In case you do not know, Robert Kuok (郭鶴年) is known as "Sugar King of Asia" and also involved in many other businesses such as palm oil, shipping and property which makes him the richest person in south-east Asia with estimated USD 14.7 billion of net worth (as of Feb 2012) and most importantly he is a Malaysian. Oh by the way, he is a Malaysian who currently stays in Hong Kong now.
This is an one hour interview in Mandarin and I try to translate the interview dialogue summary here especially for those who does not understand mandarin. One thing that I feel bad is during the interview, he hardly talked about Malaysia and referred China as his hometown instead. Why is this so? You may think he is not patriotic but in reality it may due to some political reasons where he was indirectly forced to leave Malaysia after many contributions that he had made.
Anyway, I'm not going to talk about those political stuff much here because this is still a financial blog ultimately. Let's watch the interview and let's see what we can learn from this "Sugar King". If you're lazy, you can read the interview dialogue that I translate from the interview.
Key Interview Dialogues Summary (Translated to English)
Q: Why invest in sugar business? Why take such high risk to put all your money into it and at that time no one is into this business in Malaysia?
Robert: Sugar is basic food necessity besides rice and wheat, thus it is very important. A child cries at night, you just need to give him/her a sweet and they won't cry anymore. That's why I see the potential to invest in this business.
Q: Did you face any roadblock in sugar business?
Robert: In general, it was very smooth. However in 1963, I'm too brave and overconfident to keep 200 thousands tones of stock because of anticipating the sugar market price will go up at that time. This can allow me to earn plenty of money. But who knows the market not only just stagnant but it went down. It almost caused me to bankrupt but luckily the typhoon hit in Cuba saved me. The incident caused tremendous damage to the sugar cane farm in Cuba (major sugar production in the world at that time) which eventually caused the sugar market price went up. So, I was really lucky!
Q: In business, do you think intelligent or luck is more important?
Robert: I think 90% should be based on our hard work and our own intelligent. We should always continue gathering information, researching on productions and consumers problems, shipping problem and etc. For example, the shipping takes 5 to 6 weeks but when a country is lacking of sugar, they basically can't wait for that long. Once this is clear, we need to have a solution and most importantly is we must act fast because other competitors can see the same thing as well.
Q: You had so many competitors at that time, how did you win all of them?
Robert: One advantage I had is I can speak English well. At that time, not many people can speak English and this impressed those business men from western countries (i.e. New York, London) and that's why it was easier for me to approach them. I visited their office in the morning and at night, I treated one of them for dinner. During the dinner, I basically try to learn and capture whatever ideas that they had in their mind. After that, I took those ideas and send back to Singapore for research.
In fact, there are smarter people than I am. However, some of them have a complicated night life. So the next morning, they can't get up early where else I can get up early every day. That's why I can run faster than most of them. :)
Q: There are so many business opportunities out there. How do you know which one is the right one?
Robert: Every business has it own risk. You need to be brave enough the grab the opportunities. If there is a risk and you scare, then you run away. If you run away and get a better opportunities, that is still okay. However, if every time you run away, you will never be rich and successful.
Q: Are you a brave person?
Robert: We must be brave when we do business but our brave must focus on the business and not on the human.
Q: China requested your help to buy 300 thousand tones of sugar, why don't you take this opportunity to earn from it?
Robert: That's not royal to China. For example when you have agreed to help your customer, you don't try to get sideline profit.
Q: What makes you a successful sugar king?
Robert: We must focus. :)
Q: Isn't that you involve in so many business can be considered as not focus?
Robert: Well, that is not what I meant by the focus here. In business, you should always involve in few types of business because they're inter-related.
Q: Do you like being called as hotel king as well?
Robert: Yes but not the king but the "hotel"! LOL
Q: Why do you like the hotel business?
Robert: Hotel is not like the other businesses that I have. It is a service industry where the most important element in this industry is employees. You depend on them (from all levels) to take care of your customers. Thus, I told all my employees (including the executives) that the primary objective is to serve our customers.
Q: Why invest in China in such an early stage? E.g.Open up the first Shangri-La hotel in HangZhou in 1983.
Robert: From the very early stage, I already had a feeling that tourism industry in China has a very good potential due to its rich historical relics and monuments. I believed China will become the most busiest travel industry in the world. However, the infrastructure is very bad at that time (e.g. very bad condition for staying, toilets are terrible and etc.). How can we attract foreign tourists? Thus, we need to help China's tourism industry to grow!
Q: Why you made a huge investment in 1984, committing to build the World Trade Center in Beijing?
Didn't your family member or colleague worry?
Robert: At that time, my temper is very bad and always blow up in my office. So I guess they were not dare to tell me even though they were worry. One thing that made me can't forget is when I asked who are the competitors in this investment, none of them are from China. Thus, I decided to invest in this project. We as a Chinese must be ambitious and cannot be let down by foreign countries.
Q: Why you want to take such big risk? How sure you are this project will be successful?
Robert: I"m not a great businessman because I'm not the calculative kind. Simple calculation I can do such as plus and minus. So I do not know how to calculate whether this project will be successful or not. As long as it is good for China, I will do it.
Some other key messages that commented by Robert:
- You don't need to publicize if you help people and do not need to look for a return.
- I'm strongly influenced by my mum. For example, she told me in business, we must follow the path of morality and not materialism, not need to leave children with inheritance money because giving them is useless if they're not capable, do not turn to the dark side (i.e. evil) businessman, be a good person, not to be greedy about money and help the poor.
His very pretty daughter (Kuok Hui Kong) commented on him:
- My father believed in hard work and also thought me the importance of studying Chinese specifically Mandarin (not Cantonese) although we stayed in Hong Kong at that time. But, I'm glad that now I know Chinese and it is all because of him.
His handsome son commented on him:
- He is a very strict person and he also acts very fast. So if we can't follow, he will scold us too but everyone who works with him know that he scolds for the issue not on the human.
His expectation to his children:
- My children won't faced the difficulties that I had faced before but I hope that my children are able to accomplish something good for the company and be a good leader.
Robert Kuok is very supportive of China's development, thus he will almost invest or contribute to any development in China as long as it is for China. That is the reason he has a very good relationship and great influence to China.
He also mentioned that many business people are very aggressive in the past and use illegal or unethical method which is very successful at that time. He knew their method but he never complained and still tried very hard to compete with them. However these business people are no longer survive today.
Finally, he also commented that he doesn't like money but would prefer his company to be profitable so that he can pay big bonus to his staff!
Disclaimer: I may translate wrongly or have missing some dialogues here because I only translated those key messages and put those into my own words. I hope this will be at least useful for those who do not understand Mandarin and would like to know the interview content. Enjoy!