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Sy, Zobel, Aboitiz among Asia’s top 50 richest families

/ 01:42 AM October 09, 2015

They have built their massive fortune through several generations, growing and diversifying their empire while keeping the family in control of the boardroom.  They lead conglomerates with combined market value of P1.5 trillion or about 12 percent of the Philippine economy.


They are the Sy, Zobel and Aboitiz families—three clans from the Philippines which landed on Forbes Asia magazine’s list of 50 richest families in Asia for 2015.

This is Forbes Asia’s inaugural list of Asia’s top business dynasties which, the magazine said, was in recognition that “family was at the core of Asia’s biggest conglomerates and some of its best-known brands.”


Tim Ferguson, editor of Forbes Asia, said: “Just as a family business brings its useful product to market and evolves from there, this inaugural ranking opens the door to new discoveries in future years.”

The list was topped by South Korea’s leading chaebol or business family—the Lee clan—which controls the Samsung Group.  It has an estimated wealth of $26.6 billion. Samsung Group’s revenue in 2014 was equivalent to 22 percent of South Korea’s gross domestic product.

Forbes Asia sees many business dynasties holding wide regional sway with their sprawling, cross-border empires. The list recognizes such prominence as well as the succession and operational challenges inherent in family businesses.

To qualify, a family’s wealth and participation in building that fortune has to extend to at least three generations while the minimum combined net wealth to make the cut was $2.9 billion.

Nearly half of the richest families in Asia are of Chinese descent, but none of them is based in mainland China, where conglomerates are young and run by first generations, Forbes Asia said.

Families from India hold 14 of the 50 spots, making it the nation with the highest representatives of top business dynasties in the region.

From the Philippines, the family of tycoon Henry Sy—whose SM Investments Corp. operates the country’s biggest banking, real estate and retailing businesses—ranked No. 13. The real estate business under SM Prime Holdings is now one of the largest in Southeast Asia.


The wealth of the Sy family is estimated at $12.3 billion.  Flagship conglomerate SM Investments Corp., which has a market capitalization of P706 billion, is the country’s most valuable company.

The Zobels ranked 35th, with an estimated wealth of $4.2 billion.  The Zobels lead the country’s oldest conglomerate, Ayala Corp., which is into property, banking, telecommunications, utilities, power generation, infrastructure, electronics manufacturing and education ventures.  Ayala Corp. is valued by the market at P477 billion.

The Aboitiz family, with an estimated wealth of $3.6 billion, landed 44th on the list.  The Cebu-based family is into power generation, banking, food, real estate, cement, ship building and infrastructure businesses.  Holding firm Aboitiz Equity Ventures is valued by the market at P320 billion.


Sy family patriarch Henry Sy Sr. migrated from the impoverished town of Hong Xi in Long Hu, Jinjiang in  Fujian when he was a teenager to live in the Philippines with his father, Xiu Shi Sy, who was operating a small-time grocery business. Much has been written about his early struggles especially during World War II when his family lost everything, prompted his father to go back to China.  Henry Sy decided to stay in the country, initially getting into merchandise trading and eventually striking a gold mine in retailing and shopping mall development. Since then, he has become a legend at spotting opportunities, drawing consumers to wherever he puts up a new SM shopping mall in the Philippines.

Forbes Asia said: “…The family’s growth plans involve building micro cities around some of its existing mall properties. The family also has a stake in privately owned electricity firm National Grid Corp., which supplies power to the entire country. Sy’s children are all involved in management. They meet weekly over lunch to discuss the business. Grandchildren are taking active roles,” the magazine said.

Ayala Corp. is now run by seventh generation Zobels. The conglomerate traces its roots to Casa Roxas, which was set up in 1834.  Based on published history, Casa Roxas was put up by Antonio de Ayala, a poor young man from the small town of Ayala in Spain’s Basque region, who came to the Philippines and worked as assistant to Domingo Roxas, descendant of settlers who had arrived by way of Acapulco in the late 1770s.  While the Spanish upper class looked down on farming and working on soil, Roxas went deep into agriculture, cultivating sugar and cotton in his Batangas and Laguna farms.  Together, these two men put up a Manila business house that would engage in commercial production of spirits, among others.

From that small distillery established 181 years ago, Ayala is now one of country’s largest conglomerates and a holding company for Ayala Land, Bank of the Philippine Islands, Globe Telecom and Manila Water. Seven siblings control more than one-third of the company, Forbes Asia said, counting three of the eighth generation now involved in the business.

Jaime Zobel de Ayala II, the eldest son, is chair and CEO while brother Fernando is president and COO.

Aboitiz Equity Ventures was founded by Paulino Aboitiz, a son of a Spanish farmer, in the late 1800s after he migrated to the Philippines from Spain. This group began as an abaca-trading and general-merchandise venture and later moved into inter-island shipping, transporting goods across the Visayas. AEV went public in 1994 but construction and shipbuilding businesses were kept privately held.

Forbes Asia noted that 19 family members, mostly fourth- and fifth-generation Aboitizes, were involved in day-to-day operations.

“The family, known to hold reunions for 400-plus relatives, has a constitution and formal process for those descendants interested in joining the company,” the magazine said.

Being an Aboitiz is not an automatic ticket to employment in the family business. Each family member has to seek employment elsewhere and only those who show great potential are invited to join the conglomerate.

Asia’s richest

Asia’s 10 richest families and their estimated net worth are as follow:

  1. Lee of South Korea, $26.6B
  2. Lee of Hong Kong, $24.1B
  3. Ambani from India, $21.5B
  4. Chearavanont of Thailand, $19.9B
  5. Kwok of Hong Kong, $19.5B
  6. Kwek/Quek of Singapore, Malaysia, $18.9B
  7. Premji of India, $17B
  8. Tsai (Financial) of Taiwan, $15.1B
  9. Hinduja of India, UK, $15B
  10. Mistry from India, $14.9B

Forbes Asia said the list was compiled after reviewing families of 550 members of Forbes 11 Asian Rich Lists (excluding Australia).

Originally posted as of 12:13 PM | Thursday, October 8, 2015

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TAGS: aboitiz, Forbes Magazine, Henry Sy, richest families, wealth, Zobel
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