Raised on rubber

Making Malaysia proud: All eyes are on Lim and Top Glove’s performance next – will it set a new record in the stock market? — Filepic

The gloves are off as Top Glove moves up the stock exchange, beating banks along the way. The bet is on whether it will be in the number one spot soon.

MALAYSIAN businessman Tan Sri Lim Wee Chai is certainly the man of the hour. He is going places no Malaysian tycoons have.

The boss of Top Glove Corporation Bhd, the world’s largest gloves manufacturer, has found his company placed as third largest market capitalisation listed on Bursa.

On Thursday, Top Glove was in second spot, but it slipped to third when Bursa closed on Friday, with Public Bank taking over.

Pole position is still Maybank’s, which had a market capitalisation of RM88.244bil, against Top Glove’s at RM70.466bil on Thursday. Maybank’s share price closed at RM7.85 on Friday against Top Glove’s RM25.44.

Top Glove was at No.9 on the Singapore Exchange on Thursday, outranking bigger names like Singapore Airlines and Capitaland Ltd even.

Top Glove is expected to create Malaysian history soon by announcing the biggest jump in quarterly profit for a listed company.

The surge of the company’s share price is being watched closely by many Malaysians. Likewise, Lim’s increasing wealth, which has grown by millions by the week.

The real-time world billionaire ranking now has Lim at 443 in a list of 2,095 of the world’s richest persons with a wealth of at least US$5.2bil (RM24bil) as at July 23.

The 62-year-old Universiti Malaya physics graduate and Tunku Abdul Rahman College alumnus is ranked Malaysia’s 14th richest person in this year.By now, many foreigners would have sat up and taken note of Lim and his incredible showing in the stock market due to the demand for his rubber products amid the Covid-19 scourge.

Most tycoons are either reclusive, eccentric, heavily guarded or flamboyant, but Lim checks none of the above.

Westerners and even those of us not familiar with his name, would be surprised by his modest lifestyle.

He is a strong supporter of Tzu Chi, like fellow tycoon Tan Sri Vincent Tan.

Tzu Chi, headquartered in Taiwan, is a Buddhist charitable organisation which has volunteers and supporters all over the world. Malaysia, with a million-strong following, is an integral overseas centre.

Lim has been involved in Tzu Chi’s fund-raising efforts for some years, thanks to his persuasive wife Puan Sri Tong Siew Bee, a full time and long-time Tzu Chi volunteer.

Sharing his experience of serving Tzu Chi, Lim said he could only raise RM36 on his first outing after walking the streets for two hours.

“Nobody knew me and few donated. But that frustration did not dampen my enthusiasm to carry out good and meaningful work, ” he said in an interview with The Star.

Despite having to manage a huge corporation for six-and-a-half days a week, Lim persisted in availing himself to attend Tzu Chi’s volunteer course to be a “qualified and certified” volunteer.

Those unfamiliar with the Tzu Chi way would be stunned if they saw a tycoon like Lim seeking donations in public places, where volunteers need to bow and thank donors and the people they help.

Tzu Chi volunteers consider it an honour and privilege to engage in charitable work. The organisation has even helped rebuild mosques and churches in areas affected by disasters.

Lim’s most distinctive feature is his constant reminder to his listeners – especially those meeting him for the first time and sharing a moment – to take care of their body to remain healthy.

It hasn’t been easy for me being a Penangite with a love for food that includes greasy carb favourites, of which Lim would surely disapprove.

Last week, he texted this writer to reveal that he has been a complete vegetarian for the past two years, adding that his wife and son are also vegetarians.

Rule number one – stay fit and healthy! That was his opening line at a talk given to entrepreneurs. It’s an important criterion for those wishing to achieve great goals in life.

“When you are sick, you don’t earn anything, and you continue to have to spend money on fixed expenses on top of medical costs. But when you’re healthy, you can add value every day, ” he said.

He also has a peculiar induction for all new employees – everyone receives a toothbrush, toothpaste, tongue cleaner and dental floss, and all staff are required to brush their teeth three times a day.

In an interview, Lim set a goal of staying healthy and living until 120 years old.

He reportedly told The Health digital magazine that placing a priority on mental and physical well-being has helped him build his wealth.

Lim has practised what he calls his “5 Quality Wells” since young – clean well, eat well, work well, exercise well and sleep well – which he believes to be the formula for a long, healthy and prosperous life.

The company also monitors the body mass index (BMI) of its staff and has a policy of not hiring smokers. It also has full time nutritionists to design the company’s cafeteria menu and advise its workers on suitable diets.

Lim exercises four days a week, which comprises two days of badminton and two more of evening golf, and on occasion, he plays table tennis, too.

Top Glove employees are also required to sign a pledge every year to vouch that they will not condone or be involved in corrupt practices, with all new staff required to attend compulsory training specifically focused on combating corruption.

It has been a tremendous journey for Lim and his wife, who started their company in 1991 with their entire savings of just RM180,000.

Failure was not an option, he said, since they had no backup plan.

Fortunately, with his parents owning a small rubber plantation, he was exposed to the rubber trade from early on, while growing up in the small town of Titi in Negri Sembilan.

It’s interesting how other tycoons also ventured into the rubber gloves business but gave up because of the small profit margin then.

However, Lim persevered, and today Top Glove controls 26% of the world’s rubber glove market with 43 factories worldwide and with an annual production capacity of over 70.5 billion gloves.

Lim is certainly a good entrepreneur to emulate. A couple of years ago, I invited him to share his thoughts and experiences with readers of The Star.On the eve of the talk, I decided to turn up at the venue to make sure the sound system and seating arrangements were in order, and I was surprised to see Lim rehearsing his lines on stage – 24 hours before the event.

This is a man who takes his work seriously and is driven by a goal. Yet, he remains down to earth with almost no extravagance one can think of.

Almost everyone, especially in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong, is holding their breath to see how Top Glove performs next and if its shares will surpass the RM30 mark and set a new record for being on top.

This isn’t exactly a rags-to-riches tale, but certainly a fantastic story of a small-town man becoming one of the richest people in the world dealing with a commodity Malaysia knows best – rubber.

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Wong Chun Wai , On the beat column

Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 35 years in various capacities and roles. He is now group editorial and corporate affairs adviser to the group, after having served as group managing director/chief executive officer. On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.


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