Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Asia's richest families: Going from strength to strength

A Sy starts a new business; the Ambanis are the new No 1

Published: Dec 19, 2017 11:18:33 AM IST
Updated: Dec 19, 2017 05:29:03 PM IST

Asia's richest families: Going from strength to strengthHenry Sy, owner of SM Prime Holdings and patriarch of the Philipipines' richest family, with wife Felicidad Sy
Image: Romeo Ranoco / Reuters

Asia’s wealthiest business dynasties remain successful by producing new generations that push the company in often surprising directions. But some scions have such an entrepreneurial bent that they need to chart their own path away from the family firm, at least when they’re young.

One example is 29-year-old Howard Sy, a grandson of Henry Sy, the patriarch of the Philippines’ richest family. A former investment analyst, Sy started a 24-hour self-service storage company called StorageMart a year ago, anticipating that the country’s condominium boom would create a demand for storage space. It now operates two facilities in Metro Manila and boasts 100 customers. “It cost me my entire personal life savings... plus three and a half years of my analyst salary,” he says.

The Sy family ranks No 9 on Forbes Asia’s third annual ranking of Asia’s wealthiest business families, with a fortune of $20.1 billion, up 57 percent in a year. Indeed, 43 clans on the 2016 list added to their net worth over the past year. A key reason: Asia’s stock markets jumped 25 percent overall for the year ended October 31, according to the MSCI AC Asia Index. Collectively, the 50 families on our list are worth a record $699 billion, up 35 percent.

No family highlights this surge better than the Ambanis of India, this year’s biggest gainer in dollar and ¬percentage terms. Their net worth rose by $19 billion, to $44.8 billion, superseding the Lees of the Samsung empire to claim the No 1 spot. That perch was always occupied by the South Korean family, which still saw its wealth soar by $11.2 billion.

For the third time, India enjoys the biggest presence in the ranking, with 18 families. Hong Kong follows with nine. Among the six clans making the top 50 for the first time are the Chey family (No 39) of South Korea’s SK Group, known for its wireless service provider, SK Telecom.

The ticket to entry this year is $5 billion, some $1.6 billion more than in 2016. Some families couldn’t keep pace: The Aboitiz clan of the Philippines and the Koos of Taiwan both fall short by small margins.

The list is a snapshot using stock prices and currency-exchange rates as on November 3. Private companies are valued by comparing them with similar companies that are publicly traded. For a family to qualify, at least three generations must have participated in building the fortune.

Additional reporting: Yinan Che, Shu-Ching Jean Chen, Muhammad Cohen, Russell Flannery, Forbes Indonesia, Jane Ho, Naazneen Karmali, Luisa Kroll, Anis Muslimin and Anuradha Raghunathan

(This story appears in the 22 December, 2017 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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