Succession concerns loom over Tiong’s empire

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KUALA LUMPUR (April 22): The Edge weekly in its latest edition looks at the growth story of Tan Sri Tiong Hiew King, the self-made Sarawak timber and media baron ranked by Forbes as Malaysia’s ninth richest man with a fortune of US$2 billion (RM9 billion) and the succession plan for his empire.

In its cover story, the Edge’s Liew Jia Teng wrote that born to a poor family in Sibu, a Foochow town in Sarawak, in 1935, Tiong had to tap rubber when he was young. He started his working life at his uncle's timber company.

The magazine said Tiong went on to set up Rimbunan Hijau Group in 1975 when he was 40, and over the past four decades, built up an Asian conglomerate with businesses spanning timber exports and processing, media and publishing, oil palm plantations and mills, and oil and gas.

Rimbunan Hijau is also involved in mining, aquaculture, information technology, trading and property development, among others.

Tiong controls four major listed companies on Bursa Malaysia, namely Media Chinese International Ltd (MCIL), Rimbunan Sawit Bhd, Jaya Tiasa Holdings Bhd and Subur Tiasa Holdings Bhd, which have market capitalisations of RM1.06 billion, RM687.97 million, RM1.14 billion and RM252.08 million, respectively.

The Edge said MCIL, which is dual listed on Bursa Malaysia and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, controls the four mainstream Chinese daily newspapers in Malaysia — Sin Chew Daily, China Press, Guang Ming Daily and Nanyang Siang Pau.

Rimbunan Hijau controls hundreds of listed and non-listed subsidiaries, among them, RH Petrogas Ltd, a Singapore-listed oil and gas firm.

The weekly said that geographically, Tiong’s sprawling business empire spans six continents, with operations in Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and the Solomon Islands. Outside Asia, the group has businesses in Australia, Russia, Congo, Brazil, Canada and the US. Tiong also has investments in Qinzhou, Shanghai, Harbin and Guangzhou in China.

According to Forbes, his most valuable asset is New Zealand-based, privately held Oregon Group, with businesses that range from developing housing projects and hotels and harvesting salmon and logs to manufacturing plastic containers.

But it is Rimbunan Hijau that has elevated Tiong’s profile and standing in the Chinese business community in Malaysia and Asia.

Whenever Tiong wears a suit, he invariably uses a green tie — a mark of his pride in Rimbunan Hijau, which, in Mandarin, translates as “forever green” and symbolises perpetual success.

But Tiong is now 82, and there are four things about the future of the group that could be keeping him awake at night, say those who follow him and his businesses closely.

The Edge said while Tiong’s wealth may still be growing rapidly, but certain quarters point out that the political influence and power he wielded through his Chinese newspapers in Malaysia have been on the decline in recent years.

For the full story on Tiong’s legacy going forward, read The Edge for the week of April 24  - April 30 available at newsstands now.