Francis Yeoh named one of 25 top Asian leaders


BY HONG BOON HOW

YTL Corp Bhd managing director Tan Sri Francis Yeoh has been named as one of the 25 top leaders in Asia's forefront of change in Business Week's sixth annual special report. 

The magazine said Yeoh's entrepreneurial spirit had taken YTL Corp from a family construction business to a global utility company. 

Another leader identified in the Stars of Asia 2003 report was China president and Communist Party general-secretary Hu Jintao who had advocated transparency in the country's handling of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak. 

Tan Sro Francis Yeoh

Also recognised were South Korean Justice Minister Kang Gum Sil and corporate governance activist Kim Joo Young, who had pushed for a crackdown against corruption and for promotion of good governance.  

In its special report in the upcoming June 9 issue, Business Week said many people had wondered if Yeoh was a good businessman or just had good connections before the Asian economic crisis of 1997. 

It said the crisis had cleared doubts of Yeoh's ability as a businessman. 

Yeoh, 48, had expanded and diversified his family business from construction into cement and later into hotels and power generation. 

“But when the Asian crisis hit, it was Yeoh's safe-and-smart business sense that made him stand out from the crowd. Unlike his peers, he had little dollar-denominated debts,” Business Week said. 

It said Yeoh was able to buy up properties cheaply from troubled companies in Malaysia and around the world. 

According to Business Week YTL is one of Malaysia's strongest and most international companies, and Yeoh is one of the most respected local business leaders. 

Yeoh started building his portfolio in 1997 when YTL acquired a Marriott luxury hotel and 2 up market shopping centres at the bargain-basement price of US$85mil from their cash-strapped investors. 

In 2000, YTL took a big step overseas with a US$35mil investment in ElectraNet, which operates the state of South Australia's power grid. 

Yeoh acquired Britain's Wessex Water Ltd from Enron for US$1.8bil. 

Although the deal was tarnished by bribery rumours, YTL was never charged for corruption and the London police's investigations did not turn up any evidence of wrong doing. Yeoh was quoted as saying: “Enron went bust, but we were assured of profit. These deals are no-brainers for us.” 

Business Week also reported that for the 9 months to March 31, YTL's sales had surged 57% to US$776mil and its net profit rose 45% to US$97mil. The company has US$1.5bil in cash and debts of US$842mil. 

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