While Singapore has a fair share of ultra-wealthy family dynasties and heirs to billion dollar fortunes, there are few stories between rags and riches.
It's not easy to compete with the big guys, especially when you come out of nowhere yourself.
Over the past few decades, however, several enterprising Singaporeans have steadily risen into the ranks of the ultra-rich, despite their humble origins.
Born into impoverished households, these entrepreneurs built wealth with scarce resources relying on their skills, wits, and luck to survive.
Here are seven tycoons with outstanding stories from rags to riches who have now made it to the 50 richest in Singapore:
Zhang Yong and Shu Ping, Haidilao
Photo credit: Forbes
Zhang Yong was born in 1969 in Jianyang, a rural province in Sichuan, China. The school dropout used to work as a welder in a government-run tractor factory and didn't visit his first restaurant until he was 19.
However, the experience was disappointing as he was served poor customer service and nondescript food.
After Zhang Yong was denied a company apartment for himself and his then-fiancé Shu Ping (now wife), he decided to open his own restaurant to offer customers an unforgettable dining experience.
In 1994, he first opened a four-table restaurant called Haidilao, which offered its customers free services such as manicures and snack platters.
It soon became the city's largest hotpot restaurant and began to expand rapidly. By 2013, Haidilao opened its first overseas office in Los Angeles.
Today, Haidilao has sales of $ 3.8 billion in its 768 restaurants worldwide. Zhang Yong and his wife were also named the richest in Singapore that year, with a total net worth of $ 19 billion.
Goh Cheng Liang, Wuthelam Holdings
Image Credit: Billionaire Moniter
Goh Cheng Liang was born into a family of seven who lived in a room they rented for S $ 3 a month in a commercial building on River Valley Road.
His father was unemployed and his mother did laundry. When World War II broke out, Goh was sent to Malaya to help his brother-in-law sell fishing nets.
When he returned to Singapore, Goh was selling carbonated water, a business that failed and burned his lean capital. In 1945 he became a seller at Tan Chong Huat Hardware.
His big break came in 1949 when he bought several barrels of rotten paint from the British Army auction and experimented with them.
He later started a paint manufacturing company called Pigeon Paint, which flourished when import restrictions were introduced after the Korean War.
In 1950, Goh founded his first paint shop in Singapore and acquired the main distribution rights for Nippon Paint. In 1962 he founded the Nipsea Group in cooperation with the Japanese paint giant and Wuthelam Holdings, a closely managed paint and varnish manufacturer.
Today Goh has a net worth of $ 18.7 billion and is considered the third richest man in Singapore. Despite an extensive list of achievements, the billionaire continues to expand his empire to this day.
In 2019, Nippon Paint launched an international acquisition campaign and bought DuluxGroup, Australia's largest paint manufacturer, for $ 2.7 billion. and Betek Boya from Turkey for $ 247 million.
Earlier this year, Goh also secured a majority stake in the Japanese giant for S $ 16.7 billion.
Choo Chong Ngen, Hotel 81
Choo Chong Ngen and his daughter Carolyn, Image / Photo Credit: Forbes
Choo Chong Ngen was born in 1952 and was a Kampong boy from Hougang. He is one of seven children born to a carpenter and a housewife.
Choo started selling ice cream when he was 10 years old to make his own pocket money, and later dropped out of school to become a fishmonger at age 14.
The following year he was paid only S $ 30 a month while working for his neighbor in a textile store. Unsatisfied, the enterprising youngster borrowed S $ 6 and invested S $ 50 that his mother had given him in his own textile business.
He had made his first foray into real estate when he was 21, buying a retail unit for a 10-year bank loan and renting it out for up to S $ 2,000 a month.
He reinvested his earnings and bought over 30 retail units by the age of 30, each asset earning a constant monthly rent. Then, inspired by staying in a cheap Tokyo hotel in 1991, Choo decided to start his own chain of budget hotels.
The entrepreneur bought land in Geylang for S $ 1.5 million and built over 100 units on four lots in the district. This chain of budget hotels became the infamous Red Light District Hotel 81, which was added to Choo's Worldwide Hotels group in 2018.
Worldwide Hotels has expanded to include the budget and mid-range since its inception. It owns 38 hotels in Singapore with hotels in the Asia-Pacific region and plans to expand worldwide.
Today the tycoon is the 14th richest man in Singapore, with a net worth of $ 2.5 billion.
Peter Lim, Diversified Assets
Photo credit: The Independent
Peter Lim and his six siblings were born in 1953 to a fishmonger and a housewife and grew up in a government two-bedroom apartment in Bukit Ho Swee.
Lim was academically excellent, completing his secondary education at Raffles Institution and studying at the University of Western Australia in Perth.
Lim came from a humble background and tried hard to graduate from university. He worked as a taxi driver, cook and waiter in odd jobs. He graduated with a degree in accounting and finance and started his first job as an accountant
Lim got his big break with a number of hugely successful ventures on the stock market, nicknamed the "Remisier King".
In the early 1990s, Lim invested US $ 10 million in the palm oil company Wilmar, which was founded at the time. It paid off at the peak of commodity prices in 2010, selling its Wilmar shares for a whopping $ 1.5 billion.
Today the tycoon is Singapore's 17th richest man, with a net worth of $ 1.95 billion and a diversified wealth of real estate, healthcare and sports.
Lim's empire includes assets such as the Thomson Medical Group in Singapore and the historic Northern Stock Exchange in Manchester.
Ron Sim, OSIM
Image credit: Spiking
Ron Sim was born in 1958 and spent his childhood taking on simple jobs to support his family of nine, including selling wanton noodles and working as a waiter.
Sim graduated with just an O-Level certificate and started working immediately after completing his national service. His first company was founded in 1979 with four partners, but quickly closed.
In 1980, he founded another company on his own, which specialized in the trade in household goods, but which was closed in 1985 due to a recession.
Despite the setback, Sim founded another company in 1985 that specializes in the health and wellness sector. The new company was extremely successful with its selection of Japanese Shiatsu style massage chairs.
Registered as OSIM, the brand began to expand aggressively, following a route through Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, and mainland China in 1993.
OSIM is now one of the world's leading brands for massage chairs and has 413 branches in 88 cities. Today Sim is the 28th richest man in Singapore with a net worth of $ 1.3 billion.
Lim Hock Chee, Sheng Siong
Photo credit: The Star
Lim Hock Chee is famous for being thrifty and was born in 1961 as the fifth of nine children. His father worked first as a fisherman, then as a pig farmer with over 3,000 pigs on a 20,000 square meter farm at the height of the business.
Lim left Chinese high school in secondary school and completed his education in 1976 in a two-year auto mechanics course at Jurong Vocational Institute, now ITE College West.
In 1985, the then successful Cheng Siong pig farm suffered when the government closed the pig farming sector. Lim opened a counter in a Savewell grocery store in Ang Mo Kio to sell his family's surplus of chilled meat.
The entrepreneur and his brothers later bought the outlet for S $ 30,000 with capital that he had borrowed from his father in 1985. The store, renamed Sheng Siong, flourished with its no-frills approach to the supermarket business and offering its customers products at rock bottom prices.
Today, Lim is the 31st richest man in Singapore with a net worth of $ 1.2 billion. Sheng Siong has grown into Singapore's third largest supermarket chain through sales with over 60 stores across the island.
The franchise company has been listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange since 2011 and achieved annual sales of over S $ 890 million in 2018. In 2020, the Lims' total wealth rose 38 percent as Sheng Siong's shares rose amid the pandemic.
Lim Chap Huat, floor assembly
Image credit: sqfeed
Lim Chap Huat was born in 1954 as the third of seven children to a trishaw rider and a washerwoman. He spent the first four years of his life in a wooden hut on the grounds of an old colonial bungalow before the family moved into a one-room apartment.
When he was a child, Lim began to work to support the family. He sold tickets at the National Stadium, cleared rubble on construction sites for S $ 6 a day, and taught for seven years.
Determined to build his own fortune, Lim took S $ 5,000 from his savings to start a construction company, Soilbuild, after the National Service.
Land construction flourished during the real estate boom in the 1980s and entered real estate development in 1981. Unlike other companies that went bust, the company rode the wave of the 1987 financial crisis to buy land in Jalan Haji Alias.
The Soilbuild Group is now one of Singapore's most productive real estate developers and a publicly traded REIT. Notable properties in Soilbuild's extensive portfolio include commercial and residential properties such as The Mezzo and Mandai Connection.
Today Lim is the 39th richest multimillionaire in Singapore, with a net worth of $ 890 million.
Can someone be a billionaire?
Far from being born with a silver spoon, these tycoons have amassed their wealth through hard work and perseverance.
Building an empire that could span multiple countries and employ hundreds if not thousands of workers is definitely not an easy task.
The amount of dedication required to amass a fortune is proportional to its weight in gold. While the dream of topping Singapore's richest list is within the reach of almost anyone, the question is, are you ready to work for it?
Featured Image Source: Asia Tatler / Explore SG / Prestige Hong Kong / Forbes / Vulcan Post