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The Bullet — Southeast Asian Billionaires: The 4% of the 1%

Written by Degen Hill Published on   3 mins read

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While a billionaire is a billionaire, there are a handful of reasons why western billionaires seem to grab the headlines more than their Southeast Asian counterparts.

Billionaires: they’re just like us, except with a whole lot more zeroes in their bank account. And while all of them have the three commas required to be technically labeled a billionaire, not all billionaires are equal.

The word “billionaire” often triggers thoughts of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, or even Jack Ma — but these names are only a small handful of those with nine-figure bank accounts. As of 2022, there were 2,668 billionaires in the world, with Southeast Asia accounting for 128 of them. How many of them can you name? And if you can’t name any, why do we tend to have a fascination with western billionaires and not those from other regions?

Despite the significant wealth that many individuals in Southeast Asian countries possess, it is not uncommon for people in the west to be unfamiliar with the names and faces of billionaires from this part of the world. This is due to a number of factors, including cultural differences and the unique ways in which wealth is acquired and displayed in Southeast Asia.

One of the reasons why billionaires in Southeast Asia may not be as well-known as their western counterparts is that they maintain a low profile. Many Southeast Asian billionaires are the inheritors of family businesses (the Ambani family in India, the Cheng family in Hong Kong, and the Chirathivat family in Thailand) that have been passed down for generations, rather than self-made entrepreneurs who have risen from humble beginnings. As a result, these individuals may not have the same flashy, self-promotional style as some of the more high-profile billionaires from the west.

Another factor is the way in which wealth is viewed and displayed in Southeast Asian cultures. In many western countries, displays of wealth and extravagance are often seen as a sign of success and are embraced by society. However, in many parts of Southeast Asia, there is a greater emphasis on humility and modesty, and individuals with significant wealth may choose to keep a lower profile to avoid appearing ostentatious.

This is likely why many people don’t know of Robert Budi Hartono (Indonesia), who owns and runs Djarum, the world’s third-largest maker of clove cigarettes, Li Xiting (Singapore), the co-founder, president, and co-CEO of Mindray, China’s largest medical equipment manufacturer, or Enrique K. Razon (Philippines), the chairman and CEO of International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI), the Philippine port-handling giant.

Additionally, the media landscape in Southeast Asia is different from that of the west, with fewer global media outlets focusing on the region and its billionaires. As a result, the achievements and successes of these individuals may not receive the same level of international recognition.

Despite this, there are still many successful and influential billionaires in Southeast Asia who are worthy of notice. Some notable examples include Thai business magnate Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, who is the founder and chairman of Thai Beverage (produces Chang beer). He made headlines in 2004 when he tried to buy Liverpool Football Club. And let’s not forget Indonesian media mogul Hary Tanoesoedibjo, the “Donald Trump of Indonesia,” who in 2017 said, “Within ten years, I think I’ll run the country.” He has yet to hold any official political seat in Indonesia.

So there you have it: Southeast Asian billionaires may not have the same flashy, headline-grabbing personalities as their western counterparts, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less successful or influential. From humble beginnings to cultural barriers, there are a variety of reasons why these individuals may not be as well-known. But don’t let that fool you into thinking they’re any less deserving of recognition. After all, it takes more than a few fancy cars and outrageous tweets to make a true billionaire.

All opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and do not represent the views of KrASIA. Questions, concerns, or fun facts can be sent to [email protected]

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