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Investing The Spoils Of Success

   
The Forbes Global Life: Investing the spoils of success

"However, in the East, business is dominated by the Chinese enterprises-by definition family businesses. It is a collective effort passed from one generation to another. These businesses are indeed family fortresses and therefore leaves very little room for self-indulgence. This philosophy fits well with my Christian faith as I feel I am just a steward of God’s wealth."

I am flattered to be invited to speak on this panel. It presumes either I am rich or I am responsible or even better I am both. In the West commercial success tends to be more individualistic – personified by Bill Gates and Richard Branson and because of this an air of flamboyance (Richard Branson’s balloon adventures) is often associated with these individuals.

However in the East business is dominated by the Chinese enterprises-by definition family businesses. It is a collective effort passed from one generation to another. These businesses are indeed family fortresses and therefore leaves very little room for self-indulgence. This philosophy fits well with my Christian faith as I feel I am just a steward of God’s wealth.

So when I think of investing wealth it is not about private or personal wealth so the Chinese part of me mandates that I reinvest to expand the business for future generations, it’s a case of noblesse oblige. The Christian part of me mandates that I reinvest the wealth for the betterment of life and also for the preservation of culture, it’s a case of the heart.

My presence here today forces me to reflect on how well I have lived up to this stewardship and I shall run through the various apparently ‘flamboyant’ adventures that I have invested and you are the best judge on how well or badly I have done.

Much has been written about the island I own called Pangkor Laut. Some even accuse me of owning four private islands. Commercially Pangkor Laut has been a success, being voted the second best island in the world by discerning travelers who took part in the Condé Nast Traveller magazine poll recently. Indeed Luciano Pavarotti officially opened a fabulous new spa at the island just a fortnight ago thus enhancing the long-term commercial viability of this investment.

However Pavarotti was in Pangkor Laut for a nobler reason; he was there as an UN Peace Ambassador. His Concert for Peace was held in conjunction with the Asian Global Peace Forum an event very close to my heart. This event was held in commemoration of the tragedy of September 11th and the powerful messages that touched the hearts of many present were paradise simply cannot exist without peace and the tragedy of September 11th must never be repeated.

When I reflect on our investment in the famous Eastern and Oriental Express train I recall that much has been written about my penchant for trains as toys since I was three. This is a myth. Anybody who has journeyed on this train will agree that this is one of the most beautiful trains in the world. The genesis of this project came from the convergence of the frustration of our prime minister Dr Mahathir who laments constantly about Kuala Lumpur being unknown compared to Singapore and Bangkok, the visionary Jim Sherwood who operates the Venice-Simplon Express train in Europe and a gung-ho investor like me. Since the launch in 1993 this beautiful train has been patronized by glitteratis from around the globe.

Ten years later, the world now knows that Thailand and Singapore are neighbours to Malaysia. This train however is not a money spinner but I do make a “Chinese” profit while I have not received any dividends, the project does not call for more cash to stem losses. Not many people know my other favourite train is the Express Rail Link that runs from the airport to the city. It promises to be a profitable investment. This other express lives up to its name, it runs at a speedy 160 km per hour and I pray that the returns to our investment will be equally speedy.

What about my investments in art? I believe art and music are alternative powerful mediums of expression so we encourage developments in both. I have a small art gallery in my even smaller house. Among the paintings I collect are paintings of my two favourite virgins, Virgin Mary and Virgin Theresa. The former is the Mother of Christ and latter is the Catholic Mother Theresa. While I love art, I love the artists even more. My favourite project is the Art Colony in the swanky Starhill Shopping Centre. Many of the local and immensely talented artists get to display and sell their paintings at their own price to their collectors. I charge them no rent but share a nominal percentage of their sales, this has worked well for both the collectors and the artists and also for me.

What about my investments in wine? Now this is an easy investment. My faith tells me that turning water to wine was Jesus’s very first miracle and we were reminded He made the greatest of wines on that occasion. I have a small cellar again in my even smaller house and I collect mostly Mouton Rothschilds because of my love of paintings on their labels. Also I have kept a few bottles as presents for my children’s wedding day. They will be vintages by then. My favourite year is of course 1982, the year of my marriage. I understand the 1982 Mouton Rothschilds is now a very valuable vintage and my wife tells me our marriage also promises to be so.

But seriously our most valuable wine collection is housed in our restaurant called Shook! It houses the uninterrupted collection of Mouton Rothschilds from 1945 to 2000. Shook was voted the best restaurant in the city and this wine collection has appreciated in value so much in the last three years that it is keeping pace with the operational profits of the restaurant.

Finally we invested in two helicopters. They are mostly used for corporate purposes to visit our power plants, cement plants and our other infrastructure assets. Sometimes they are used as capitalist tools to impress some important clients and to showcase some of our capabilities. But I have a confession to make, I am a helicopter pilot so whether this investment is a necessity or an indulgence, I completely leave it to you to judge. Due to the devaluation of the Ringgit against the US Dollar since 1997, these investments even look great, so maybe indulgence sometimes pays!

God bless you and thank you for listening to me.

Speech delivered by Tan Sri Francis Yeoh, Group MD of YTL Corporation
Forbes Global CEO Conference
25 September 2002
Hong Kong




   
Forbes Global CEO Conference Presentation Slides, Hong Kong, 25 Sept 2002
Back
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  23 October 2017
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  21 October 2017
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'Dad was quiet, humble yet had true grit'  
 
  23 October 2017
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