Sons of late banker Wee Cho Yaw among world’s new billionaires on Forbes list


UOB chief executive Wee Ee Cheong is among the 39 billionaires from Singapore. - UOB

SINGAPORE: The three sons of the late banking tycoon Wee Cho Yaw are newly minted billionaires, according to a Forbes’ list of global billionaires released on April 2.

UOB chief executive Wee Ee Cheong and his brothers, Wee Ee Chao and Wee Ee Lim, are among 39 billionaires from the Republic – a number that rose slightly from 35 in 2023.

Singapore billionaires’ collective net worth came to an estimated US$115.5 billion (S$156 billion) in 2024, compared with US$118.9 billion in 2023.

Wee Ee Cheong, 71, had a net worth of US$1.6 billion, while his brothers’ fortunes stood at US$1.3 billion each. Their father, who was UOB’s former chief executive and chairman, died on Feb 3 at the age of 95.

Wee Ee Chao, 68, and Wee Ee Lim, 62, also hold positions in the bank – the family’s crown jewel – and are substantial shareholders.

A Forbes spokesperson told The Straits Times that each of the brothers’ estimated net worth is based on both the direct and indirect stakes held in UOB and other companies. These stakes were previously included in the net worth of the late Wee, who, being the patriarch, was featured on the list. In his last appearance on the list in 2023, Wee had a net worth of US$7.1 billion.

The late Wee’s estate has an 18.5 per cent stake in UOB, according to the bank’s latest annual report, released on March 20. Wee Ee Cheong holds 10.6 per cent, while Wee Ee Chao has an 8.3 per cent stake and Wee Ee Lim, 10.5 per cent.

In February, Wee Ee Chao replaced his father as chairman of leisure and healthcare group Haw Par Corp, famed for its Tiger Balm ointment. Wee Ee Lim was appointed chairman of property and hospitality group UOL in the same month.

The brothers and their father’s estate also have an interest in Wee Investments, which has a nearly 8 per cent stake in UOB.

Asked what will happen to the late Wee’s shares in UOB, Wee Ee Cheong said at the bank’s latest results briefing that most of his father’s stake is in the family’s companies, and his personal stake will most likely be distributed to his children and grandchildren.

Besides the Wee siblings, ARA Asset Management co-founder John Lim, 67, was also new to Forbes’ list, with a net worth of US$1 billion.

The real estate veteran started the firm in 2002 and was backed by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing. In 2016, he led the US$1.3 billion privatisation of ARA along with US private equity firm Warburg Pincus and China’s AVIC Trust.

Li Xiting, 73, co-founder and chairman of Shenzhen Mindray Bio-Medical Electronics, a global supplier of medical devices, again topped Forbes’ list of billionaires in Singapore.

This came even as his fortune dipped from US$16.3 billion to US$15.1 billion. He was the 126th richest billionaire in the world, down from his ranking of being the 103rd wealthiest one in 2023.

Goh Cheng Liang, 96, who holds a majority stake in Japan’s Nippon Paint Holdings, took the second spot in Singapore with a net worth of US$12.7 billion, down from US$14.3 billion in 2023. Nippon Paint’s stock has fallen 14.7 per cent in the past year amid the company’s exposure to China’s shaky property market.

Far East Organization’s Philip Ng came in third, with a fortune of US$7.2 billion, while his brother Robert Ng had a net worth of US$7.1 billion.

The fortunes of real estate tycoons largely edged up, while billionaires in the food and beverage sector, healthcare and manufacturing saw a decline in their wealth.

Restaurateur Zhang Yong, who is the chairman of Sichuan hotpot chain Haidilao, saw his net worth tumble from US$7.5 billion to US$4.9 billion. Shares of the Hong Kong-listed company have fallen from their high of HK$82 in early 2021. They closed at HK$17.56 on April 3.

The Forbes World’s Billionaires List is a snapshot of wealth using stock prices and exchange rates from March 8, 2024. It considers various assets, including private companies, real estate and art.

Globally, the list featured a record 2,781 billionaires – 141 more than in 2023 and 26 more than the previous record set in 2021.

Their collective net worth hit US$14.2 trillion, up US$2 trillion from the magazine’s 2023 list and US$1.1 trillion from 2021.

French luxury goods titan Bernard Arnault topped the ranking for the second consecutive year after his net worth grew by 10 per cent to US$233 billion, thanks to another record year at his conglomerate LVMH.

Elon Musk remained in the second spot, with a fortune of US$195 billion, up 8 per cent from 2023 but lower than his net worth in November 2021, when he became the first person to be worth US$300 billion. The decline was largely due to a fall in the value of Tesla shares.

There were also 265 newcomers to the list, including fashion designer Christian Louboutin, with a net worth of US$1.2 billion, National Basketball Association legend Magic Johnson with a fortune of US$1.2 billion, and pop star Taylor Swift, whose wealth stood at US$1.1 billion. - The Straits Times/ANN

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