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Business Week - The Stars of Asia

   
Francis Yeoh
Business Week, 9 June 2003

THE STARS OF ASIA -- ENTREPRENEURS

Francis Yeoh
Chief Executive, YTL, Malaysia

Before the financial crisis of 1997, many wondered whether Francis Yeoh was a good businessman or just had good connections. They don't anymore. Yeoh started out as one of a crowd of Malaysian tycoons surrounding Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. He had inherited his father's company and in 1986 took it public as YTL Corp. With help from friends in both government and business, who shared his enthusiasm for vintage French wine and lavish parties featuring special guests such as Luciano Pavarotti, Yeoh expanded and diversified -- first from construction into cement, then into hotels and power generation.

But when the Asian crisis hit, it was Yeoh's safe-and-smart business sense that made him stand out from the crowd. Unlike his peers, he had little dollar-denominated debt. So instead of running to Mahathir for a bailout, as many others did, he was able to buy up properties from cash-strapped companies, first in Malaysia and then around the world. Today YTL is one of Malaysia's strongest and most international companies -- and 48-year-old Yeoh one of its most respected business leaders.

   
Yeoh started building up his portfolio in 1997, when overleveraged Malaysian investors sold YTL a Marriott luxury hotel and two upmarket shopping centers at the bargain-basement price of $85 million. In 2000, YTL took a big step abroad with a $35 million investment in ElectraNet, which operates the state of South Australia's power grid.

Then last year, opportunity knocked again when Enron collapsed. YTL acquired Britain's Wessex Water Ltd. from the troubled American energy-trading company for $1.8 billion. The deal was tarnished by rumors that YTL had bribed Wessex management, but the company was never charged, and London police failed to turn up any evidence of wrongdoing. "Enron went bust, but we are assured of profit," Yeoh boasts. "These [deals] are no-brainers for us."

Today, more than half of YTL's revenue comes from outside Malaysia. Sales surged 57% during the nine months through Mar. 31, to $776 million, and net profit rose 45%, to $97 million. The company is sitting on $1.5 billion in cash and has only $842 million in debt. With those numbers, Yeoh is still standing out from the crowd.



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