Ong Beng Seng



Ong Beng Seng (b. 1944, Sabah, Malaysia ) is a Malaysian hotel and property tycoon based in Singapore.1 Ong and his Singaporean wife, Christina Ong, were ranked seventh on Forbes magazine’s 2011 list of Singapore’s richest people with an estimated net worth of S$1.9 billion.2 He is managing director of public-listed Hotel Properties Limited (HPL), which is involved in hotel investment and management, property development and retail.3 Ong played a key role in bringing the Formula One (F1) race to Singapore and owns the rights to the Singapore Grand Prix.4

Early life

Arriving in Singapore at the age of four with his family,5 Ong attended Anglo-Chinese School, where he was a champion sprinter and long jumper.6 He obtained a degree in insurance after studying in Britain and worked in insurance underwriting and broking in Europe7 before joining Motor & General Underwriters Investment Holdings Ltd in 1972.8 This later became part of the asset stripper Slater Walker empire when it took a substantial stake in Haw Par Securities. Barely a year after Slater Walker took control, Ong was appointed to Haw Par’s board.9


Ong married Christina Fu in 197210 and joined Kuo International, an oil trading company owned by his father-in-law Peter Fu Yun Siak, three years later.11 At Kuo International, Ong’s sense of daring is said to have served him well, as he earned millions by accurately forecasting the ups and downs of oil prices.12 The capital earned during this period allegedly helped finance Ong’s later investments and property development.13

Rise in the property, hotel and lifestyle sectors
In 1980, Hotel Properties was formed as a private limited company to purchase the Hilton hotel for S$72 million.14 The incorporation of Hotel Properties in 1980 and its subsequent listing two years later marked the beginning of Ong’s move into the property, hotel, retail and lifestyle sectors.15 The company quickly acquired properties and hotels, especially those at prime locations on Orchard Road, and formed a joint venture with the Four Seasons chain of hotels in 1984.16 Globally, it also acquired hotels in cities such as London, Montreal, Texas and Perth.17


Ong was reportedly behind HPL's move to acquire two plots of land along Orchard Boulevard from tycoon Khoo Teck Puat for S$61.4 million in 1987,18 and by the end of 1988, through his private and public companies, he had beaten established local property giants to some of the largest property deals of the year.19 By 1992, Hotel Properties controlled four hotels in the Orchard and Tanglin areas, and had built a number of luxury condominiums.20 Ong’s private companies, Savu Investments and Savu Properties, also developed commercial and office properties in the business district.21

With a strategy geared towards attracting the tourist dollar, Ong opened Hot Gossip discotheque, Hard Rock Cafes in Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, and franchises for Häagen-Dazs ice cream in Singapore and Malaysia by the early 1990s.22 Ong also had a charter airline called Region Air.23 In the financial services sector, Ong and Fu picked up a 49 percent stake in stockbroker J. Ballas.24 A less successful acquisition was that of the Brash’s musical equipment chain, which dragged down HPL’s earnings in Australia and was eventually sold.25

In 1989, The Wall Street Journal named Ong as one of 28 businessmen around the world who stood a “good chance of becoming the next generation to lead business into the 21st century”.26 Ong was also the 1991 recipient of The Business Times' Businessman of the Year award.27 A year later, a newspaper report noted his formula for success as “connections, a brilliant sense of timing and a sharp eye for business”.28 Despite Ong’s reputation for the high life, he remains media-shy, granting only a handful of interviews.29

Together with his wife, Ong began to make inroads into the world of fashion during the 1990s. His wife’s Club 21 chain became the distributor for designer clothing such as Armani jeans in the United States and United Kingdom, and held the rights for DKNY products.30 These added to their portfolio of franchises of over 40 top American and European brands. HPL also invested in Donna Karan Japan and opened DKNY stores across Asia.31 In 1994, HPL took a 20 percent stake in celebrity restaurant chain Planet Hollywood.32 In 2000, the couple bailed out troubled luxury brand Mulberry, taking a 41.7 percent stake before eventually taking control of the company.33 By 2011, the Mulberry Group's shares had become one of the world's best-performing retail stocks over the past decade,34 and the Ongs' 57 percent shareholding in the company comprised nearly half of their total net worth.35

In late 2011, Ong and his wife's shareholding in HPL stood at just under 24 percent. HPL has stakes in 19 hotels in eight countries and manages a number of these, as well as interests in residential and commercial properties and retail operations across Asia.36

Corporate and crisis strategies
When the Asian financial crisis hit the region in 1998, Ong began a process of selling non-core assets including hotels in Australia, a stake in the Italian fashion label Bulgari, the Brash’s chain and his personal Gulfstream jet.37 HPL’s stock price fell and rumours of financial troubles swirled as the group divested more than S$150 million of assets. It later emerged that the divestments, mostly in Europe, were part of Ong’s strategy to keep HPL cash-rich, thereby allowing it to acquire more assets ahead of a recovery in Asian economies – this became known as Ong’s “sell West, buy East” strategy. Ong also appeared in a rare media interview to dispel malicious rumours about his health.38


Part of the funds from the group’s divestments went towards the construction of a global chain of Hard Rock-themed hotels, beginning with Bali and Pattaya.39 On the corporate front, media reports speculated in 1999 that Ong was busy fending off a hostile takeover of HPL from Malaysian tycoon Quek Leng Chan, who raised his stake in the company from about 7 percent to just under 20 percent within a year amid rumours of a joint takeover with his cousin, Singapore billionaire Kwek Leng Beng. Ong and the Fu family responded by increasing their own holdings from around 20 percent to 43 percent, and were eventually able to retain control of the group. Besides shoring up his own shareholding, Ong reputedly increased his media presence, talking up HPL's prospects and thus its share price, hence making it more difficult for Quek to acquire shares in the company.40

In 2002, Ong was back in the headlines when he partnered state investment company Temasek Holdings to launch a takeover bid for steelmaker NatSteel Limited.41 This sparked a high-profile battle for control of the company with a rival bidder, Indonesian tycoon Oei Hong Leong. That battle was won by Ong’s 98 Holdings, which took control of NatSteel in January 2003 by gaining 50.31 percent of the company on the last day of its general offer, making its S$770 million offer unconditional. Through his company Reef Investments, Ong has come to own over 80 percent of NatSteel.42

Bringing F1 to Singapore
In 2007, Ong clinched the deal to bring the F1 race to Singapore after a year of negotiations, due in large part to his friendship with F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.43 Ong had earlier proposed to build an F1 track at the Laguna Country Club in 1989, but this was rejected by the authorities.44 The cost of the race was borne by Ong’s company Singapore Grand Prix (which bears 40 percent of the estimated S$150 million annual cost of the event), the Singapore Tourism Board, and a government tax on hotel room bookings during the event.45 In 2008, the F1 race and its accompanying glamour events saw Ong top The Straits Times' Lifestyle Power List.46


Family47
Father: Ong Teik Bee
Siblings: Brothers Beng Lim (d. 1973), Beng Min and Beng Huat
Wife: Christina Ong (née Fu)
Children: Melissa Ong Cheng Sim and Jonathan Ong Cheng Hee48



Author
Alvin Chua



References
1. Koh, T. et. als (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. p. 391. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
2. Yasmine Yahya. (2011, July 29). Singapore's wealthiest now richer: Forbes. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Tej Company Profile – Hotel Properties Limited. (2011, October 31). Taiwan Economic Journal. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
4. Ee, S. (2007, May 12). S’pore F1 on the starting grid. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Koh, T. et. als (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. p. 391. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
6. Koh, T. et. als (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. p. 391. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
7. Mulchand, S. (1992, January 18). The man with the Midas touch. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Mulchand, S. (1992, January 18). The man with the Midas touch. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Mulchand, S. (1992, January 18). The man with the Midas touch. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Tycoon Ong Beng Seng and wife sued by latter’s siblings over alleged share swap agreement. (2016, July 4). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
11. Mulchand, S. (1992, January 18). The man with the Midas touch. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Mulchand, S. (1992, January 18). The man with the Midas touch. The Business Times, p. 2; Hotel Props chiefs eye American oil company. (1987, November 23). The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Mulchand, S. (1992, January 18). The man with the Midas touch. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Wang, R. (2015, July 15). HPL's first acquisition: Crown jewel Hilton. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
15. Lee, Y. M. (1982, March 5). Hilton seeks listing on stock exchange. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Raj, C. (1989, July 7). The 'sheikh' of the Far East. The Straits Times, p. 43. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Mulchand, S. (1992, January 18). The man with the Midas touch. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Mulchand, S. (1992, January 18). The man with the Midas touch. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Mulchand, S. (1992, January 18). The man with the Midas touch. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Daring to reach for the stars, and grasping them. (1999, February 1). The Business Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Quak, H. W. (1995, February 4). Savu unit taps capital markets for $270m. The Business Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Gwee, E. (2001, October 12). Hard Brake Hotel. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Mulchand, S. (1992, January 18). The man with the Midas touch. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Vasuki, S. N. (1992, May 12). Citicorp Vickers and J Dallas to merge stockbroking units. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Wee, A. (1995, June 9). HPL expects weak Australian market to hit profits this year. The Business Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Ong Beng Seng among 28 tipped to be business leaders of the future. (1989, July 7) The Straits Times, p. 43. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Ong Beng Seng bags top business award. (1992, January 18).  The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Mulchand, S. (1992, January 18). The man with the Midas touch. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Mulchand, S. (1992, January 18). The man with the Midas touch. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Chong, F. (1995, March 1). Ong Beng Seng to open Australia's first Armani store. The Business Times, p. 8; Retail blues now rock mid-price brands. (1994, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. HPL in retail and distribution tie-up with Donna Karan. (1995, April 27). The Business Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Ong Beng Seng to expand restaurant chains in region. (1994, July 27). The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Gwee, E. (2000, August 22). Ongs in Mulberry investment. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34.  Altaner, D. (2011, July 18). Mulberry World’s Top Fashion Stock as Overseas Sales Boom. Retrieved 2016, July 29, from Bloomberg website: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2011-07-17/mulberry-is-world-s-top-fashion-retailer-as-overseas-sales-boom
35. Big Money: Profits galore from Mulberry money tree. (2011, August 15). The Edge Singapore. Retrieved July 28, 2016, from Factiva via NLB eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
36. Hotel Properties Limited. (2011). Annual Report 2011. Retrieved 2016, July 28, from Hotel Properties Limited website: https://www.hotelprop.com.sg/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/20120423030439hplreport20120412_1808071.pdf
37. Clarke, H. (1998, April 4). Selling west, buying east. The Business Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. HPL denies MD Ong is ill. (1998, May 26). The Straits Times, p. 51. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Mehta, H. (2001, March 26). OBS opening Hard Rock Hotel in Pattaya. The Business Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Lee, H. S. (1999, October 7). OBS and in-laws have 41.1% control of HPL. The Business Times, p. 2; HLIH's deemed HPL interest now 14.84%. (1999. October 5). The Business Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Kan, F. (2002, October 5). Crusader? Today, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. Sia, C. Y. (2003, January 12). Oei sends Nat Steel victor flowers. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
43. Foo, A., & Lim, M. (2007, March 18). A drive for life. The Straits Times, p. 31; Ee, S. (2007, May 12). S'pore F1 on the starting grid. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
44. Foo, A., & Lim, M. (2007, March 18). A drive for life. The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45. Wong, T. (2008, June 24). Fortnight of festival fun for F1 race. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
46. Huang, L. et. als. (2008, December 18). The chosen ones. The Straits Times, p. 50. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
47. Untitled: Ong Teik Bee. (2003, April 16). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
48. Untitled. (2005, July 4). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2012 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. 

Subject
Automobile racing--Singapore
Ong, Beng Seng, 1944-
Business, finance and industry>>Business organization>>Business enterprises
Businessmen--Singapore--Biography
Sports, recreation and travel>>Motoring
Personalities
Personalities>>Biographies