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The Top 50: Asia's richest families

Indian clans make up over a third of this year's rarefied realm

Published: Dec 17, 2016 06:03:11 AM IST
Updated: Dec 15, 2016 05:31:26 PM IST

The Top 50: Asia's richest familiesPainting a pretty fortune: India's Kuldip Singh and Gurbachan Singh Dhingra
Image: Amit Verma


One country stands out on Asia’s 50 Richest Families but not one industry. Among just the top five families, business interests span technology, livestock producers, real estate, and oil and gas. While the top 50 are rooted in Asia, their conglomerates have worldwide footprints. Collectively, they are worth $519 billion.

Seventeen of the top 50 families hail from India, as do three of this year’s four newcomers. Each climbed to the ranks from a different industry. The Piramal family, whose business interests range from real estate to health care, saw shares of its Piramal Enterprises soar more than 80 percent in the past 12 months on news that it’s considering creating a financial services listed entity. The Singh family, whose wealth was built on real estate, saw its Bombay Stock Exchange-listed DLF stock rise nearly 25 percent, in spite of a sluggish property market, on news that the group plans to sell its stake in a valuable rental arm to institutional investors. Finally, the Dhingra family makes its debut on the list thanks to its Kolkata-based Berger Paints India, the country’s second-largest paint maker, whose shares surged over 60 percent in the last 12 months after a reported spike in net profit in the latest quarter.

To qualify for the list, participation in building a fortune has to extend to at least three generations. The importance of succession planning is paramount and especially evident upon the death of the originator of the family’s wealth. Two patriarchs died in the past year. In September, Cheng Yu-tung, founder of one of Hong Kong’s largest conglomerates, died at age 91. By 2012, he’d already installed his eldest son, Henry, as chairman and executive director of family-controlled jeweller Chow Tai Fook and conglomerate New World. Last November, Brijmohan Lall Munjal, founder of India’s biggest motorcycle maker, Hero MotoCorp, died at age 92. He’d handed over operational charge to his sons, Pawan and Sunil, years ago. Pawan took the reins last June when Munjal retired as chairman. Sunil and Pawan parted ways this year.

This year, the net-worth cutoff to make the list was $3.4 billion—$500 million more than last year. Among the four families dropping off the list is the Hamied clan from India. Its generics maker, Cipla, took a hit, partly reflecting a cut in drug prices by the government, which caused shares to fall.

(This story appears in the 23 December, 2016 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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