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Thread: From bottle-cap maker to Singapore's youngest billionaire

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    Default From bottle-cap maker to Singapore's youngest billionaire

    March 18, 2007

    From bottle-cap maker to Singapore's youngest billionaire

    Today, China-born Zhong Shen Jian, 48, is chairman of property group Yanlord Land and is worth $2.7 billion

    By Fiona Chan



    SINGAPORE'S FOURTH RICHEST MAN, Mr Zhong at his home in Binjai Hill. Twenty years ago, he had planned to emigrate to Australia but was impressed with Singapore on a casual visit and settled here. -- LIM WUI LIANG


    AN UNFAMILIAR name popped up when Forbes magazine published its annual global billionaires list last week: Mr Zhong Sheng Jian.

    It is a name virtually nobody knows, yet he is Singapore's fourth richest man and number 583 in the world rankings.

    What is publicly known about him is this: He is the China-born chairman of Yanlord Land, a property group that was listed on the stock exchange here in June, catapulting him into the billion-dollar club.

    The media-shy tycoon granted The Sunday Times an interview at his expansive bungalow in Binjai Park.

    In a dining room overlooking his sprawling garden, Mr Zhong said he owes his fortune to the kinds of things most people take for granted, like paper, bottle caps and kitchen sinks.

    He arrived in Singapore as a casual visitor 20 years ago, with no intention of staying.

    'I was on my way to Hong Kong from Australia when I dropped by Singapore to visit a client,' he said in Mandarin.

    'Immediately I knew this was where I wanted to stay. Originally I was planning to emigrate to Australia, but I changed my mind on the spot.'

    Two decades later he is, at 48, a Singapore citizen and the island's youngest billionaire, with a net worth of US$1.7 billion (S$2.7 billion).

    Only three people here are richer than him: Far East Organization's Mr Ng Teng Fong, 78, United Overseas Bank's Mr Wee Cho Yaw, 78, and Hong Leong Group's Mr Kwek Leng Beng, 66.

    The Guangdong native began importing and trading in raw materials and paper in the 1980s. He later moved on to making goods such as bottle caps and fertiliser, and set up printing and papermaking businesses.

    As a trade agent, he personally selected all the goods he imported and went around sourcing for clients.

    He still takes on modest tasks himself. Throughout the hour-long interview, he moved around the room making and pouring out Chinese tea with care and skill, a task he refuses to delegate to someone less expert.

    This hands-on approach helped the wiry entrepreneur build a business empire from scratch by catering to the basic needs of a slowly liberalising China.

    By the time China allowed home ownership in 1988, Mr Zhong had accumulated enough capital to go into property development.

    But instead of churning out the small, empty concrete boxes that were passing for flats at the time, he decided to offer the increasingly affluent city dwellers something better.

    'In 1992, every city in China had poor living conditions,' he said.

    In Shanghai, for instance, an acute shortage of adequate living space meant that the average person had claim to only 2.7 sq m (about 30 sq ft) of space.

    Yanlord rolled out one of China's first high-end residential developments in Shanghai in 1993.

    Its apartments came with basic fittings such as kitchen sinks and built-in wardrobes, which were such a novelty that Yanlord quickly made a name for itself among yuppie Chinese home buyers.

    Mr Zhong said he drew inspiration for the project from the fully fitted condominiums in Singapore, where he settled in 1988, followed a few years later by his wife and five children, now aged 16 to 21.

    The youngest child in a large family, Mr Zhong also persuaded his five brothers and two sisters to migrate here with their own children.

    He appears to have been impressed by Singapore's inherent contradictions: in particular, its international reputation despite its small size and its economic success despite the lack of natural resources.

    'It has an Eastern culture, but a Western economy. It is multiracial, but there is little conflict,' he added.

    Singapore's education system and clean environment tipped the scales for Mr Zhong, who has no tertiary education. Although he splits his time between Hong Kong and China, Singapore is the place he calls home.

    It is also where he chose to list Yanlord Land, the crown jewel of his empire.

    Yanlord - which means benevolence and perseverance in Mandarin - also has manufacturing and finance arms, but property is by far its biggest enterprise, having expanded into other major Chinese cities and taken on commercial developments.

    Long queues of home buyers form every time Yanlord launches a new project in China, and 70 to 80 per cent of each condo project is sold on the first day, he said.

    But for Mr Zhong, who employs 4,000 staff across China, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore, great wealth brings great responsibility.

    'The more assets you have, the more you need to do for society. If you just relax and enjoy, the higher powers will take away your wealth and give it to someone more hard-working,' he said, only partly joking.

    This work ethic is behind Yanlord's motto: Treat land with kindness, build homes with heart.

    'Each of our products bears our name, and buildings last for a few dozen years,' Mr Zhong explains.

    'If we do it well, it's a credit to us and to society. If we don't do it well, it's a blemish, and every time people walk past it, they will scold us.'

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  2. #2
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    Thumbs down Re: From bottle-cap maker to Singapore's youngest billionaire

    Best part is he is China become singaporean , so much for singapore billionaire .

  3. #3
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    Default Re: From bottle-cap maker to Singapore's youngest billionaire

    my grandfather also china become singaporean. now i also singaporean. what's wrong with that?

  4. #4
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    Default Re: From bottle-cap maker to Singapore's youngest billionaire

    Whatever .

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