Kwek Leng Beng
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Kwek Leng Beng (b. 1941, Singapore - ) is a hotel and property tycoon. He heads the Hong Leong Group Singapore founded by his father Kwek Hong Png, and property and hotel group City Developments Limited (CDL). He came into international prominence in the 1990s by acquiring a string of hotels to form the Millennium & Copthorne chain, including the high-profile acquisition of the Plaza Hotel in New York together with Saudi prince Al Waleed bin Talal in 1995. Forbes magazine listed Kwek as Singapore’s ninth richest man in 2011, with an estimated net worth of US$1.7 billion.
Family, education and early career
At the age of 17, Kwek interned at Hong Leong, earning $150 a month. At the time, the young Kwek did not share his father’s drive for business. He studied law at the University of London, where he received a LLB (Bachelor of Laws). He also trained as a company administrator, intending to improve Hong Leong’s organisation and internal systems.
However Hong Png wanted a frontline role for his son, who would learn the ways of business from him. His father also instilled an entrepreneurial spirit in Kwek, who he initially found “too academic” and “naïve, kiasu (afraid to lose) and kiasi (afraid to die)”. That changed as he studied his father’s entrepreneurship closely.
In 1967, Kwek joined Hong Leong Finance as general manager and director. There he demonstrated his direct entrepreneurial style by personally ferrying staff in his car to approach businesses. The next year he took on the chairmanship of the King’s Hotel company (now Republic Hotels & Resorts), with the hotel of the same name opening in 1970.
Kwek’s focus on sales at Hong Leong Finance brought success, and he also displayed a knack for finding good investments and negotiating deals. He was assigned to Hong Leong’s takeovers, making a move for the loss-making, publicly-listed property company CDL in 1972. He became CDL’s managing director and in 1979 oversaw the takeover of another listed company, Singapore Finance (now Hong Leong Singapore Finance).
Building a hotel chain
Kwek had become chairman of Hong Leong Finance in 1984 and by 1990, he had taken over the executive chairmanship of the Hong Leong Group from his father. The year before, he had set up CDL Hotels and listed the company in Hong Kong. Starting off with six hotels, Kwek began acquiring hotels in Singapore and the region before making his first European purchase in the Gloucester in London in 1993. Another two hotels in London followed that year, along with hotels in New Zealand.
He began to gain a reputation for picking up valuable assets at bargain prices, including the 1994 purchases in New York of the Millennium for US$75 million and the Macklowe for US$96 million. The Millennium was profitable within the year and within three years was being valued at US$98 million, and the Macklowe boasted a similar story. Besides his knack for bargain-spotting, Kwek was known for his efficient, decisive style in sealing deals and meticulous eye for details and due diligence.
In July 1995, Kwek garnered worldwide attention when he teamed with Saudi prince Al Waleed bin Talal to complete the high-profile purchase of the Plaza Hotel in New York from American tycoon Donald Trump. The S$455 million deal raised the profile of CDL Hotels and gained him an unusual gift from the prince, a gold-plated AK-47 assault rifle. In 2004, the Plaza was sold for US$675 million.
The £219 million acquisition of the Copthorne chain of hotels in October 1995 gave Kwek control of 17 more hotels in London, Germany and France, and brought CDL Hotels’ portfolio to 55 hotels worldwide in 1996. That year, he floated Millennium & Copthorne Hotels (M&C), which grouped CDL’s hotels in Europe and the United States, on the London Stock Exchange. The listing raised S$372.4 million, with CDL retaining a 55% share of the company.
By 1998, M&C had become the eighth largest hotel management chain in the world, with 66 hotels in 12 countries. In 2000, Kwek was named Asia Pacific Hotelier of the Year. His significant developments since have included the six-star St Regis in Singapore, and M&C has come to comprise over 100 hotels in 17 countries as of 2011.
Business interests and management style
As of 2011, Kwek is the executive chairman of Hong Leong and CDL, and group chairman of M&C. Hong Leong contains some 300 companies across Asia, Europe and North America, doing business in the fields of property development, hotels, finance, manufacturing and distribution, and e-business. The group holds gross assets of around S$33 billion as of 2011.
When Kwek took over CDL in 1972, the company had a market capitalisation of less than S$5 million. Over the next three decades, he oversaw its transformation into a conglomerate with a capitalisation of S$13 billion. CDL has more than 300 subsidiaries and associated companies in over 20 countries.
In Singapore, CDL is the largest property company by assets and has built over 22,000 private homes (as of 2011). It also has over seven million square feet of lettable commercial space, and one of the largest private landbanks in Singapore.
Kwek is said to have a hands-on, decisive management style. He has been described as a demanding boss, unafraid to change his management team if they do not perform to his standards.
Awards and appointments
1995 : Business Achiever of the Year award from Yazhou Zhoukan magazine.
1996 : Businessman of the Year, Singapore Business Awards.
1997 : Appointed to International Advisory Board of National Westminster Bank.
1997 : Outstanding Contributor to Tourism, Singapore Tourist Promotion Board Tourism Awards.
1997 : Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year, Singapore Tourist Promotion Board Tourism Awards.
1998 : Doctor of Business Administration in Hospitality Management (honorary doctorate) from Johnson & Wales University.
2000 : Asian Hotelier of the Year award from Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels and Arthur Andersen.
2000 : Named Asian Hotelier of the Decade at Third Annual Asia Pacific Hotel Industry Investment Conference.
2000 : Doctor of the University (honorary doctorate) from Oxford Brookes University.
2002 : Member of Sub-Committee on Entrepreneurship and Internationalisation, Economic Review Committee.
2003 : Member of East Asia Council of INSEAD.
Father: Kwek Hong Png (founder of Hong Leong Group).
Brother: Kwek Leng Joo (managing director of CDL).
Sisters: Kwek Geok Luan, Kwek Bee Heong & Kwek Lee Hoon.
Wife: Cecilia Kok Phooi Lin.
Sons: Sherman Kwek Eik Tse (chief executive officer of CDL China) and Kingston Kwek Eik Huih.
Award for CDL chief Kwek. (1995, December 15). The Business Times. Retrieved September 10, 2011, from Factiva.
Cheong, S. W. (2004, December 19). Room at the top. The Sunday Times, Lifestyle, p. 4. Retrieved September 10, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Hong Leong’s Millenium float proves a big hit. (1996, April 20). The Business Times. Retrieved September 10, 2011, from Factiva.
Jansen, P. (2000, December 9). Missing jigsaw pieces within reach for Kwek. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved September 10, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Koh, J. (2003, September 23). Trials and triumphs. The Business Times. Retrieved September 10, 2011, from Factiva.
Leng Beng bags 2 tourism awards. (1997, October 29). The Business Times. Retrieved September 10, 2011, from Factiva.
Pacelle, M. (1997, February 19). One tycoon’s smart tactics. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved September 10, 2011, from Factiva.
Rashiwala, K. (1996, March 9). CDL Hotels to float European and US arm in London. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved September 10, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Rashiwala, K. (1996, May 26). The shy man who builds a global empire. The Sunday Times, Sunday Review, p. 3. Retrieved September 10, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Rashiwala, K. (1997, February 2). Business acumen can be learnt, says tycoon. The Sunday Times, Sunday Plus, pp. 2-3. Retrieved September 10, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Rashiwala, K. (2004, August 14). Leng Beng, Prince Alwaleed say yes to US$675m deal they can’t refuse. The Business Times. Retrieved September 10, 2011, from Factiva.
Tan, S. Y. (1997, March 20). Kwek Leng Beng is Businessman of the Year. The Business Times. Retrieved September 10, 2011, from Factiva.
Warden, G. (2007, August 20). Building City. The Edge Singapore. Retrieved September 10, 2011, from Factiva.
Zuraidah, I. (1998, November 20). He fights against herd instinct to be the final captor. The Straits Times, p. 74. Retrieved September 10, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
Kwek Leng Beng, 1941-
Real estate developers--Singapore--Biography
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