sales and an online advertising market dominated by Facebook and Google.

Wenner Media, one of the last family-owned American media companies, said in September it had hired Methuselah Advisors to explore a sale of the publication.

US media has reported that three other bidders are also interested in buying Mr Wenner's controlling stake.

Mr Kuok acquired his 49 per cent holding last year after striking a deal with Mr Gus Wenner, two years his junior and the heir apparent to a business built around his father's pop magazine.

Mr Kuok then established Rolling Stone International to expand the brand abroad, including signing a licence agreement with Japan's CCC Group to publish Rolling Stone in Japan.

Rolling Stone made its mark in the 1970s and 1980s with cutting-edge music and political coverage.

Mr Kuok, the third child of Mr Kuok Khoon Hong, co-founder of Wilmar International, the world's biggest palm-oil company, launched BandLab last year as a social network for musicians and fans after graduating from Cambridge University with a mathematics degree.

Since then, the company has doubled its payroll to 80 and its BandLab app now has two million registered users making about 10 songs a minute, according to Mr Kuok.

BandLab has made a series of acquisitions, including, a London-based video streaming service for DJs, and Mono Creators, a San Francisco-based company that makes high-end instrument cases.

It has also developed products in Singapore to help people make and play music more easily using their mobile phones.

Mr Kuok said he wants to build a global music business.

In 2012, he acquired Swee Lee, a 71-year-old distributor of guitars in Singapore, and added revamped stores, online merchandising and music lessons, turning it into the biggest distributor of instruments and audio equipment in South-east Asia.

He plans to launch a flagship Swee Lee store in Singapore on Monday that combines instruments, fashion, a music academy and a coffee shop.

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