The U.S. and China have reached a trade deal that is meant to de-escalate the trade war. It commits China to buy $40 billion of American agricultural products annually, tighten measures for protecting American intellectual property, and stop forcing American companies to transfer their technology when doing business in China. In return, the U.S. agrees to halt the planned tariffs on $156 billion of Chinese goods that is due to take effect on December 15, and it will also cut the tariffs from 15% to 7.5% on $120 billion of Chinese goods that was imposed in September. However, the 25% tariff on $250 billion of Chinese imports imposed in March 2018 stays. Predictably President Trump boasted that this is a big deal that will lead to the “opening of China’s markets.” As positive as this partial trade deal is, it is not what Trump claims. If anything, it will intensify the U.S.-China rivalry.
The fundamental issues that ruptured the U.S.-China trade relationship have not been resolved. America’s dispute with China is more than just America’s trade deficit even though Trump sees it as proof that America is the loser in trading with China. The real U.S.-China rivalry is that of a head-to-head struggle between an incumbent superpower and a rising challenger. In the U.S., there is a rare bipartisan consensus that the structure of the Chinese economy and how it is managed is at the heart of the problem, which puts foreigner companies at a disadvantage when competing with Chinese companies. The real objective of Trump’s trade war is to force China to dismantle its state sector and conform to the standards and practice of a market economy as defined by the West.
China has indeed proved to be very skillful in manipulating the multilateral system that governs global trade, bending its rules when and where it is advantageous to do so. China is now snapping at the heel of the U.S. in closing the technology gap. According to UN data (UNIDO Competitive Industrial Performance Database, the proportions of total export considered to be of medium and high tech are about the same between the U.S. and China. Furthermore, Xi Jinping’s signature Make in China 2025 program is designed to propel China forward to becoming a world beating technology leader in ten key sectors in the next few years. And central to China’s stupendous economic and technological advances in the last four decades is its ability to combine market forces with state intervention; which is the very economic structure that the U.S. wants China to abandon. Not surprisingly, China has absolutely no intention to do so.
In this context, the announced trade deal is merely an admission that a trade war against China through higher tariffs has not and will not work. Both sides will now refocus their efforts in achieving their strategic goals by other means. The U.S. will certainly toughen its scrutiny of Chinese investment in its tech sector, and putting more Chinese companies under surveillance, and there will be more aggressive actions in blocking China’s attempts in acquiring advance technology knowhow. The sanctions against Huawei and its role in the rollout of 5G is only a foretaste of what is to come. Beijing, on the other hand, will surely push ahead with the Make in China 2025 program regardless of what the U.S. may do, while preparing for a worst case scenario of decoupling from the U.S. economy over the longer term. The global economy should be prepared for many destabilizing storms to come.
The U.S.-China rivalry is made more acute because of an asymmetry in time horizon. The U.S. fears that time is not on their side, which is reflected in its bipartisan consensus that stronger actions are urgently needed to prevent a further weakening of America’s position relative to China. Beijing, on the other hand, believes that time is on its side, and is confident that it can out-last America’s belligerence. It will work gradually to reduce its dependence on the U.S. market and American technology knowhow while building new networks of alliances outside of the U.S. This asymmetry in time horizon thus reduces incentives on both sides to compromise. Now that there is a trade deal, the U.S.-China rivalry is set to intensify.
Three years ago in the gilded lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, two ebullient billionaires stood in front of reporters and made big promises. One was Donald Trump, who just weeks prior had pulled an upset victory against Hillary Clinton to become president of the United States. The other was Masayoshi Son, billionaire founder and CEO of Japan’s SoftBank and executor of a newly formed $100 billion investment vehicle named the Vision Fund.
Trump had campaigned on the promise of bringing jobs back to America, and companies from Alibaba to Amazon pledged to do their part. Son, whose firm SoftBank owns telecom giant Sprint, had seen a merger with T-Mobile stall under the Obama administration over anti-competitive concerns. So on December 6, 2016, Son stood in the Trump Tower lobby to make his play. The Japanese billionaire could start over with Trump.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is Masa of SoftBank of Japan and he has just agreed to invest $50 billion in the U.S. and [create] 50,000 jobs,” then President-elect Trump said at the time. The promise, according to a sheet of paper that Masa held up in the building lobby, would be completed in four years’ time, coinciding with Trump’s first term in office.
Now, three years later, Son is close to the $50 billion mark, a year ahead of schedule. A SoftBank spokesperson says the Vision Fund and other SoftBank vehicles have poured $47 billion into the U.S. economy by way of investing in dozens of companies, from Silicon Valley darlings like messaging app Slack to food delivery service DoorDash. Nearly half, a reported $18.5 billion went to co-working startup WeWork.
Whether all that money has translated into the promised 50,000 jobs is difficult to determine. SoftBank would not provide an estimate of how many jobs it has created in the U.S. since Son’s pledge. Because the majority of the Vision Fund’s investments have gone to private companies, public data is not available, making it hard to hold Son accountable for his promise. A recent move to cut costs among SoftBank’s biggest portfolio companies could put any known gains in jeopardy, as well. Many of Son’s biggest investments, from Uber to WeWork to online car-leasing startup Fair, have laid off thousands of employees in recent months to stem further losses.
If Son does fall short of his job-making target, he would have company: Other corporations, such as Foxconn and Alibaba, that made U.S. job creation promises shortly after the election have failed to meet those goals. Still, a new presidential term will likely usher in a new round of pledges from company leaders. Trump is already touting his jobs credentials, claimingnearly seven million jobs have been added in the U.S. since his election. CEOs will take notice.
“People are constantly trying to curry favor” with the deals, says Robert Scott, a senior economist at the pro-labor Economic Policy Institute. “They bring [Trump] favors and they know he likes press releases.”
Son, like other CEOs who made jobs promises to Trump after his victory, had already been planning to invest in the U.S. before Trump won. Just a month before the November 2016 election, Son had decided to continue his investing success after hits like Yahoo and Alibaba and staked his legacy on the new Vision Fund. The $100 billion colossus would invest in cutting-edge tech startups around the world. Backed by investors from Saudi Arabia to Apple, Son and his team started pouring money into Silicon Valley—at a minimum of $100 million per investment.
By 2018, it looked like Son had already fulfilled his promise to Trump. “[Son’s] $50 billion turned out to be $72 billion so far, he’s not finished yet,” Trump claimed at a June 2018 groundbreaking ceremony in Wisconsin for a new factory for Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer founded by billionaire Terry Gou, a close friend of Son’s.
That wasn’t the case, SoftBank now says. (The White House didn’t comment on the different numbers.)
Even so, SoftBank’s Vision Fund was spending tens of billions on U.S. startups. It became known for writing huge checks that boosted companies’ valuations past the $1 billion mark. It made its largest money dump on WeWork—a reported $18.5 billion invested by a combination of SoftBank and the Vision Fund. SoftBank spent another sizable chunk on Uber, investing around $9 billion in early 2018.
The big checks were supposed to turn into jobs. Getting to 50,000, however, would be hard. Son favored nascent technology like robotics and artificial intelligence, and startups in those fields tend to be small. With the exception of Uber, which counts over 13,000 U.S. employees, dozens of the Vision Fund’s portfolio companies employ only a couple hundred people each.
Forbes reached out to over 50 SoftBank-backed portfolio companies that are either U.S.-based or have a U.S. presence to track SoftBank-backed job growth. Most declined to comment. Those that did comment told of merely incremental gains. Petuum, a Pennsylvania-based artificial intelligence company, said it added 120 employees to its workforce after SoftBank invested in October 2017. U.K.-based bank OakNorth had used SoftBank’s money to help expand its workforce globally to 750, but that only increased its headcount from four U.S. staffers to 23.
Several startups that Forbes spoke to also challenged the idea that SoftBank should even take credit for their new employees because, in some cases, SoftBank did not lead new rounds of investment. “It would be inaccurate and factually wrong to credit job growth to SoftBank’s investment,” one person close to a SoftBank-backed startup said.
Some of its Vision Fund’s largest investments are reducing headcount as they face pressure to become profitable. WeWork announced plans in November to shed 4,000 employees globally after the ousting of its billionaire cofounder and CEO, Adam Neumann. Uber has reportedly laid off over 1,000 employees since July, the majority in the U.S. In October, Fair, a car rental firm, cut 40% of its workforce, or around 200 jobs. Pre-fab construction company Katerra reportedly laid off hundreds of its employees and recently shuttered an Arizona factory.
One of the biggest SoftBank corporate investments, Sprint, has reported a roughly flat headcount of about 30,000 since 2016. Yet like some of the Vision Fund’s other big bets, it also risks job cuts, this time related to its merger with T-Mobile. The Justice Department finally approved the $26 billion deal earlier this year.
But even that wished-for union may land slightly askew for Son. This week a judge started to hear a lawsuit by 14 attorneys general suing to stop the union of T-Mobile and Sprint, arguing that consumers would be worse off under a merged company.
Son’s got one year left to make good on the promise he made at Trump Tower. Looks like the voracious dealmaker will need to stay in the game.
Patek Philippe is known by enthusiasts as one of the watch industry’s “holy trinity”—three highly regarded Swiss watch brands—along with Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin. Patek Philippe, like Audemars Piguet, remains independent of the big luxury groups, such as Kering, LVMH and Richemont. For four generations, it has been owned by the Stern family of Switzerland.
In an exclusive interview with Forbes Asia during Patek’s recent Watch Art Grand Exhibition in Singapore, Patek president Thierry Stern offers a personal take on its famous tagline: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” Stern’s version? “In our family, we don’t just pass the watches down the generations. We pass the whole company,” he says.
The Watch Art Grand Exhibition that brought Stern, 49, to Singapore is the company’s signature event, held on four previous occasions since 2013. This one was the largest to date, at 1,800 square meters, and marked the first time the exhibition was held in Asia—an indication of Asia’s continued importance for the global luxury watch industry. It is also another demonstration of the Stern family’s determination to remain an independent, family-owned business. Early this year, rumors surfaced that LVMH was considering a bid for Patek. In January, analysts at German investment bank Berenberg estimated that Patek could sell for as much as €9 billion ($10 billion).
Asked whether he’s received offers from some big groups, Stern replies, “Are they interested? I would say ‘yes’.” Then he adds that these bids reinforce his determination to stay family-owned. “That means that you did something right. But we are not for sale,” he says.
The Sterns bought Patek from the Philippe family in 1932 during the Great Depression, when the Philippe family were the original watchmakers and the Sterns a supplier of watch dials to them. Thierry Stern has headed Patek since 2009, when his father Philippe handed over control of the business. The company employs 1,600 staff at its Geneva headquarters and an additional 600 internationally, and had estimated 2018 sales of 1.45 billion Swiss francs ($1.5 billion).
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Philippe Stern remains as honorary chairman of the company. “I’m proud that during the transition between myself and my dad, nobody realized [there was a change in leadership]. We kept the same strategies and communication, the same type of product. We kept our soul,” says Stern.
Stern has helped maintain Patek’s status as one of the world’s most highly prized watches through scarcity. Since the company’s foundation in 1839, Patek has been known for its low output—annual production now is about 62,000 pieces. One Patek timepiece can take a year or more to craft. Stern says it would be difficult to create watches at a faster pace. “We are not Swatch, we cannot just push a button” to boost production, he says. Aspiring owners of a Patek must often join waiting lists to buy one. There’s a five- to eight-year wait, for instance, for a stainless-steel Nautilus model.
Stern also says more production would undercut Pateks’ value. “If we made a million watches per year, do you really think people will still buy them? I don’t think so,” he says. “I have one vision for Patek, and that is to have the highest level of quality. Quality and quantity don’t get along. Ask Picasso to reproduce the same picture 20 times—it is not possible, and also, he would never do it. It’s the same for Patek.”
One of Stern’s two teenage sons is showing interest in the business. His 16-year-old son has just commenced studies at a watchmaking school, as Stern did in his youth. “He made his own decision, he’s enjoying it,” Stern says. His eldest son, 18, will soon begin studying hotel management. Stern says he won’t force either into the business. “That’s a huge mistake,” he says. “They have to decide what they would like to do; I’m not obliging them. I didn’t have children just so they could take over Patek.”
From left: Patek Philippe Nautilus 3700/1A, Perpetual Calendar Ref. 3940G and Grandmaster Chime Ref.… [+] 6300A
Buying a secondhand Patek does not require joining a waiting list but resale prices can often be far higher than retail. While not all high-end watches appreciate in price, some Pateks have risen sharply in value. A 1970s steel Nautilus, sold for about $3,000 when new, now commands more than $60,000. Patek’s perpetual calendar chronographs from the 1980s, sold for around $20,000 at the time, have recently been auctioned from $400,000 to over a million.
A very rare, 1950s perpetual calendar chronograph in steel, originally priced at $2,200, became the most expensive wristwatch ever sold, at more than $11 million in 2016. That sum was eclipsed this November when a one-of-a-kind, steel Grandmaster Chime (a model released in 2014, in a limited edition of seven pieces, for a price close to $2.5 million) sold for $31 million.
Scorching oil glistens in a wok in Naeem’s home kitchen on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Dressed in hijab, she chops at a pile of onions, parsley and garlic to mix into falafel balls as her 2-year-old tugs at her apron, squalling for attention. She has just filled an order of more than a dozen chicken gulai she started preparing at dawn.
Naeem earns roughly 2,000 ringgit ($480) a month selling food to PichaEats, a Malaysian social enterprise, while awaiting resettlement after fleeing with her family of four to Malaysia from Syria six years ago. PichaEats aims to provide work to some of the 177,800 refugees and asylum-seekers like Naeem (a pseudonym—her real name has been withheld at the company’s request) registered in Malaysia by the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR. PichaEats will soon deliver Naeem’s food to diners around Kuala Lumpur.
Since starting the company in 2016, PichaEats’ three founders, Lee Swee Lin, Lim Yuet Kim and Sook Shian “Suzanne” Ling have served 130,000 meals prepared by 100 individuals from 20 refugee families, generating 3.5 million ringgit in sales and earning them a spot last year on the 30 Under 30 Asia list. Lee says the company has a profit margin of roughly 12%, though there are months when they barely break even. “The balance between profit and charity is always very tough,” says Lim, who is PichaEats’ CEO.
Lim and her two cofounders came up with the idea for PichaEats as university students six years ago, while working as volunteers teaching refugee children. A couple of years into what started as an extracurricular activity, PichaEats’ founders noticed that their pupils tended to drop out at about age 13 to work in night markets or care for younger siblings. Determined to help keep them in school, they reached out to one of the refugee mothers, a Burmese woman whose son was named Picha, and suggested selling home-cooked meals to their university friends.
The Picha Project was born. The three women kept it going after graduating in 2014 and, to ensure it would be self-sustaining, turned it in 2016 into a for-profit, Picha Sdn. Bhd., which uses the brand name PichaEats. Shareholding was split equally between the three.
PichaEats soon received a grant of 30,000 ringgit from the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre, or MaGIC, a government-sponsored program to encourage social enterprises. “We have in mind the ultimate impact that our order will benefit a marginalized community,” says David Lim, head of social entrepreneurship development at MaGIC, which has become a PichaEats customer.
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PichaEats splits its sales evenly with its chefs. But it can’t hire them. On paper, refugees like Naeem have no lawful way to earn a livelihood in Malaysia. “Malaysia is not a state party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have an asylum system in place to process and regulate the status and rights of refugees,” says Maja Lazic, deputy representative of UNHCR, in an email response. “As a result, refugees are considered illegal migrants.”
While Malaysian law doesn’t allow for them to stay, they favor the country because of its relatively lenient visa policy and because it is predominantly Muslim. Most try to register with the UNHCR upon arrival. “They stand a risk of getting deported, but they are recognized as refugees internationally,” says Ling. “Having refugee status means you’re on a list of being selected to get resettled to a new country. But the chances that will happen is less than 1%.”
So PichaEats doesn’t employ refugees. “We purchase the food from the families, and we package, market the food for sale,” says Lee as her cofounder Lim applies labels with Chef Naeem’s story to each meal box in her dining room. Today, 70% of PichaEats’ business is in catering, 25% delivery, and 5% what its founders call experiences, where people can learn to make Rohingya curry, Palestinian hummus, and other foreign dishes at a refugee’s home while hearing their story.
A psychology degree holder, Naeem was a university lecturer in her hometown Damascus, according to Ling, the company’s chief marketing officer. To flee the civil war, she and her family flew to Malaysia as tourists and overstayed their visa. When she first arrived, she worked at a travel agency catering to Arabic-speaking visitors. But during an immigration raid, she was arrested and imprisoned for two weeks until the UNHCR secured her release.
“Free movement is risky as the police and immigration randomly pick up refugees and asylum seekers,” says Deborah Henry, a former Miss Malaysia Universe who cofounded Fugee.org, an NGO that helps refugees in Malaysia.
Dalia from Palestine, another of the refugee chefs whose stories PichaEats relates, has managed to earn a stable income for her family of six. She has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance, while her husband earned a master’s in mechanical engineering in Canada. Amid the devastation following the 2014 conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, Dalia’s husband risked being buried alive to crawl 30 hours through an underground tunnel to Egypt, Ling says, where he boarded a flight to Kuala Lumpur to prepare the way for his family.
When Gaza’s borders reopened, Dalia sold their belongings and walked 500 kilometers with her four small children, according to Ling, to Cairo. There, they took a flight to reunite with her husband in Kuala Lumpur.
PichaEats has so far been funded largely by grants like MaGIC’s. In 2018, Lim placed top five in a Chivas Venture pitch competition awarding social entrepreneurs. Lim advanced to the final rounds in Amsterdam against competitors from 27 other countries and won $50,000. She and her cofounders say they will use the money to expand, improve operations and increase their use of social media for marketing and sales. “Policy change takes a very long time,” says Lim. “The refugees cannot wait.”
India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani has catapulted into the top ten of the global rankings of the world’s wealthiest people.
Ambani is now the ninth richest man in the world, up four spots from March this year when Forbes last published its annual list of the worlds billionaires.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos remains at the top spot with a fortune estimated at $110.8 billion, followed by Bill Gates at $106.5 billion.
Ambani’s current net worth of $60.4 billion is up from $50 billion in March.
The chairman of Reliance Industries has seen his company’s stock jump 24% since February 8, when his net worth was calculated for the billionaires list.
Last week, Reliance became India’s most valuable firm as its shares hit 1,581.25 rupees on Thursday, giving it a market cap of nearly $140 billion. The stock rose even further since then to close at 1,586.90 rupees on Monday.
For the quarter ending September, Reliance had a massive debt load of $41.2 billion, but Ambani has said that the company’s goal is to be net debt free by the end of the next financial year in March 2021.
A spokesperson for the company said it has a cash and cash equivalents of $19 billion, and an annual cashflow of $13 billion which is growing at 8% to 10% each year.
Ambani has also been on the look out for strategic partners to invest in Reliance.
In August, the company announced that it would sell a 20% stake to Saudi Aramco for approximately $15 billion, funds that will be used to pay off some of Reliance’s debts.
Ahead of the Aramco deal, Reliance announced that it would have a 51% stake in a joint venture with global oil major BP aimed at setting up a nationwide network of fuel retail outlets. It will also market aviation turbine fuel in India to cater to that industry’s growing demand.
Last month, Reliance was reportedly in talks with India’s Times Group to sell its news media assets, although the company denied such talks were taking place. That came on the heels of news that Japan’s Sony Corp. was looking to buy a stake in Reliance’s television network and was conducting due diligence on the unit.
Ambani shook India’s hyper-competitive telecom industry by starting a price war in 2016 with the launch of 4G phone service Jio that led to a consolidation in the sector.
Markets have been blowing hot and cold regarding the prospects of a recession in the U.S. The Institute of Supply Management’s November survey shows that the index of factory activities in the U.S. fell to 48.1 from 48.3 in October (any reading below 50 is indicative of a contraction). This is confounding the expectation that America’s domestic industrial production would improve in anticipation of a “deal” in the U.S.-China trade war. However, the Department of Labor also reported that 266,000 jobs have been added to the economy in November, bringing unemployment rate down to a historic low of 3.5%. A confusing situation has just been made more confusing.
It has been said that generals are always fighting the last war. It’s not that different when it comes to fighting economic downturns. Since the global financial crisis a decade ago, we have been scouring the horizon for any signs of financial fragility, such as asset bubbles, that could plunge us into the next global recession. Despite mounting evidence of a weakening economy, there are no asset bubbles comparable to that of the pre-2008 period. And we won’t find any, even as we edge closer to the next recession. Since the last global financial crisis, the global economy has been reshaped by different forces, and the coming recession will be caused by factors totally different from those of the last one.
First off, the global economy today is mired in uncertainty arising from the trade war, an enfeebled Europe, Brexit and rising geopolitical tensions. An even deeper source of uncertainty is that the liberal global economic order, in place since the 1950s, is dying. Two trends are converging to kill it. The first is the West’s declining economic dominance relative to the rest of the world, and China in particular. The second is the rise of populism in Western democracies, arguably the most serious challenge to the legitimacy of the liberal global order. And yet, even as the liberal global economic order fades away, it’s unclear what a post-liberal global economic order will look like. So for now, the global economy is like a barfly at closing time: it has no clue where it’s going, but it can’t stay here.
Developed world economies have meanwhile been seriously weakened by prolonged zero interest rates, making them vulnerable to unexpected shocks. Extraordinarily low interest rates distort the price of money, arguably the single most important price signal in a market economy. They poison the business environment, allowing poorly run businesses to survive, jamming the gears of creative destruction that drive any economic renewal. The survival of poorly run businesses also suck profits from more successful businesses, sapping their ability to expand.
Against this backdrop, any number of missteps could trigger chain reactions that push developed world economies into recession. But we should also be prepared for a potentially different kind of downturn. The accepted definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of contraction in an economy. The next recession, however, may not technically qualify as one. For example, we could have one quarter of 0.3% growth, followed by a contraction of 1.2% the next, then anemic growth in the third and fourth quarter of, say, 0.1% each, and then another contraction of 0.5% and so on. While the technical definition of a recession may never be met, the economy would still be shrinking, left to wane inexorably by impotent monetary and fiscal policies. It would be a recession by stealth.
The estranged wife of SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, South Korea’s ninth richest man with a fortune valued at $2.8 billion, stands to gain $1.2 billion in SK shares if her lawsuit proves successful.
That’s the value of 42.3% of Chey’s shareholding in SK Holdings which Roh Soh-Yeong is seeking in Seoul Family Court in her response to a divorce suit filed by her husband more than two years ago.
Roh’s counterclaim is the latest chapter in a long-running saga. Chey has acknowledged girlfriends in the past and now is living with another partner, Kim Hee-Young, chairman of the T&C Foundation, with whom he has a daughter.
Roh, who runs an art gallery, had initially refused the divorce but decided it was “time to let my husband find the ‘happiness’ he so desperately wants,” as she posted on Facebook. She said she had dedicated their marriage to “raising a family and trying to protect it” but “lost that hope.” Together they have three children.
If Roh were to get as much as she is asking, Chey would be left with a 10.6% stake in SK holdings, down from his current holdings of 18.4%, while she would hold 7.8%, up from her current share of 0.01%. Together, they would rank as the first- and second-biggest stakeholders in the central company of the SK empire.
Roh is not expected to get that much in a case fraught with implications for the future of SK, Korea’s third-largest chaebol or conglomerate, made up of nearly 100 companies. These include SK Telecom, Korea’s largest phone service provider, and SK Hynix, which ranks after Samsumg Electronics as Korea’s second-largest producer of semiconductors.
Chey, however, is no stranger to the law. He’s been jailed twice for misappropriating funds and twice received pardons from the country’s presidents–first from Lee Myung-Bak and then Park Geun-Hye, both of whom were later jailed in corruption scandals. The current president, Moon Jae-in, defeated by Park in the 2012 presidential election, was elected president in May 2017 after Park was impeached, ousted and sentenced to a lengthy term, which she’s appealing.
Roh is the daughter of another former president, Roh Tae-woo, a former general who held office from 1993 to 1998. Chey is the nephew of SK founder Chey Jong-Kun and son of Chey-Hong-Hyun, who served as group chairman.
This story is part of Forbes’ coverage of Indonesia’s Richest 2019. See the full list here.
Citizens of the world’s fourth most populous nation in May reelected president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to a second term, hoping he can steer the country through the global trade headwinds that helped keep Indonesia’s economy in check this year. Despite the slowdown, the country’s 50 richest added $5.6 billion to their combined wealth, which touched a record $134.6 billion this year.
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Close to half of those on the list saw their fortunes rise. The Hartono brothers stayed No. 1 for the eleventh consecutive year, with a net worth of $37.3 billion, as shares of their Bank Central Asia surged.
The biggest gainer by far was petrochemicals and energy tycoon Prajogo Pangestu, who jumped seven spots to No. 3. Investors drove up shares of his Barito Pacific on the prospect of rising demand for the power it produces.
There are five new names, among them Ferrari fan and construction tycoon Donald Sihombing, who founded and runs the company that built the Four Seasons hotel in Jakarta, Totalindo Eka Persada, as well as Winarko Sulistyo, who sold a 45% stake in packaging paper producer, Fajar Surya Wisesa, to Thailand’s Siam Cement in May for $557 million. (He and his family still own 44%.)
Three others appear in place of patriarchs who passed away. The founder of the Sinar Mas group, Eka Tjipta Widjaja, died in January, leaving his vast fortune to several heirs who are now grouped as the Widjaja family at No. 2 (last year Widjaja was No. 3 with $8.6 billion). The Ciputra family (No. 25) inherited the $1.3 billion fortune of property baron Ciputra, who went by one name and who died in November at age 88. The Hamami family at No. 46 replaced the late Achmad Hamami, a former jet pilot, whose Tiara Marga Trakindo group is a distributor of Caterpillar heavy equipment. Textile magnate Iwan Lukminto returns to the list at No. 50, after a one-year absence, with $585 million.
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While both the Indonesian rupiah and its stock market eked out gains of 1.5% and 1.6% respectively since last year’s list, 20 returnees suffered a drop in their net worth. Prominent among them is Susilo Wonowidjojo, who fell by $2.6 billion and slipped to No. 4 from No. 2. Shares of his clove cigarette maker Gudang Garam dropped after the government said in September it would next year raise cigarette prices and increase the cigarette excise tax by 23%. Three from last year didn’t make the cut in this round.
This list was compiled using shareholding and financial information obtained from the families and individuals, stock exchanges, annual reports and analysts. The ranking lists both individual and family fortunes, including those shared among relatives. Private companies were valued based on similar companies that are publicly traded. Public fortunes were calculated based on stock prices and exchange rates as of November 19, 2019.
Azim Premji made history this year as Asia’s most generous philanthropist by donating $7.6 billion worth of Wipro shares to his education-centered foundation, raising his total lifetime giving to $21 billion. Established in 2000, his eponymous foundation now works with more than 200,000 public schools across India to train teachers and provide better curriculums, among other initiatives. “A role model for all of us. I wish more people would follow his example,” said Anu Aga (a 2010 honoree).
Premji is one of the 30 outstanding altruists we’ve chosen for our 13th annual Heroes of Philanthropy list which honors billionaires, entrepreneurs and celebrities across the region who are committed to solving some of the most pressing issues facing the Asia-Pacific.
This year’s members are devoted to a range of endeavors. Among them: Angel Locsin, one of the Philippines’ most famous actresses, supports causes aiding victims of violence, natural disasters and the conflict in Mindanao. Australian billionaire Judith Neilson, set up an institute to support independent journalism. And then there’s Jack Ma from China, who recently received the Malcolm S. Forbes Lifetime Achievement Award after stepping down as chairman of Alibaba to devote more time to philanthropy. Other honorees are working to protect wildlife, improve access to healthcare and aid the elderly.
To choose these honorees, we sifted through dozens of candidates, reviewing their monetary contributions, the depth of their involvement and the reach of their philanthropic efforts. Our aim is to highlight those giving their own money, not their company’s (unless they are the majority owners of a privately-held firm). We also don’t include those who are full-time fundraisers or foundation heads, unless they’ve personally given the bulk of funds to start a charitable organization.
All are citizens of countries or territories in the Asia-Pacific or have long resided in the region. The focus is on individuals who provide the capital and are personally committed to achieving a long-term vision. As always, we have focused on new names, unless there was a significant development in a previous honoree’s philanthropy that justified relisting them. The final selection is unranked—all are considered equally honored on this list.
Reporting ByPamela Ambler, Grace Chung, Ron Gluckman,Jane Ho, Naazneen Karmali, Danielle Keeton-Olsen, Pudji Lestari, Sunshine Lichauco de Leon, Suzanne Nam, Jihyun Park, Sheela Sarvananda, Lucinda Schmidt, James Simms and Jolie Tran.
Azim Premji, 74
Founder and Chairman, Wipro | India
Premji in March solidified his position as Asia’s biggest philanthropist by giving away a chunk of his shares, worth $7.6 billion, in tech firm Wipro to his education-focused Azim Premji Foundation. The foundation will use the funds to increase its activities, including expanding the Azim Premji University in Bangalore.
The billionaire retired in July as Wipro’s executive chairman after more than five decades at the helm and said he would focus more on philanthropy. The first Indian to sign the Giving Pledge, his lifetime giving now stands at $21 billion. Premji has also endowed his foundation with stakes in Wipro Enterprises, his privately held consumer goods company, and in his private equity arm, PremjiInvest. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his mother, Premji says that “to whom much has been given, much should be expected.”
Theodore Rachmat, 76
Founder, Triputra Group | Indonesia
Mining and agribusiness tycoon Rachmat has since 2018 donated nearly $5 million toward his A&A Rachmat Compassionate Service Foundation, which supports educational opportunities, healthcare and orphanages. Launched in 1999 as a scholarship fund, the foundation has awarded scholarships to 21,000 recipients over the years, with Rachmat contributing $12.5 million. To ensure that students stay in school and learn effectively from an early stage, the foundation also organizes annual training programs for primary school teachers. In 2005, it expanded into healthcare, setting up clinics in rural areas that charge patients less than $2 a visit.
Jeffrey Cheah, 74
Chairman, Sunway Group | Malaysia
Through his eponymous foundation, Jeffrey Cheah has donated almost $39 million to fund scholarships and educational causes since 2018. Cheah has also provided funding to public primary schools, giving a combined $2.5 million to SJKC Chee Wen in Selangor state and SJKC Gunong Hijau in Perak state, and another $6 million to schools around Malaysia. Cheah is founder and chairman of Sunway group, which has interests in 11 industries across the Asia-Pacific. Since 2009, he has gradually transferred his entire stake in Sunway Education Group—valued at more than $238 million—to the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation.
Jack Ma, 55
Founder, Jack Ma Foundation | China
For our full philanthropy profile on Jack Ma, click here.
Judith Neilson, 73
Founder and Patron, JN Projects | Australia
Neilson committed A$100 million ($72 million) last November to establish the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism & Ideas in Sydney. The Institute sponsors grants, education and events to encourage quality independent journalism, including more reporting on Asia. In July, it announced its first series of grant programs, which will support a number of news outlets, including the reopening of the Australian Financial Review’s Southeast Asia bureau. Neilson owns a 21% stake in Platinum Asset Management, the global investment group founded in 1994 by her ex-husband, Kerr Neilson. She also owns one of the world’s most significant collections of Chinese contemporary art, which is displayed in her White Rabbit art gallery in Sydney.
Andrew Forrest, 57
Chairman, Fortescue Metals Group | Australia
Nicola Forrest, 57
Cofounder, Minderoo Foundation | Australia
The Forrests donated A$655 million ($455 million) in May to their Minderoo Foundation, marking Australia’s largest single gift from a living donor and taking the couple’s total giving to A$1.5 billion. The foundation supports cancer research, early childhood development, indigenous equality, healthy oceans and the elimination of modern slavery. It is named after the cattle station in West Australia’s remote Pilbara region where Andrew Forrest grew up. Minderoo is funded by dividends the Forrests receive from iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group, which Andrew founded in 2003. He retains a 35% stake in the company.
Le Van Kiem, 74
Cofounder and Chairman, Long Thanh Golf Investment and Trading Joint-Stock Company | Vietnam
Tran Cam Nhung, 73
Cofounder and Vice Chairman, Long Thanh Golf Investment and Trading Joint-Stock Company | Vietnam
Since 2018, Kiem and Nhung have contributed $11 million to various causes in Laos and their native Vietnam. A war veteran, Kiem donated nearly $5 million between early 2018 and April to support families of army retirees, while his wife Nhung in April gave over $5 million to charities, primarily to treat infants with heart failure and to provide financial aid to students. The pair made their fortune in textiles and rubber when in the 1980s Vietnam adopted economic reforms. The bulk of their interests are now in property and golf courses.
Since 2009 when he set up a scholarship fund, Kiem has given $900,000 in scholarships for students to attend his alma mater, Hanoi’s Thuy Loi University. The duo has given more than $20 million over the past ten years toward causes not only in Laos and Vietnam, but also in Cambodia and Japan.
Suh Kyung-bae, 56
CEO, Amorepacific Group | South Korea
The Suh Kyung-bae Science Foundation in September awarded 10 billion won ($9 million), to be allocated over five years, to four South Korean scientists for research in neuroscience and genetics. Suh established the foundation in 2016 with a personal endowment of 300 billion won. The head of South Korea’s largest cosmetics company, Suh inherited Amorepacific from his father Suh Sung-hwan, who believed that science was integral to innovation.
Since 2017, the foundation has awarded 14 scientists grants of between 1.5 billion and 2.5 billion won. Suh pledged in 2016 to donate whatever was needed to bring the foundation’s total funding up to 1 trillion won. With those funds, the foundation plans in 2021 to increase the number of scientists who receive its grants to 25 a year; it aims to mark its 20th anniversary in 2036 by giving grants to 100 scientists.
Gong Junlong, 50
Founder, Hengyu Group | China
Gong pledged $50 million in June 2018 to build the Lufeng No. 2 People’s Hospital in his hometown of Shanwei, Guangdong. The hospital, with 14 floors and a total area of 57,000 square meters, will house 500 beds when it opens. The property baron also donated $5.6 million last year to fund the expansion of a high school in Shanwei. He previously gave $35 million to build a new campus for his alma mater, Jiazi High School, which opened in 2012.
Angel Locsin, 34
Actress | Philippines
After earthquakes hit Mindanao island in October, Locsin donated 1 million pesos ($19,000) and distributed truckloads of relief supplies to affected residents. Locsin, whose mother was adopted by a family from the island, has long helped the region, which has been riven by sectarian strife for decades. During the 2017 battle between the Philippine army and Islamist rebels in Marawi, she joined the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, donating and distributing food packets and school supplies to tens of thousands of displaced victims. “These are urgent times when we have to act as fast as we can to save lives and rebuild communities, and we don’t even have to think why,” she says.
Locsin is best known for playing superhero Darna in a 2005 TV series and for her role in 2012’s One More Try, which earned her “best actress” in the 2013 Film Academy of the Philippines Awards. In 2017, she once blogged: “You don’t need to wear a costume to be a superhero.”
Over the past decade, Locsin has donated as much as 15 million pesos to causes such as educational scholarships for students, supporting the economic and political rights of indigenous people, and ending violence against women and children.
Her donations have also helped roughly 500 families hit by some of the country’s largest disasters: Tropical Storm Ondoy in 2009, Typhoon Habagat in 2012 and Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, one of the deadliest storms on record, leaving 6,300 dead.
Locsin has also inspired many of her millions of social media followers to give back. “It’s like taking little steps towards substantive, holistic change for the future of the next generations,” she says. “The only motivation we need is being part of humanity.”
Wu Yuanxi, 61
Chairman, Green City Group | China
Chairman, Hanking Group | China
The Wu brothers, both property tycoons, gave $49 million in June 2018 to build new campuses for two existing high schools in their hometown of Shanwei, in Guangdong province. One of the schools, which opened in September, dates back to a Chinese classics academy from the 18th century.
Elder brother Yuanxi previously helped build seven other schools in the city, and in 2008 established the Wu Yuanxi Charity Foundation, which has supported over 1,000 poor students pursuing college education.
Atul Nishar, 64
Founder and Chairman, Hexaware Technologies | India
After selling his stake in software services firm Hexaware Technologies in 2013 to Barings Private Equity Asia for $200 million, Nishar has donated roughly $1.5 million annually to various causes. This year Nishar gave $1.5 million to a center for leadership at the Avasara Academy, a girl’s school near Mumbai that provides free education to underprivileged students.
He was one of the early donors to Ashoka University, a private university, and in 2016 donated $1 million to SRCC Children’s Hospital in Mumbai, India’s largest pediatric hospital. The tech entrepreneur has also established three computer education centers in southern India, which provide free training. “Being able to contribute in this way makes me feel good,” says Nishar.
Mary Ann Tsao, 64
Director, Tsao Family Office | Singapore
Through their Tsao Foundation, Tsao and her family have donated $2 million over the past year to caring for the elderly, bringing the family’s total giving to $55 million since the foundation was established in 1993. As chairman, Tsao oversees its primary goal to improve senior citizens’ quality of life, enabling them to lead active social lives and age comfortably at home.
Among the foundation’s notable initiatives: launching the Hua Mei Mobile Clinic in 1993, Singapore’s first healthcare service for homebound elders; and creating in 2016 the country’s first gerontological counseling program to train counselors and social workers on caring for the elderly in community settings. Tsao is the daughter of late shipping magnate Frank Tsao, a Shanghai-born entrepreneur who founded the IMC Group. She also leads the family’s investment office, which has interests in property, manufacturing, F&B and investments.
The foundation was formed in Singapore by her then-89-year-old grandmother, who convinced Tsao to leave her thriving career as a pediatrician in New York to help build the organization. In 2017, the Asian Development Bank appointed the Tsao Foundation as a partner in its $2.5 million project on “Strengthening Developing Member Countries’ Capacity in Elderly Care,” to exchange knowledge on eldercare services.
Tang Wee Kit, 64
Chairman, Tang Holdings | Singapore
To commemorate Singapore’s bicentennial, the chairman of investment and property group Tang Holdings in May donated the largest private collection of books and letters once owned by Sir Stamford Raffles to the National Museum of Singapore, saying it belonged to the nation. Raffles played a key role in establishing Singapore as a thriving British trading port, attracting migrant workers like Tang’s father.
Tang owns 98% of Tang Holdings and purchased his entire Raffles collection in two auctions, in 2004 and 2005, for a total of £560,000 ($730,000 in today’s dollars). Tang Holdings in 2015 donated $750,000 to ethnic charities and needy schoolchildren to mark the 20th anniversary of its flagship Singapore property, Tang Plaza, which houses the company’s headquarters, Tangs department store, and the Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel.
Yoshiki Hayashi, 54
Cofounder, X Japan | Japan
After his home prefecture Chiba was hit in September by a typhoon, Hayashi donated ¥10 million ($92,000) to help victims there. The leader of the popular Japanese band X Japan, Hayashi, who resides in Los Angeles, has contributed to causes mainly in Japan and the U.S. through his Yoshiki Foundation America.
Started in 2010, the foundation has contributed to disaster relief, orphanages, and treatment for children with bone-marrow disease. He has also held concert fundraisers in Japan, and in 2018 auctioned a drum set for ¥6 million to fund the Japanese Red Cross.
IU (Lee Ji eun), 26
Singer, Actress | South Korea
The youngest to make the list, the singer-actress, who goes by her stage name IU, has given a total of 900 million won ($800,000) to a variety of causes since 2018. This April she donated to Gangwon Province to help fund relief efforts after a massive forest fire left nearly 4,200 people homeless. She was the first of many celebrities, including fellow K-pop stars PSY and Suzy Bae, to donate to that cause.
In March, she made a donation to the Seoul Association of the Deaf after starring in a drama series that highlighted the lives of deaf and speech-impaired individuals. In May, she donated to Childcare Korea, an organization that serves underprivileged children. IU, who grew up poor, has made annual donations of 300 million won to 500 million won to various charities for the past five years.
Hans Sy, 64
Chairman of the Executive Committee and Director, SM Prime | Philippines
Child Haus in July opened its newly renovated and expanded center in Quezon City to house 40 cancer-stricken children and their caregivers. Sy, previously CEO of property firm SM Prime, paid $400,000 in 2010 for the property, which now provides poor provincial families with temporary shelter, as well as programs and activities that promote healing.
On his 60th birthday in 2015, Sy bought the land for Child Haus’ first location in Manila for $600,000 and paid $1.4 million to build it. Opened in 2017, he still covers its operating expenses. Sy’s associates have become cosponsors and provide Child Haus with additional financial support and in-kind contributions.
Chuchat Petaumpai, 66
Chairman of the Executive Committee, Muangthai Capital | Thailand
Daonapa Petampai, 66
Managing Director, Muangthai Capital | Thailand
The husband and wife duo this year made their largest single contribution to healthcare in Thailand, donating roughly $2.7 million to Bangkok’s Thammasat University Hospital to construct an outpatient building for its radiology department, which will include X-ray, MRI and related services.
The couple’s Muangthai Capital is one of Thailand’s biggest consumer finance companies. Last year they donated $1.7 million to Khirimat Hospital in Sukhothai. The couple began donating multimillion-dollar sums to healthcare centers throughout Thailand in 2015, shortly after taking their company public.
You Zhonghui, 57
Chairman, Fortune High Investment Group; Chairman, Seaskyland Technologies | China
You has committed $1.4 million through her Fortune High Investment, an educational assessment services group of which she owns 81%, to renovate a boarding school in China’s Guizhou province. The donation is being made through the Sun Yat-sen Fraternity Foundation, which will also administer it. You gave $140,000 in 2017 to upgrade a wildlife rescue station for black snub-nosed monkeys in Guizhou’s Fanjingshan National Reserve. The same year she became the first woman from China to sign the Giving Pledge created by Bill Gates, Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.
Marcus Blackmore, 74
Executive Director, Blackmores | Australia
Blackmore donated A$10 million ($7.2 million) last November to Australia’s Southern Cross University to establish a National Center for Naturopathic Medicine. It was the single largest donation the university had ever received and will be used to support higher education and research. “We have a responsibility to respond to the growing healthcare needs of Australia, and evidence-based natural medicine will play an increasingly active role in that response,” Blackmore says.
His Southern Cross donation follows a similar one in 2017 to the National Institute of Complementary Medicine at Western Sydney University and a A$1.3 million donation in 2015 to establish a chair in integrative medicine at the University of Sydney. Blackmore owns a 23% stake in the Blackmores health supplements group that his father, Maurice, founded in the 1930s.
Belinda Tanoto, 34
Director, Royal Golden Eagle | Indonesia
Anderson Tanoto, 30
Director, Royal Golden Eagle | Indonesia
The Tanoto siblings lead their family’s philanthropy through the Tanoto Foundation. The family this year donated $16.7 million, up 30% from 2018, primarily to support and provide education for all, from early childhood to university. It also aims to prevent stunted growth in Indonesia’s children—which afflicts an estimated 10 million of the country’s youth. Of the two, Belinda is the most actively involved in the foundation and focuses primarily on early childhood development.
The foundation has so far trained 15,000 teachers and funded nearly 7,500 university scholarships. The Tanotos own Royal Golden Eagle, which holds interests in various companies across Asia. Their parents, Sukanto and Tinah Bingei Tanoto, started giving to philanthropic causes in the 1980s.
The family’s efforts have since expanded as far as China, where the foundation offers training to parents in rural areas. In Singapore, the foundation supports research on diseases prevalent in Asia. Separately, Anderson devotes about a fifth of his time to the foundation’s leadership training programs and its support of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.
Toh Soon Huat, 59
Executive Chairman, Sian Chay Medical Institution | Singapore
Toh, an entrepreneur turned full-time philanthropist, has given away nearly S$4 million ($2.9 million), primarily to provide traditional Chinese medicine to the underprivileged and elderly, with almost S$300,000 of that donated since 2018. As executive chairman of the Sian Chay Medical Institution, an unpaid position, Toh has expanded the 118-year-old institution from a single clinic serving 26 patients a day to 15 clinics serving roughly 1,100 patients daily across Singapore.
The son of a taxi driver, Toh started his furniture brand Novena in 1984 and in 2000 listed it on the Singapore Exchange. He sold his roughly 28% stake in 2009 for S$8.5 million; his wife Lee Kek Choo sold her minority stake between 2011 to 2013 for a total of roughly S$3.1 million.
Liu Daoming, 62
Chairman and Owner, Myhome Real Estate Development Group | China
Liu and his wife Wang Ping last year pledged $11 million to the Myhome Community Volunteer Philanthropic Foundation in China’s Hubei Province. The couple set up the foundation in 2016 with a $3 million endowment to help senior citizens volunteer for community services in their area of expertise: for example, retired teachers tutor children and former medical professionals offer free healthcare lectures.
A total of 11,000 volunteers have so far spent nearly 310,000 hours in the foundation’s programs. Liu’s Myhome property group is a publicly listed company that had 2.5 billion yuan ($350 million) in revenue last year. This year, Liu signed the Giving Pledge.
Kathy Xu, 52
Founding Partner, Capital Today | Hong Kong
Venture capitalist Xu gave $4 million late last year to her alma mater Nanjing University to endow the Kathy Xu Artificial Intelligence Development Fund, which aims to recruit top talent and advance the field of artificial intelligence.
Her previous donations include $6 million since 2010 for scholarships at the university. Among them is an award established in 2015 that gives up to $60,000, the largest scholarship the university offers, to an undergraduate to go overseas to study science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. Xu, who graduated from the university in 1988, founded Capital Today in 2005 and now manages $2.5 billion in funds that invest in China-based startups.
Bill Bensley, 60
Founder and Owner, Bensley Design Studio | Thailand
Bill Bensley, the owner and operator of an eponymous architecture firm with offices in Bangkok and Bali, is a well-known designer of upscale resorts in Asia. Last year, he opened Shinta Mani Wild, a luxurious jungle retreat in southern Cambodia, to serve as a charitable operation. “This is one of the last untouched areas in Cambodia. I wanted to protect, and also share it,” he says. “People can come and see just why we must save it.”
Bensley has spent $15 million since 2010 to buy and develop 400 hectares of riverside property for Shinta Mani Wild, with all profits from the resort to be donated to Wildlife Alliance, a conservation group battling poachers and logging in an adjoining rainforest abounding with elephants and other rare wildlife.
The American architect has lived for three decades in Bangkok. He has designed about 200 properties, including the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle in northern Thailand, the Capella Ubud in Bali, the InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula in Vietnam and the new Rosewood Luang Prabang in Laos. But Shinta Mani Wild is part of his own Bensley Collection of upscale boutique inns.
Bensley has long been giving back in Cambodia. Bensley’s donations are all made through the Shinta Mani Foundation, which Cambodian hotel and restaurant entrepreneur Sokoun Chanpreda created in 2004. The foundation has given more than $850,000 to build 1,600 wells and more than 100 homes, and has provided over 12,000 bicycles to locals. Additional contributions from him and others have provided 15,000 dental checkups and teeth cleanings for needy children in the country.
Shinta Mani Wild tries to support Wildlife Alliance with more than money: guests can join nature walks with rangers in a protected forest showcasing what’s at stake. The foundation provides support for the rangers, and the resort has also built a ranger station for their use. Bensley’s latest brainchild: a collection of Wildlife Alliance outdoor gear he has designed and launched this year, with all proceeds going to the conservation group.
Shigenobu Nagamori, 75
Founder, Chairman and CEO, Nidec | Japan
Nagamori in August 2018 donated ¥3.2 billion ($29 million) to build a new community center in Muko, the city where he grew up. The center has a 500-seat concert hall, but can also be used in emergencies to shelter about 750 people and provide bathing, cooking and sleeping facilities. “Instead of being delighted with the fat bank account that fate has given me, I’ve decided to use that money to help where there are true needs,” he said during a news conference to announce the donation. Nagamori’s Nidec, which is based in the city of Kyoto, is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of motors for hard disks and optical drives.
Nagamori has to date donated at least ¥20 billion toward educational and healthcare initiatives. His other recent gifts include funds to build an engineering school and a cancer research center, both in Kyoto.
Ronald Chao, 80
Vice Chairman and Director, Novel Enterprises | Hong Kong
Chao’s Bai Xian Asia Institute has handed out at least 85 scholarships to Asian students this year, each up to $25,000, to study at universities in China and Japan. The funding for these scholarships comes primarily from a $100 million endowment Chao made in 2014 to establish the education-focused institute. The institute has four other founders, who donated a combined $10 million. Chao is its honorary chairman, his daughter Ronna is a cofounder and CEO and brother Silas Chou sits on its advisory council. Chao made his fortune from the family’s textile business, Novel Enterprises, which started as an unbranded supplier of clothing and then moved into branded merchandise, developing both Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors into major brands.
A lifelong believer in international education, he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Tokyo in 1962 and a master’s in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois in 1964. The experience, he says, helped him realize the importance of cross-border relationships. To date, the institute has awarded 480 scholarships to students from 25 Asian countries and territories.
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, 66
Chairman and Managing Director, Biocon | India
John Shaw, 70
Vice Chairman, Biocon | India
Biotech entrepreneur Mazumdar-Shaw and her husband in July donated $7.5 million to the University of Glasgow, the largest single donation the university has received. Shaw, his brother and late mother are alumni. Two-thirds of the grant is earmarked for a research hub to be called Shaw Plaza. The remainder will endow a professorial chair in precision oncology. The couple also pledged $2 million recently to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York to establish the Mazumdar-Shaw International Clinical Fellowships.
Mazumdar-Shaw, who signed the Giving Pledge in 2016, has also given $3.5 million to Krea University, a new liberal arts university in southern India. “I remain committed to continue making a difference through philanthropy,” she says.
Rita Tong Liu, 71
Chairman, Gale Well Group | Hong Kong
A devout Catholic, Liu marked her 70th birthday in June last year by giving HK$80 million ($10 million) to the Catholic-run Caritas Institute of Higher Education through her family’s L&T Charitable Foundation. The funds will be used to help the school evolve into Hong Kong’s first Catholic university. The Institute has named its school of business and hospitality management after Liu and its school of social sciences after her mother, Felizberta Lo Padilla Tong. Liu, who founded property developer Gale Well Group in 1976, is Hong Kong’s fourth-richest woman. She set up L&T in 2003 and in 2015 established the Rita T. Liu Foundation, both of which have donated a combined HK$400 million over the years to causes such as cultural heritage conservation, medical research, and women’s rights.
Thippaporn Ahriyavraromp, 51
Founder and Group CEO, DT Group of Companies (DTGO) | Thailand
The daughter of Thai billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont, Thippaporn has been a lifelong champion of philanthropy and is devoted to causes in education, the environment and healthcare. She channels 2% of the revenues from her privately held investment group, DTGO, to the education-focused Buddharaksa Foundation, which she started in 2002, and to her family’s Dhanin Tawee Chearavanont Foundation, which she chairs.
Last year, Thippaporn and her husband Jwanwat Ahriyavraromp founded the Blue Carbon Society, an environmental group focused on protecting Thailand’s mangroves. Mangroves can be critical in fighting against climate change, the group notes, as they absorb greenhouse gases up to four times faster than land-based forests. Blue Carbon signed an agreement in August with the United Nations Development Program to protect 24 square kilometers of mangroves southwest of Bangkok. The couple will donate $350,000 to fund the three-year project.
“People say I am one of the richest people in China, but I don’t think it is my money,” says Jack Ma. “It is money that people have entrusted to you, and you want to spend it in a better, smarter way.” Ma is explaining his new focus, philanthropy, in an exclusive interview with Forbes Asia in October. Having spent the last two decades building Alibaba Group, the Hangzhou, China-based internet giant, Ma announced just over a year ago he would step aside and give his executive chairman title to Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang.
“I will devote more time and effort to education, philanthropy and the environment,” he wrote in an open letter to shareholders (and the world). It was a transition that Ma had planned for a decade. “When Alibaba had its ten-year anniversary, on that day I started to think I should prepare for my retirement. That day, I decided on the day of the 20-year anniversary, September 10, 2019, will be the day I leave,” he said to Steve Forbes during the Forbes Global CEO Conference held in Singapore in October, just after receiving the Malcolm S. Forbes Lifetime Achievement award.
Now, having just turned 55, Ma is entering a new chapter in his career—but one in which he already has considerable experience. Alibaba, for example, has long had CSR programs. In 2006, Alibaba launched its first organized philanthropy to help underprivileged mothers in China, dubbed the model mother program. To date, some 20,000 mothers have gotten free training and funding to become online entrepreneurs.
Jack Ma (circled), with fellow employees in Alibaba’s early days
Courtesy of Alibaba Group
The company made a major commitment in 2010, when Alibaba started to donate 0.3% of its revenues to philanthropy. Two years later, it established the Alibaba Foundation to manage its philanthropic efforts. With $56 billion in revenues for the 2019 fiscal year, 0.3% would be $168 million (Alibaba doesn’t disclose the actual figure).
Ma’s personal philanthropy started in 2014, when he set up the Jack Ma Foundation. In April that year, about six months before Alibaba’s IPO on the New York Stock Exchange, Ma set aside options representing 35 million shares to be put into his foundation. Today the Jack Ma Foundation has 23 million Alibaba shares, worth about $4.6 billion.
Since its founding, the Jack Ma Foundation by itself has already distributed or pledged at least $300 million, according to figures from Alibaba. This year, for example, the foundation pledged about $14 million to protect wetlands in Hangzhou. The majority of funding for its projects comes from the foundation, however, it does accept small outside donations to help in some projects.
In addition, it also joined with the Alipay Foundation and Joe Tsai Foundation in a ten-year, $143 million pledge to support the development of women’s soccer in China (the Alipay Foundation is part of Alibaba’s affiliated Ant Financial and the Joe Tsai Foundation is funded by Alibaba Group cofounder Joe Tsai).
More on Forbes:Asia’s 2019 Heroes Of Philanthropy: Catalysts For Change
Aside from China, the foundation has helped causes in Africa, Australia and the Middle East. Ma wants his foundation to have maximum impact. “Philanthropy is also about efficiency. If you can spend $3, why spend $5? If you can finish it in two hours, why do four hours? The way I learned how to run a company, that is the way I learned how to run a philanthropic organization,” he says.
Ma also wants to encourage the spirit of philanthropy in others. “The world won’t change because you donate money, but it will change if your heart is changed. You can never save all the poor people and heal all the illness, but we can wake up the kindness inside everyone in the world,” he said in a 2016 philanthropy conference held in Hangzhou that Alibaba sponsored.
Steve Forbes handing the Malcolm S. Forbes Lifetime Achievement award to Jack Ma at the Forbes… [+] Global CEO Conference held in Singapore in October
China will be, for now, Ma’s core focus. The former teacher has a special interest in improving education in his country’s rural and impoverished areas, and his foundation has already pledged at least $75 million to training teachers and headmasters, along with other educational efforts.
While philanthropy is on the rise in China, Ma says much more can be done. One reason for his China focus is that he wants to develop and test ideas first in China that he can then apply elsewhere. Another motivation is his belief that China, as the world’s second largest economy, can do more. “China has a great culture of charity, but China needs to build up the culture of philanthropy,” says Ma. He’d like to develop academic programs in China on philanthropy. “I want to develop a course with a university [in China] to train people in how to do philanthropy,” he says. As he said at the Forbes Global CEO conference: “I believe China one day [will have] hundreds of thousands of businesspeople who will build up their own charities or philanthropy foundations.”
Others share his view. “Asian philanthropists, particularly those in China, are still waiting, with great anticipation, to see what Jack Ma will do with his philanthropy. He has an extraordinary opportunity to be a leader and role model in the field,” says Laurence Lien, CEO of the Singapore-based Asia Philanthropy Circle, in emailed comments.
Ma says he also hopes to do more to support women’s causes. “The secret sauce of Alibaba success is that 34% of the senior leadership of Alibaba are women, and almost 47% of employees are women,” Ma said on stage in Singapore. “I have a lot of powerful women standing behind me, and I’m always thankful for them.”
So what will Ma do next as a philanthropist? First, he’ll do some research—as he wrote in last year’s open letter: “While I will not allow myself to sit idle, this time, I will be able to spend time on choosing interesting and meaningful causes that I can be passionate about.” He elaborated on this in his interview: “I am not in a hurry, I want to spend a year traveling around to many countries, talking to the ministers of education, talking to schools, talking to teachers, and talking to those who have great ideas.”
In November, Ma went to Ghana to be one of the judges in the first-ever African Netpreneur awards, sponsored by his foundation. The proceedings were broadcast across the continent as the Africa’s Business Heroes show, which was meant to inspire entrepreneurship in Africa. “If we can discover and help more Jack Mas, more Bill Gates, more Warren Buffetts, Africa will be different,” says Ma.
The Jack Ma Foundation still has only one office and less than 30 full-time staff. This may seem small, but recall in 2000, when Alibaba had only 150 employees, Ma declared to Forbes his intention to make Alibaba one of the world’s top ten websites. When asked where the Jack Ma Foundation will be in five years, Ma appears to be already planning ahead: “It will be a respected organization that is doing things in an efficient way.”
A World of Worthy Causes
Here are seven examples of causes funded by the Jack Ma Foundation. Only one, women’s soccer in China, is not wholly funded by the foundation. The other six have received an estimated total of $212 million, either pledged or already distributed. The year when each initiative was launched is included below.
1. Wetland protection
Funding: $14 million
The funds will go to research and protection of the Xixi National Wetland Park in Hangzhou. Launched in 2019.
2. Women’s soccer in China
Sponsors: Alipay Foundation, Jack Ma Foundation and Joe Tsai Foundation
Funding: $143 million
A partnership of three foundations to support the development of women’s soccer in China over ten years.
3. Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative
Funding: $100 million
A total of 100 African entrepreneurs with receive $100 million over ten years. Nigerian medical supply startup LifeBank won the top prize among ten contestants in an award ceremony held in November.
4. Queen Rania Foundation
Location: Middle East
Funding: $3 million
Run by Jordan’s Queen Rania, the foundation got $3 million to supports educational initiatives in the Middle East, including Edraak, a free online education platform offered by the foundation.
5. Teacher talent in China
Funding: $45 million
A ten-year program to train and develop teachers in rural China.
6. Ma & Morley scholarship, University of Newcastle
Funding: $20 million
The scholarship is named after Newcastle resident Australian Ken Morley (who died in 2004). Ma first met Morley in 1980 in Hangzhou, and they had a decades-long friendship. The scholarship helps 20 students each year with expenses, while another 10 get a 12-day immersion program in China.
7. Rural education in China
Funding: $30 million
A ten-year program to help train headmasters and educational leaders in rural China.