This story is part of Forbes’ coverage of Singapore’s Richest 2020. See our full coverage here.
Pandemic-induced economic pains have pushed Singapore into recession. For the quarter ended in June, the trade-dependent country reported a year-on-year 13.2% drop in GDP, despite $68 billion in stimulus packages by the government to shore up the economy. The benchmark STI stock index has also fallen 21% from when we measured fortunes in 2019.
Bucking this downward trend, the nation’s 50 richest saw their collective net worth rise 28% to $167 billion. The city-state, which has become a magnet for tycoons from all corners of the world, has benefited by providing a home for these wealthy expats, some taking citizenship. They occupy three of the top five spots on the list.
China-born hotpot billionaire Zhang Yong, whose wife Shu Ping, a cofounder and director of Haidilao International Holding, is listed together with him this year, added $5.2 billion to retain the No. 1 spot. A new entrant, worth $17.8 billion, took the No. 2 spot: Li Xiting, cofounder and chairman of Shenzhen Mindray Bio-Medical Electronics, who’s now a naturalized Singapore citizen like Zhang. A surge in demand for Shenzhen Mindray’s ventilators and other medical devices sent its Shenzhen-listed shares soaring amid the pandemic. The rise of Facebook shares this year also benefited No. 4 Eduardo Saverin, the social media giant’s cofounder.
Paint tycoon Goh Cheng Liang of Nippon Paint moves one spot up to No. 3 as his net worth increased to $14.8 billion from $9.5 billion last year. Rounding out the top five are real estate siblings Robert and Philip Ng of Far East Organization, whose combined net worth rose $1.1 billion to $13.2 billion.
The cofounders of gaming and e-commerce firm Sea, a homegrown success story best known for its super-hit Free Fire online game, notched up record gains as more people turned to gaming and online shopping while under lock- down. Chairman and CEO Forrest Li added $5.53 billion and entered the ranks of the top ten richest for the first time. Chief operating officer Gang Ye saw an impressive 356% jump in net worth, the largest percentage gain of any fortune on the list. Thanks to the stratospheric rise in Sea’s shares (up 283% since fortunes were last measured), the firm’s third cofounder David Chen became a billionaire and debuted with a net worth of $1.37 billion.
Among the new faces this year is Binny Bansal, the co- founder of Indian shopping site Flipkart, who moved to Singapore last year after selling the firm to Walmart and is now a venture capitalist. While three of the four newcomers are billionaires, the fortune of Teo Swee Ann, cofounder and CEO of fast-rising semiconductor firm Espressif Systems, is just shy of the ten-digit mark.
The big gains enjoyed by some listees more than offset the declines suffered by the majority—more than half saw a drop in net worth. Shipping tycoon Chang Yun Chung, the 102-year-old founder of container ship operator, Pacific International Lines, is no longer a billionaire. A shipping downturn forced the privately held firm to restructure its debt and impacted his wealth.
With tourism at a standstill, hoteliers such as Koh Wee Meng of the Fragrance Group and Michael Kum of M&L Hospitality, saw their fortunes fall. Four dropped off, including Lim Oon Kuin, whose privately held Hin Leong Trading, one of Singapore’s largest oil traders, filed in April for bankruptcy.
Full Coverage of Singapore’s Richest 2020:
- Forrest Li’s Sea Ltd Surges As Pandemic Drives Digitalization Across ASEAN
- E-Commerce Entrepreneur Seeks To Mentor And Invest In Startups From Singapore
Additional reporting by Pamela Ambler, Megha Bahree, Shu-Ching Jean Chen, Russell Flannery, John Kang, Sean Kilachand, Anuradha Raghunathan, Jessica Tan and Yue Wang.
The list was compiled using shareholding and financial information obtained from the families and individuals, stock exchanges, analysts and other sources. Unlike our billionaire rankings, this list includes family fortunes, including those shared among extended families such as that of Kwek Leng Beng and his cousins. Net worths are based on stock prices and exchange rates as of the close of markets on August 3, 2020. Private companies were valued based on similar companies that are publicly traded.