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Empire builder: Tan Sri Francis Yeoh

   

The Star Online, February 10, 2007

Tan Sri Francis Yeoh
Est net worth: RM6.14bil
Flagship company: YTL Corp Bhd
Core business: Construction, cement, utilities, property development, hotels and malls
Born: 1954

IT HAS been said that the fortunes amassed by the Yeoh Tiong Lay family over the years present a classic example of “first generation wealth being consolidated and grown enormously by a well-nurtured, stewardship-conscious younger generation.” 

Indeed, the family's flagship company YTL Corp Bhd has come a long way from its humble beginnings in general construction to the multifaceted world of infrastructure and regulated concession businesses, locally and abroad.  

Tan Sri Yeoh Tiong Lay, now the group's executive chairman, is credited for the company's rise in the 1960s and 1970s. He built up his father Cheng Liam's construction outfit, which was started in 1955, and is the forerunner of YTL. 

In 1978, he handed over the reins to his eldest son Francis, who was then 24. Stepping into his father's shoes at that age could not have been an easy task but it did not take long for Francis to raise the company's profile and enlarge the family's coffers.  

He took the company public in 1986 and so began YTL Corp's expansion and diversification first from construction into the cement manufacturing business and from thereon into power generation and hotels. 

One of Francis' boldest moves was to venture into the power sector when the government privatised the generation side of the business in the early 1990s.

In other areas too, Francis' business acumen stands out. When the Asian financial crisis hit and while other companies were tottering under massive debts, the YTL group, with its healthy cash hoard found itself in the advantageous position of having the financial muscle to buy up quality assets at fire-sale prices. A prime example is how Francis snapped up the JW Marriott Hotel and two shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur's central business district for US$85mil.


   
Source: Compiled by a local research unit based on information from Bursa Malaysia/annual reports/Bloomberg

In 2000, YTL expanded its footprint with a US$35mil investment in ElectraNet Pty, which operates the state of South Australia's power grid. 

Two years later, Enron Corp’s collapse presented another golden opportunity. The group acquired Britain's Wessex Water Ltd from the beleaguered energy-trading company for US$1.8bil. YTL Corp now has five listed companies in its stable with a combined market capitalisation of over RM25.7bil, as at end December 2006. This has since swelled to about RM28bil.  

After a quiet interlude, when the group focussed on creating value at its subsidiaries, this year promises to be the start of the next exciting growth phase for YTL. “I see 2007 to 2009 as being very good for YTL,” Francis was quoted as saying in an interview early this year. 

Its construction division will very likely see increased activity as projects are rolled out under the Ninth Malaysia Plan this year, most exciting of all is its proposed plan to build a US$3bil bullet train project, linking the city to Singapore.  

– By Darshini M Nathan




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