Singaporean wealth may fluctuate with the world's economy—GDP there contracted in the latest quarter—but the island-state's emergence as an all-purpose crossroads is having more everyday impact on its richest. The flowering of universities in Singapore, for instance, is bringing the private sector added responsibilities to oversee and support the institutions.
In May, at an opening of the new Singapore University of Technology & Design, a collaboration with MIT, Chairman Philip Ng was able to raise $10 million for scholarships in less than two hours. Long a reluctant public figure even as he headed the wealthiest local family's Far East Organization, Ng—now ranked No. 1 with his brother Robert—rounded up donors like popiah king Sam Goi (No. 14), who contributed $800,000.
No coincidence: Philip Ng is an MIT grad. He has also been a trustee of Duke-National University of Singapore (NUS) Graduate Medical School and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. The Ng family fortune is listed under him and Robert as coexecutors of their late father Ng Teng Fong's estate, which is still in probate.
Meantime, chairing a new joint program of Yale and NUS is Kay Kuok Oon Kwong, cousin of Kuok Khoon Hong (No. 7) and niece of Robert Kuok, Malaysia's richest man. Real estate magnate Chua Thian Poh (No. 31) pledged $4 million for another NUS program. "There's a strong ethos in the Chinese culture of giving to education," explains Laurence Lien, third generation of the Lien family (No. 18), who chairs the family foundation. In 1953 entrepreneur Tan Lark Sye set the trend, giving $4 million and persuading Singapore's Hokkien association to donate 500 acres to start Nanyang University, which later became NUS. The main university has been chaired since 2006 by Wong Ngit Liong, founder of Venture Corp. and a former rich lister. And Singapore Management University's chair is Ho Kwon Ping (No. 40).
Singapore's 40 richest show a collective net worth of $59.4 billion, up from last year's $54.4 billion. The country has 16 billionaires, 3 more than last year. Among them is Eduardo Saverin, Facebook cofounder and relocated former American, worth $2.2 billion.
Budget hotel magnate Koh Wee Meng joins the billionaire ranks after shares of his Fragrance Group surged. Another discount hospitality figure, Choo Chong Ngen, is one of 8 newcomers to the list. Indian telecom magnate Bhupendra Kumar Modi, who took Singapore citizenship in January, debuts at $755 million.
Five of the newcomers made marks in property, including brothers Raj Kumar and Asok Kumar Hiranandani (read about Raj Kumar and son, Kishin RK here), who split their operation so are listed separately. Tang Wee Kit, who returns to the list after several years, is best known for his family's department store Tangs on Orchard Road.
Of the 30 who returned from 2011, 14 saw their fortunes fall, many on poor performance at the SGX stock exchange, which is down 3%. One big loser was Richard Chandler whose group of Singapore-based funds lost $1.57 billion last year; he was poorer by $1.1 billion. Eight from last year dropped off including luxury property developer Simon Cheong; shares of his SC Global fell 40%.
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