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Top 5 Singaporean Billionaires in 2021: Here's How They Gained Their Wealth

profileJoel Koh

How Many Billionaires Are There in Singapore?

For better or worse, there are a heck load of billionaires in Singapore.

According to Forbes, there are a total of 42 billionaires in Singapore in 2021 — up from 35 a year ago.

Also, the total wealth of the country’s 50 richest individuals soared from S$208 billion from S$167 billion a year ago despite the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source: Tenor

Out of these 42 billionaires, there is an elite tier of billionaires in Singapore who hold immense wealth, significant influence and have enough money to spend on ridiculous things for several lifetimes.

Collectively, they are worth about S$110.67 billion! To put this into context the Unity BudgetsResilience BudgetsSolidarity Budgets and Fortitude Budgets rolled out to support Singaporeans cost only about $S$93 billion in total.

These top five billionaires range from a medical devices tycoon, the co-founder of Sea Limited (Ltd.), a paint tycoon, real estate magnates and a hotpot honcho. They also happen to be Singaporean citizens.

Here are their origin stories and how they really attained their wealth.


TL;DR: Top 5 Richest People in Singapore 2021 And Their Origin Stories

Rank NameNet Worth
(As of 31 Aug 2021)
Source of Wealth
1Li XitingS$25.3 billionMedical devices

Founder of Mindray Medical
International
2Forrest LiS$25.02 billionGaming, E-commerce, Digital Payments

Co-Founder of Sea Ltd
3Goh Cheng LiangS$24.59 billionPaint

Majority stake in Japan's Nippon Paint Holdings, the fourth biggest paint manufacturer in the world
4Robert & Philip NgS$18.94 billionReal Estate

They control Far East Organisation, Singapore's biggest private landlord and property developer
5Zhang Yong & Shu PingS$16.82 billionHotpot
Co-founders of Haidilao

*All net worth figures are accurate as of 1 September 2021 and are extracted from the Forbes Real-Time Leaderboard List which actively tracks the net worth of the richest people around the world. Here is their methodology:

Forbes’ Real-Time Billionaires rankings tracks the daily ups and downs of the world’s richest people. The wealth-tracking platform provides ongoing updates on the net worth and ranking of each individual confirmed by Forbes to be a billionaire. The value of individuals’ public holdings are updated every five minutes when respective stock markets are open (there will be a 15-minute delay for stock prices). Individuals whose fortunes are significantly tied to private companies will have their net worths updated once a day. In cases where an individual owns a stake in a private company that accounts for 20% or more of his or her net worth, the value of the company will be adjusted according to an industry- or region-specific market index provided by our partners at FactSet Research Systems when available. A rotating cast of the five biggest winners and losers throughout the day is featured at the top of the page, followed by the complete list of billionaires ranked in order of net worth.


1. Li Xiting: Medical Devices Magnate (S$25.3 Billion)

Number one, Numero Uno.

The person who currently holds the title of the richest person in Singapore is naturalised Singapore citizen and entrepreneur Li Xiting.

He has also been a Singapore citizen since at least 2018.

Source: Forbes

Li is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and founder of Shenzhen Mindray Medical International: a company that supplies medical devices like ventilators, imaging devices and patient monitors.

According to the company, its products and services are used by healthcare facilities in over “190 countries and regions”.

To say his rise was meteoric is an understatement. Back in January 2020, he wasn’t even in the top 15 list of richest people in Singapore.

Li Xiting Net Worth

Now with a net worth of US$18.8 billion (S$25.3 billion), Li has barely kept his top spot.

His growth in wealth can be mostly attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw demand for medical devices skyrocket.

This is especially true for ventilators, which have become a hot commodity around the world as nations rush to get their hands on these devices.

Moreover, unlike other medical equipment like gloves what can be mass-produced in factories, manufacturing ventilators require highly specialised knowledge and technical expertise.

There is also a shortage of critical components which makes the manufacturing of these devices even harder.

Ventilators, essentially, breathe for a patient. They move air into and out of the lungs mechanically.

These life-saving devices are critical in the fight against COVID-19 as COVID-19 patients whose lungs have been attacked by the virus require these devices to survive.

Source: Google

Since the start of 2020, Mindray’s stock price has gone up by about ~85%, trading at about 35% lower than its all-time high on 10 February 2021.

His net worth has also increased by S$2.36 billion in a year as he was only worth S$22.94 billion in August last year.

Li Xiting Bio

According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), 69-year-old Li originates from Dasngshan, a province in rural Anhui renowned for its peaches and pears.

Li obtained his degree from the University of Science and Technology in China. After he graduated, he worked as a researcher in various institutes in China and was a visiting scholar at the University of Paris-Sud in the early 1980s.

He then went on to secure a job at a medical equipment company in Shenzhen for four years until 1991, when he founded Mindray with co-founders Xu Hang and Cheng Minghe.

The company co-founded went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2006 and was subsequently taken private by Li and a consortium in 2016. However, on October 2018, the company was relisted on the Shenzhen stock exchange.

It was reported by Forbes that the company donated Mindray medical devices worth about S$$6.3 million to hospitals in Wuhan and northern Italy in 2020.

2. Forrest Li: Sea Ltd Co-Founder (S$25.02 Billion)

Next up we have Forrest Li Xiaodong, the founder, chairman, and Group CEO of SEA Ltd.

Source: Sea Ltd (via The Business Times)

Forrest runs Sea Ltd which has mobile and PC gaming platform Garena, e-commerce platform Shopee and digital financial services platform SeaMoney under its umbrella.

The following table shows Sea’s revenue breakdown for its financial year ended 31 December 2020:

SegmentRevenue in 2020
Digital entertainment revenueUS$2.02 billion
E-commerce and other services revenueUS$1.78 billion
Sales of goods revenueUS$0.58 billion
Total revenueUS$4.38 billion

P.S. Check out my colleague Sudhan’s full analysis of SEA Ltd. here:

Forrest Li Net Worth

Forrest Li has a current net worth of US$18.6 billion (S$25.02 billion) which is largely derived from his 15.5% stake in Sea Group (according to Forbes).

He has climbed from fifth place last year to take over Zhang Yong’s spot in 2021.

This is largely due to the surge in Sea Group’s stock price which grew about 953.3% (current Sea Ltd stock price = US$338.32 as of 1 Sep 2021 close) in the last two years.

His net worth has also gone up by about two and a half times to S$25.02 billion in a year as he was only worth about S$9.48 billion in August last year.

Forrest Li Bio

China-born Li who is now a naturalised Singaporean citizen is one of the youngest billionaires on this list.

He first became a billionaire at the young age of 41 last year.

According to Bloomberg, Li hails from Tianjin, China. He then went on to study engineering at a university in Shanghai.

During his university days in Shanghai, he spent most nights playing games at a LAN cafe as he had difficulty adjusting to life in Shanghai as a Tianjin native.

He then went on to pursue a Master’s in Business Administration from Standford.

In one of his college classes in America, a tutor had a problem discussing his Chinese name Li Xiaodong.

He then the name Forrest, after he watched the movie, Forrest Gump.

Source: Giphy

After graduation, he moved to Singapore and went on to establish Garena in 2009, with the help of mentorship and investment from Tencent.

He then renamed the company Sea Ltd. to mirror its ambition for the Southeast Asia (SEA) region.

Sea then diversified with a digital payments service called AirPay (renamed (SeaMoney) in 2014 and the e-commerce platform Shopee in 2015.

The services are similar to Alibaba Group Holding’s e-commerce platform and payments business Alipay.

3. Goh Cheng Liang: Paint Power Broker (S$24.59 Billion)

Look around you.

There’s a good chance that you used Nippon paint for the walls in your house.

This leads us to the next billionaire on this list paint power broker Goh Cheng Liang.

His wealth is largely derived from a 39.5% stake in Japan’s Nippon Paint Holdings:, the fourth largest paint manufacturer in the world.

Source: Discoversg

Goh Cheng Liang Net Worth

Currently, Goh Cheng Liang is currently valued at US$18.3 billion (S$24.59 billion). 

His net worth has also increased ever so slightly by about S$90 million in a year as he was only worth S$20.47 billion in August last year.

But the story behind how he attained his wealth is also pretty interesting.

Certainly more interesting than watching his paint dry.

Goh Cheng Liang Bio

Goh’s story is one for the history books.

In an interview with Forbes, Goh revealed that he was born in 1928 to a poor family in Singapore who lived in a one-room tenement.

He was one of four children and as a boy, he toiled away at a hardware store and sold fishing nets to make ends meet. This provided him with the business skills and grit that served him well over the years.

At the age of 28 in 1955, he set up his first paint shop in Singapore and became the main local distributor of Nippon Paint.

In a bid to grow his business, Goh went to visit Chiakai Obata, known as the second founding father of Nippon Paint.

Impressed by Goh’s eagerness, Obata took him under his wing. However, the relationship was not formalised until 1962 when Singapore imposed a 20 per cent tariff on all imported paint.

Nippon Paint and Wuthelam then set up a joint venture, with Nippon Paint taking up a 40 per cent stake in Goh’s business.

This joint venture became known as the NIPSEA Management Group which is jointly owned by Goh and Nippon Paint Holdings.

Today, the NIPSEA group is Asia’s largest paintmaker and has operations in 17 geographical locations.

The duo also strengthened their relationship, when Goh boosted his stake in Nippon Paint Holdings to 39.56 per cent, making him the largest shareholder in the company.

His son, Goh Hup Jin is also the Director of the Board for Nippon Paint Holdings and runs their privately held joint venture, the NIPSEA group.

Goh has also diversified over the years founding his private investment company Wuthelam Holdings in 1974 and investing in property like the Liang Court shopping complex, hotels, electronics, logistics, manufacturing and trading.

Goh also started the Goh foundation which gives generously to charitable causes like the S$12 million given to the National University Hospital, Singapore for leukaemia research in 2013 and the Goh Foundation Endowed Scholarship for SMU students.

4. Robert & Philip Ng: Far East Movement (S$18.94 Billion)

The brothers Robert and Philip Ng are best known for their controlling stake in Far East Organisation (FEO), Singapore’s largest private property developer and sponsor of the Far East Hospitality Trust REIT.

Philip Ng heads the local operations along with his other siblings who serve as executive directors.

Whereas the older brother, Robert Ng, is the chairman of their Hong Kong-based sister company, Sino Group.

Robert and Philip Ng Net Worth

The brothers are currently worth about US$14.1 billion (S$18.94 billion) combined, with their wealth stemming from FEO and its associated businesses.

Their net worth has also increased by about S$940 million in a year as they were only worth S$18.0 billion in August last year.

Robert and Philip Ng Bio

A conversation about their wealth cannot exclude their late father, Ng Teng Fong.

FEO was started by their late father back in 1960, reportedly with some assistance from one of Singapore’s earliest billionaires, Eliya Thamby.

He was known as the “King of Orchard Road” for developing:

  • Far East Shopping Centre (1974)
  • Lucky Plaza (1978)
  • Orchard Plaza (1981)
  • Far East Plaza (1983)
  • Claymore Plaza (1984).

Despite his fortune, he had a reputation for leading a frugal and simple lifestyle.

Although he controlled at least a quarter of Singapore’s housing market, Ng lived in the same house he has had for 30 years and used to take his own lunch onto aeroplanes.

He also developed FEO into a mega-conglomerate that owned over 700 malls, hotels and condos in Singapore and Hong Kong worth over S$6 billion.

After their father passed away in 2010, the brothers teamed up to expand their father’s empire further making further inroads into Hong Kong and expanding to Australia.

5. Zhang Yong and Shu Ping: Hotpot Honchos (S$16.82 billion)

Here’s a shocker. I have never eaten at Haidilao.

But, I think I must be among the minority in Singapore judging from the success of this Sichuan hot pot chain run by number two on this list restauranter Zhang Yong and his wife Shu Ping.

Zhang and Shu Ping are the co-founders of Haidilao.

Source: Bobby Yip | Reuters

Zhang moved to Singapore with his wife in the 2010s, with both becoming naturalised citizens of the city-state in September 2018.

Zhang Yong Net Worth

Zhang and Shu are currently worth US$12.5 billion (S$16.82 billion).

2021 has not been kind to the couple as their fortune was reduced by S$5.44 billion from a year ago when they were worth US$16.2 billion (S$22.26 billion). 

This has caused them to fall three places to the fifth spot on this list.

Their wealth is mainly derived from their stake in Haidilao, a Sichuan hotpot restaurant chain famous for its spicy food, superb customer service and its massages for waiting customers.

Zhang Yong Bio

Unlike the other entrepreneurs on this list, Zhang never finished high school.

He dropped out of school and started work as a welder in a state-run tractor factory in his hometown of Jianyang in Sichuan, China.

His first job was not the best as he was only earning a modest 93 yuan (~S$19) a month.

The job wasn’t the best as he got into an argument with the tractor factory over a company apartment for him and his fiancée Shu Ping.

This was the catalyst for him to quit his job and striking it out on his own as an entrepreneur.

Together with two of his friends and his then-wife Shu Ping, they started Haidilao.

His friends and his wife provided the seed money for Haidilao which amounted to about 10,000 yuan (~S$1,971).

Source: Haidilao | Haidilao’s first outlet opened in 1094

The first Haidilao outlet was a tiny 400-square feet space with only four tables.

Although he did not have any background in cooking or knew next to nothing about preparing Sichuan hotpot he jumped into the business headfirst as:

“If I had not started Haidilao, I would have had to find something else, because you have to support yourself, you have to eat.”

~Interview with Zhang Yong at a conference for Chinese entrepreneurs in Zhengzhou, Henan.

The rest as you can say is history.

Years of hard work culminated into an Initial Public Offering (IPO) public offering in September 2018 for Haidilao.

The company raised US$1 billion($1.37 billion) and was valued at about roughly US$12 billion (S$16.47 billion).

The company continues to grow from strength to strength, as at the end of 2019, Haidilao has 768 restaurants in Australia, China, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and America with over 54 million members and 100,000 + employees.


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About Joel Koh
History student turned writer at Seedly. Before you ask, not a teacher. My time as a history student has equipped me with the skills to evaluate the impact societal development has on financial and nonfinancial events.
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