From a school dropout to property tycoon

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 19 Aug 2018

Guiding principle: Tunku’s words ‘I am nothing without my country and my fellow Malaysians” have been etched in Lim’s mind since he first read them in The Star.

BILLIONAIRE Tan Sri Lim Kim Hong prides himself as the only property developer in Klang Valley who makes it a point to have a big event on the eve of National Day at his I-City site in Shah Alam every year. 

“It’s a big deal for me because I want to celebrate this wonderful time with fellow Malaysians.

“This country has given me an opportunity to be what I am today. Yes, one must work hard and be diligent but without the opportunities and the stability that we enjoy, it will never have happened.

“I remember reading in The Star, a quote by Tunku Abdul Rahman, and that quote is etched in my mind forever.

“The Tunku said that ‘I am nothing without my country and my fellow Malaysians.’ For me, it’s a joy when I see Malaysians of all races come to I-City to have a good time.

“It is living evidence that Malaysians can be together in harmony. It’s a wonderful feeling and a pride,” he says.

For Lim, his climb to success has not been an easy one, recalling the country’s independence on Aug 31, 1957.

He was then only in Standard One and wasn’t old enough to absorb or understand the significance of the historic event unfolding in Malaysia.

“I just remember that there was a lot of excitement in the air. The whole school was talking about it and the teachers tried to explain to us what it meant.

“I was then at Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (Cina) Chung Hwa 2B in Muar. There were bits here and there for me to understand.

“But for me, it was a tough time because my mother was working to provide for the 10 of us in the family. She was only earning $2 a day as a rubber processing worker. My father had passed away by then,” he recalls.

A true Malaysian: Lim has installed the re-enactment of the historic Merdeka declaration by Tunku at the Red Carpet Interactive Wax Museum in Leisure Parki-City.
A true Malaysian: Lim has installed the re-enactment of the historic Merdeka declaration by Tunku at the Red Carpet Interactive Wax Museum in Leisure Parki-City.

It didn’t help that he failed his Bahasa Malaysia exam in the Standard 6 assessment test although he topped in Mathematics, and it caused him to be rejected from entering secondary school.

“That was the end of my academic life – at only Standard 6 but Malaysia gave me plenty of opportunities to excel and succeed.

“I worked harder than most people, and in Malaysia, if you do not easily give up, stay focus and persevere, there will always be a chance,” he shares.

Dropping out of school at 12 means he had to look for a job and to support the family. Starting as an apprentice in a furniture-making shop in Muar, he later progressed to becoming a carpenter by the time he turned 16.

But that was never going to be enough for a man whose vision expanded far beyond his young years. He signed up as a mattress dealer for Dunlop at 21 and became the biggest dealer in the country within a short period of time.

The story of Lim is about an intrepid entrepreneur, an epitome of a single-minded dedication toward self-improvement and progress of the nation, with a particular slant toward leveraging on technology.

The i-City, a 72-acre ultrapolis founded by Lim bears testament to this, recognised as the nation’s No 1 Technology City and among the nation’s first Smart Cities, if not the first.

Through the passage of time, this man’s love for Malaysia is evident as he continues to instil the importance of technology on the young, the future leaders of the nation.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Lim’s entrepreneurial nous saw him being the first to introduce spring mattresses in Malaysia under the Dreamland brand, which “revolutionised” the local bedding market and the sleeping habits of Malaysians, earning him the de-facto title of “Mattress King” with his famous slogan “Tomorrow Begins Tonight”.

Ever the one with a keen eye for opportunities, Lim also became the first Malaysian to invest in China with the Tianjin Dreamland joint venture in 1984. Given his pioneering spirit and being one of the very few Malaysians who were successful in China back in the day, he helped and advised many Malaysians in the early 90s, including the Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB) stable of companies, to venture into China.

Such were his successes that he was even offered foreign citizenship, which he respectfully declined due to his love for Malaysia and his intent on cultivating his roots back home.

“I did not even need to give it a second thought. I was born in Malaysia and this will be my only country.”

Dreamland was listed in 1987 and also became the vehicle for his diversification into the stainless steel industry.

Cutting edge: The i-City, a 72-acre ultrapolis founded by Lim, is recognised as the nation’s No 1 Technology City and among the nation’s first Smart Cities, if not the first.
Cutting edge: The i-City, a 72-acre ultrapolis founded by Lim, is recognised as the nation’s No 1 Technology City and among the nation’s first Smart Cities, if not the first.

Having made hugely rewarding forays into the Chinese market, Lim’s new-found successes in his latest venture saw him carving out a significant share of the US stainless steel pipe market in a short space of time, eventually leading the US stainless steel industry to file anti-dumping action against Malaysia but which he successfully defended personally and won, as the sole Malaysian exporter.

Success of the mattress and steel businesses didn’t go unnoticed, attracting corporate interest from near and far. In 1993, Lim sold off his entire stake in the company for RM300 million cash, a tidy sum for anyone in their mid-40s.

With his long-held belief that technology would always be a key enabler in successes of the future, what he subsequently did in the mid-90s marked a turning point in his transformation as one of the nation’s pioneering corporate history makers into a trailblazer with a string of many firsts over the last two decades, many of which have further illuminated this beloved country we call home.

In 1995, Lim held the Sumur City Aerospace Adventure, a three-month long space exhibition featuring 40 years of Russian space technology complete with lunar exhibits, a life-size MIR Space Station, space probes, cosmonaut Orien space suits whilst also showcasing how cosmonauts live in space with the aim of generating interest in space science and technology amongst Malaysians, with a particular focus on students.

The exhibition, held at a personal cost of RM10mil, was his way of inspiring students, broadening their horizons and making space studies an interest. The move was nothing short of a huge success judging from the number of students, not to mention dignitaries and luminaries that it had attracted from all over Malaysia.

In 2000, Lim bridged the digital divide between the rural and the urban through the distribution of computer products throughout Malaysia in collaboration between Taiwan-based ASUS and his home-grown i-branded computers, which birthed the i-Asus notebook and fast became one of the leading brands in Malaysia.

“I have always wanted to try something different and sometimes even my family members question the financial implications of these ventures.

“When I tell my friends that I am doing it for the young, I get sceptical looks sometimes.

“To be frank, some thought I was crazy but then it’s because I did not have the opportunities of formal education like they do.”

Always with a new height to scale and a new barrier to break, Lim’s entrepreneurial streak saw him venturing into the property development space, underpinned in part by the large war chest he had amassed in the mid-90s with which he bought prime land in Kuala Lumpur and a 90-acre parcel in Section 7, Shah Alam in Selangor with the aim of turning the latter into a Smart City, perhaps considered an outlandish pursuit then if viewed in context more than two decades ago when the vision was first birthed.

Never one to shy away in the face of any challenges, this self-made billionaire is, today, the executive chairman of I-Berhad which is currently developing the RM9bil i-City, an integrated ultrapolis project in the capital city of Selangor and the RM840mil 8 Kia Peng luxury residences in Kuala Lumpur.

Showcasing i-City, Lim has led the way in outlining how the embracing of digitalisation and technological advancements can enhance community living. i-City became the first development in the country to provide fibre-to-unit connectivity while also pioneering the concept of broadband as one of the infrastructure backbones provided by property developers.

In 2016, it became the first property developer to embrace Industry 4.0 with the launch of its Internet-of-Things ready-homes.

Most people who have made their fortunes would retire at the age of 55 or perhaps 60.

Lim who is close to 70 years of age and likely has a personal fortune with more digits than a phone number continues to work and is still as driven as when he first started more than 50 years ago.

Why? As unbelievable as it may seem to some, Lim’s lasting legacy to the nation will be his desire to invest in and enrich the lives of the young, not exactly in the literal sense, but through the provision of opportunities for them to generate their wealth.

“I have been asked so many times. I could have just retired, enjoy my life and just watch the days pass by.

“But I want to play my little part to make Malaysia and especially Selangor become better.”

Lim believes anyone can do it if they set their minds to it, his life case in point. It is with these in mind that his Group of Companies continues to provide opportunities for undergraduates to intern with. In this respect, i-Berhad takes in approximately 400 interns annually to groom them for the future.

What’s next for Lim’s journey?

Lim wants to transform the skyline of Selangor into a location of choice for international brands like the Central Pattana Public Company Limited, which is making its maiden foray out of Thailand, Best Western, DoubleTree by Hilton, Al-Rajhi Banking Corporation and ServCorp Ltd.

A number of other global A-listers in the corporate and commercial circles have also been roped in to support the Smart City initiatives, these including Cisco Inc, Huawei International and more recently, Visa International to make i-City a cashless city.

“Shah Alam will never be the same again and I want to play a role, as a Malaysian, to make that transformation.”

i-City has also made its mark in the tourism sector with 30 million tourists targeted a year, supported by its RM1bil master plan comprising of a Leisure Park, shopping & retail outlets, hotels, a Meeting, Incentive, Covention, Events (MICE) hub, and a Medical and Wellness hub.

While the tourism masterplan is only about one-third completed as at the end of 2017, Lim has already managed to put Malaysia on the global tourism map when i-City gained international acclaim with CNN’s recognition of it as one of the World’s 25 most brightest and colourful places, thus making the city an international tourist destination.

Being a true Malaysian at heart and in deed, Lim even has in place the re-enactment of the historic Malayan Declaration of Independence on August 31, 1957, by the late Bapa Kemerdekaan Tunku Abdul Rahman at the Red Carpet Interactive Wax Museum at its Leisure Park @ i-City.

“It’s the only one of its kind in Malaysia.

“This is so that visitors continue to remember the struggles of independence fought by our forefathers and which marked the end of the British colonial rule in the Federation of Malaya,” he says.

This Merdeka, Lim is, again, looking forward to make it an exciting event at I-City to usher in the National Day.

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Lifestyle , Business , Billionaire


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