Asia’s richest clans

That most family businesses deteriorate within three generations is evident in Forbes Asia’s 50 wealthiest clans of 2017. Only two Filipino family businesses made it to the list: The Sy family of SM ranked ninth, and the Zobel family of Ayala ranked 43rd.

Where are the other household names? Many are still in the process of cementing leadership in the second generation, such as the Gokongweis and the Tans, while others are still in the hands of relatively young founders (such as Edgar “Injap” Sia II).


The Aboitiz family “fell short by small margins,” says Forbes, and would have made it were it not for the stiff competition from other businesses in the region. After all, “the ticket to entry is $5 billion, some $1.6 billion more than in 2016.”

“For a family to qualify [for the top 50], at least three generations must have participated in building the fortune.”


The young Howard Sy, Henry’s grandson, was lauded by Forbes for his foresight and innovation. StorageMart, the self-service storage company he founded, had garnered 100 customers in two years.

Howard had correctly predicted that the boom in condos necessitated more storage space for tenants, and had put up the business with his life savings.

India and China

Since 2014, India has had the most number of billionaire families (18) in the top 50. Tycoon Mukesh Ambani and his family’s Reliance Industries made it first with $44.8 billion.

Ambani’s father Dhirubhai toiled in a gas station and traded spices more than half a century ago, then focused on textiles, which launched the family empire. Reliance went into energy, even as brothers Mukesh and Anil engaged in conflict, splitting the spoils upon their father’s demise at the turn of the millennium.

Mukesh went into telecommunications in 2016, soon garnering more than 100 million customers. Anil’s own telco was supposed to merge with that of a Malaysian billionaire, but plans did not push through.

Nine Hong Kong family businesses made the list, with a three in the top 10, all of which had started out in real estate. Patriarch Kwok Tak-Seng created Sun Hung Kai and Co. with two other partners, including sixth placer Lee Shau Kee (now of Henderson Land Development), before setting up Sun Hung Kai Properties on his own in the 1970s.


Kwok’s sons quarreled with each other, with the younger ones overthrowing the elder, and one sent to prison for corruption. Still, the Kwok family ranks third.

In eighth place is the Cheng family of conglomerate New World and jewelry behemoth Chow Tai Fook. Patriarch Cheng Yu-Tung passed away in 2017, but had the foresight to install son Henry in his place.

In Southeast Asia, the Thais reigned supreme. The Chearavanont family’s animal feed corporation, Charoen Pokphand Group, has boosted them to fourth place. In 10th place is the Chirathivat family, whose Central Group conglomerate, centered on malls, is reminiscent of the Sy family here.

Rounding up the top 10 are the Lees of South Korea in second place, the Hartonos of Indonesia in fifth, and the Kweks of Singapore and Malaysia in seventh.

The Hartono family made its fortune in cigarettes, branched off to electronics and real estate, and went into banking when the Salim family lost control of Bank Central Asia in the 1997 crisis.

The Singapore branch of the Hong Leong Group is controlled by the Kweks, while their cousins the Queks (same ancestral family name, different spelling) manage the empire in Malaysia.

Despite Samsung heir Jay Lee’s imprisonment and his father Lee Kun-Hee’s comatose state, worldwide demand for electronics ensured the beleaguered clan remains near the top, at second place.

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TAGS: Asia’s 50 wealthiest clans of 2017, Sy family, Zobel family
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