Kwek Leng Beng



Kwek Leng Beng (b. 1941, Singapore–) is a hotel and property tycoon. He heads the Hong Leong Group (HLG) Singapore founded by his father, Kwek Hong Png, as well as 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 Alwaleed Bin Talal in 1995.1 Forbes magazine listed Kwek and his family among Singapore’s richest in 2016.2

Family, education and early career
At the age of 17, Kwek interned at Hong Leong and earned a salary of $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 an LLB (Bachelor of Laws). He was also trained as a company administrator, so that he could improve Hong Leong’s organisational and internal systems.3

Kwek’s father, however, 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, whom he initially found to be “too academic” as well as “naïve, kiasu and kiasi (which in Hokkien means ‘afraid to lose’ and ‘afraid to die’ respectively)”. As Kwek studied his father’s business skills closely, his attitude also evolved.

In 1967, Kwek joined Hong Leong Finance (HLF) as general manager and director.5 HLF was then a small business, and Kwek demonstrated his entrepreneurial drive by personally ferrying his staff to different locations to seek out new businesses.6 In the following year, he took on the chairmanship of the King’s Hotel company, with the hotel of the same name opening in 1970.

Kwek’s focus on sales at HLF brought success, and he also displayed a knack for finding good investments and negotiating deals. In 1972, he led Hong Leong’s takeover of the loss-making, public-listed property company CDL. He then became CDL’s managing director, and in 1979 oversaw the takeover of another listed company, Singapore Finance (now Hong Leong Singapore Finance).8

Building a hotel chain
Kwek became HLF’s chairman and managing director in 1984, and succeeded his father as executive chairman of HLG by 1990. He also established CDL Hotels (CDLH) and listed the company in Hong Kong the year before. Starting off with six hotels, Kwek began acquiring hotels in Singapore and the region, before making his first purchase in Europe in 1993 — The Gloucester in London. Another two hotels in London followed that year, along with hotels in New Zealand.9


Kwek began to gain a reputation for picking up valuable assets at bargain prices, including the 1994 purchases of the Millennium (US$75 million) and the Macklowe (US$96 million) in New York. The Millennium reaped profits within the year and within three years was valued at US$98 million; the Macklowe boasted a similar story. Besides his knack for bargain-spotting, Kwek was known for his efficient, decisive style in sealing deals, as well as his diligence and meticulous eye for detail.10

In July 1995, Kwek gained worldwide attention when he teamed up with Saudi prince Alwaleed 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 CDLH and gained him an unusual gift from the prince, a gold-plated AK-47 assault rifle. In 2004, the hotel was sold for US$675 million.11

In October 1995, Kwek gained control over an additional 17 hotels in London, Germany and France through the £219 million acquisition of the Copthorne chain of hotels, which then brought CDLH’s portfolio to 55 hotels worldwide in 1996.12 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.13 The listing raised S$372.47 million, with CDL retaining a 55 percent share of the company.14 By 1998, M&C had become the eighth largest hotel management chain in the world, with 66 hotels in 12 countries.15

In 2000, Kwek was named Asian Hotelier of the Decade.16 His key property developments since then included the six-star St Regis in Singapore, and M&C which comprised over 100 hotels in 17 countries in 2011.17

Business interests and management style
Kwek was executive chairman of CDG, and group chairman of M&C as at 2011. HLG oversees some 300 companies across Asia, Europe and North America, managing businesses in the fields of property development, hotels, finance, manufacturing and distribution, and e-businesses. The group held gross assets of around S$33 billion as of 2011.18


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 market capitalisation of S$13 billion, as well as over 300 subsidiaries and associated companies across Asia, Europe, Middle East, North America and New Zealand/Australia.19

CDL was the largest property company in Singapore by assets as at 2011, and had built more than 22,000 private homes. One of the largest private land banks in Singapore, it also had over seven million sq ft of lettable commercial space.20

Kwek is said to have a hands-on, decisive management style. He has also been described as a demanding boss, unafraid to change his management team if they do not perform to his standards.21

Awards and appointments
1995:
Business Achiever of the Year from magazine, Yazhou Zhoukan.22

1996: Businessman of the Year, Singapore Business Awards.23
1997: Appointed to International Advisory Board of National Westminster Bank.24
1997: Outstanding Contributor to Tourism, Singapore Tourist Promotion Board Tourism Awards.25
1997: Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year, Singapore Tourist Promotion Board Tourism Awards.26
1998: Doctor of Business Administration in Hospitality Management (honorary doctorate) from Johnson & Wales University of Rhode Island, USA.27
2000: Asian Hotelier of the Year from Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels and Arthur Andersen.28
2000: Named Asian Hotelier of the Decade at Third Annual Asia Pacific Hotel Industry Investment Conference.29
2000: Doctor of the University (honorary doctorate) from Oxford Brookes University.30
2002: Member of sub-committee on Entrepreneurship and Internationalisation, Economic Review Committee.31
2003: Member of East Asia Council of INSEAD.32
2012: Partners in the Office of the CEO in the Brendan Wood International – SIAS TopGun CEO Designation Award.33
2014: Real Estate Developers’ Association of Singapore (REDAS) Lifetime Achievement Award.34
2015: Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry SG50 Outstanding Chinese Business Pioneers Award.35
2015: Best Singaporean Investor to Italy.36
2015: Lifetime Achievement Award from Hotel Investment Conference Asia Pacific.37

Family38
Father:
Kwek Hong Png.

Brother: Kwek Leng Joo.
Sisters: Kwek Geok Luan, Kwek Bee Heong and Kwek Lee Hoon.
Wife: Cecilia Kok Phooi Lin.
Sons: Sherman Kwek Eik Tse and Kingston Kwek Eik Huih.



Author

Alvin Chua




References
1. Cheong, S.-W. (2004, December 19). Room at the top. The Straits Times, p. L4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Forbes. (2016). Singapore’s 50 Richest People. Retrieved 2017, July 17, from Forbes website: http://www.forbes.com/singapore-billionaires/#14ac3ba245d9
3. Cheong, S.-W. (2004, December 19). Room at the top. The Straits Times, p. L4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Cheong, S-W. (2004, December 19). Room at the top. The Straits Times, p. L4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Rashiwala, K. (1996, May 26). The shy man who builds a global empire. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Koh, J. (2003, September 23). Trials and triumphs. The Business Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Rashiwala, K. (1996, May 26). The shy man who builds a global empire. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s Who Pub., p. 237. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO); Zachariah, N. A. (2016, September 5). Kwek Leng Beng: Billionaire hotelier with an eye for design. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
9. Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s Who Pub., p. 237. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO); Pacelle, M. (1997, February 19). One tycoon’s smart tactics. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Rashiwala, K. (1996, May 26). The shy man who builds a global empire. The Straits Times, p. 3; Tan, S. Y. (1997, March 20). Kwek Leng Beng is Businessman of the Year. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Pacelle, M. (1997, February 19). One tycoon’s smart tactics. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Rashiwala, K. (1996, May 26). The shy man who builds a global empire. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Cheong, S-W. (2004, December 19). Room at the top. The Straits Times, p. L4.; Rashiwala, K. (2004, August 14). Leng Beng, Prince Alwaleed say yes to US$675m deal they can’t refuse. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. CDL Hotels completes £219m deal to buy Copthorne hotel chain. (1995, October 11). The Business Times, p. 18; Rashiwala, K. (1996, March 9). CDL Hotels to float European and US arm in London. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Tan, S. Y. (1997, March 20). Kwek Leng Beng is Businessman of the Year. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Raj, C. (1996, April 20). Hong Leong’s Millenium float proves a big hit. The Business Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Tan, A. (2001, March 22). HK’s Hari Harilela gets award. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Tan, A. (2001, March 22). HK’s Hari Harilela gets award. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Rashiwala, K. (1996, March 9). CDL Hotels to float European and US arm in London. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. City Developments Limited. (2011). Corporate network. Retrieved 2016, September 28 from City Developments Limited website: http://www.cdl.com.sg/annualreport2011/cn.html
19. City Developments Limited. (2011). Corporate network. Retrieved 2016, September 28 from City Developments Limited website: http://www.cdl.com.sg/annualreport2011/cn.html
20. City Developments Limited. (2011). Towards a sustainable business. Retrieved 2016, September 28 from City Developments Limited website: http://www.cdl.com.sg/sustainabilityreport2011/tsb2.htm
21. Koh, J. (2003, September 23). Trials and triumphs. The Business Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Warden, G. (2007, August 20). Cover story: Building city. The Edge Singapore. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
22. Award for CDL chief Kwek. (1995, December 15). The Business Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s Who Pub., p. 237. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
23. Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s Who Pub., p. 237. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
24. Kwek Leng Beng appointed to Natwest advisory board. (1997, January 14). The Straits Times, p. 38. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s Who Pub., p. 237. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
26. Leng Beng bags 2 tourism awards. (1997, October 29). The Business Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s Who Pub., p. 237. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
27. Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s Who Pub., p. 237. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
28. Tan, A. (2001, March 22). HK’s Hari Harilela gets award. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s Who Pub., p. 237. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
29. Jansen, P. (2000, December 9). Missing jigsaw pieces within reach for Kwek. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s Who Pub., p. 237. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
31. Chuang, P. M. (2002, September 14). Private equity exchange, tax breaks mooted. The Business Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. City Developments Limited. (2016). Board of directors. Retrieved 2016, September 28 from City Developments Limited website: http://www.cdl.com.sg/app/cdl/company/board_of_directors.xml; Hong Leong Finance Limited. (2016). Kwek Leng Beng. Retrieved 2016, September 28 from Hong Leong Finance website: http://www.hlf.com.sg/about/board-of-directors/kwek-leng-beng.html
33. City Developments Limited. (2016). Board of directors. Retrieved 2016, September 28 from City Developments Limited website: http://www.cdl.com.sg/app/cdl/company/board_of_directors.xml
34. City Developments Limited. (2016). Board of directors. Retrieved 2016, September 28 from City Developments Limited website: http://www.cdl.com.sg/app/cdl/company/board_of_directors.xml; Hong Leong Finance Limited. (2016). Kwek Leng Beng. Retrieved 2016, September 28 from Hong Leong Finance website: http://www.hlf.com.sg/about/board-of-directors/kwek-leng-beng.html
35. City Developments Limited. (2016). Board of directors. Retrieved 2016, September 28 from City Developments Limited website: http://www.cdl.com.sg/app/cdl/company/board_of_directors.xml; Hong Leong Finance Limited. (2016). Kwek Leng Beng. Retrieved 2016, September 28 from Hong Leong Finance website: http://www.hlf.com.sg/about/board-of-directors/kwek-leng-beng.html
36. City Developments Limited. (2016). Board of directors. Retrieved 2016, September 28 from City Developments Limited website: http://www.cdl.com.sg/app/cdl/company/board_of_directors.xml
37. Williams, A. (2015, October 15). Kwek Leng Beng receives lifetime achievement award from hotel industry gathering. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
38. Rashiwala, K. (1996, May 26). The shy man who builds a global empire. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Zachariah, N. A. (2016, September 5). Kwek Leng Beng: Billionaire hotelier with an eye for design. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s Who Pub., p. 237. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)



Further resources
Award for CDL chief Kwek. (1995, December 15). The Business Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1998, November 20). He fights against herd instinct to be the final captor. The Straits Times, p. 74. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2015 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
Kwek Leng Beng, 1941-
Real estate developers--Singapore--Biography
Personalities
Businessmen--Singapore--Biography
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Services>>Tourism and hospitality
Personalities>>Biographies
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Construction and real estate