Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong's retirement from the Genting group yesterday marks the end of an era. His exit from the corporate world at the age of 86, was much like the man himself: low-key and without much fanfare.
Arguably Malaysia's best businessman – Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in a message penned in Lim's autobiography describes him as “one of Malaysia's finest entrepreneurs” – his corporate empire extended to the gaming, leisure, plantation and power sectors.
The market capitalisation of his family-controlled companies – Genting Bhd, Resorts World Bhd, and Asiatic Development Bhd – amounted to quite a huge chunk of the KLSE. And tellingly, the investing public considers most of these companies as blue-chip stocks.
But of all of Lim's business achievements, his construction of the hill resort of Genting Highlands, its casino, and the continuing transformation of the place into an entertainment and leisure centre that is already one of the country's most popular tourist locations, must rank right there at the top.
By the end of 2005, Genting Highlands will boast the world's biggest hotel with the completion of the 6,300-room First World Hotel.
In the 1960s, when others only saw virgin jungle, Lim sensed endless possibilities; after much persistence, he finally convinced the Selangor government to grant the Genting land freehold status.
Lim left school at the age of 16 when his father passed away, but what he may have lacked in education, he more than made up for in his self-belief, perseverance, courage, and business acumen. His parents taught him never to give up halfway but to be single-minded in any pursuit.
Given his rags-to-riches saga, Lim's business activities and scaling of corporate heights is all the more remarkable.
The fifth child in a family of seven children, he migrated from China's Fujian province in 1937 with only a small suitcase and US$175, mostly borrowed. In his autobiography, he said: “It never occurred to me in my wildest dreams then that one day, 59 years later, in February 1996, I would be able to return to my native country on board Superstar Pisces, a brand new 40,800-tonne luxury liner of my own cruise company.”
Lim, who experienced a beating at the hands of the Japanese during its occupation of Malaya, claims he was an introvert at 20 with an inferiority complex when he first journeyed to Malaya.
Three years later, the Japanese control of Fujian saw him reluctantly leave for Malaya for the second time, but this voyage proved a watershed to his personality, teaching him to be the master of his own destiny.
Although one of Malaysia's wealthiest men today – his personal wealth easily running into billions of dollars – he says he is happiest living and working quietly. And perhaps owing to his humble beginnings, he gives philanthropically to charities.
He is married to Puan Sri Lee Kim Hua, whom he fell in love with at first sight. The couple have three daughters and three sons.
Much frailer now, the octogenarian endorses second son Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay as his successor. In the 1980s, he said Kok Thay was entrusted with expanding the family business overseas and proved his mettle with successful casinos and hotels in Australia and the Bahamas.
He supports Kok Thay's decision for Genting to venture into the cruise industry, recalling that he once also went against conventional wisdom in building Genting Resorts.
Despite working into his 80s, Lim contends that a happy family is even more important than one's career.
Upon his retirement, he plans to spend more time with his family and friends. His greatest happiness combines two things closest to his heart – to hold his grandchildren in his arms, and narrate the story of how Genting Highlands was built.
Speaking to newsmen after taking over from his father, Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay said:
“My father's advice to me is to hold the group steady as she goes, rather than to rush headlong into any wild expansion programme. That's my intention too as we need to digest what we have already done.”
He also said that moving forward more emphasis would be placed on the internationalisation of the group.
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