Family is at the core of many of Asia’s biggest and most far-flung conglomerates and some of its best-known brands. Perhaps no clan better illustrates this than the Lees of Samsung Group, whose 2014 revenues were equivalent to 22 percent of South Korea’s GDP. While few dominate to such an extent, many business dynasties hold wide regional sway with their sprawling, cross-border empires.
To recognise this prominence, and also as a nod to the succession and operational challenges, Forbes has compiled its first list of the 50 Richest Families in Asia. To qualify, a family’s wealth and participation in building that fortune has to extend at least three generations. Thus some of the region’s biggest patriarchal positions, such as the one originated by Hong Kong’s Li Ka-shing, are absent in this inaugural ranking. Though Li’s sons are active in business, no grandchildren have yet taken serious roles.
While most on our list have kept their flock together over generations, the 50 also includes those who’ve gone separate ways in business or are entirely estranged. For example, India’s Ambani family combines the wealth of brothers Mukesh and Anil, who inherited most of their father’s fortune on his death in 2002 but opted to do business (and much else) separately. Indians hold 14 of the 50 spots, easily the most from any jurisdiction.
To compile the list, we sifted through information on 500-plus families and valued dozens. In the end, a $2.9 billion net worth was needed to qualify. The valuations are based on stock prices and exchange rates on September 25. Many of the family businesses are publicly traded, and although the families may retain control, they are still answerable to outside shareholders. Some, such as India’s Burmans, profiled on page 116, have brought in professional managers, but generational handoffs can sometimes still be an issue.
Nearly half of the richest families in Asia are of Chinese descent, yet none of the inaugural 50 is based in the mainland, where conglomerates are young, run by the first generation able to muster billions of dollars in wealth in an open economy. There and elsewhere the challenge will be to keep wealth in the family while also keeping it growing.
Click here to see the full list of Asia's Richest Families
(This story appears in the 13 November, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)