Goh Cheng Liang was born in Singapore in 1928. He is one of the richest people in the city-state thanks to a deal he made with Nippon Paint, one of the biggest paint manufacturers in the world.
Today, he owns the biggest yacht ever built by an Australian shipyard and has a fortune of about $18 billion.
This is a story of how someone who has never been to school became one of the richest people on earth.
Goh was born in a poor family in Singapore at the end of the 1920s.
At the time, Singapore was a struggling island under the British monarchy.
His father was an alcoholic who had no work. His mother was doing the laundry to earn the little money that enabled him and his 4 siblings to live in a one-room house together.
When the war broke out in 1940, Goh’s parents sent him to Muar in Malaysia, to shield him from the Japanese occupation of Singapore. In Muar, he helped a family member sell fishing nets.
After 3 years, he came back to Singapore and tried to sell sparkling water, but failed.
He then went on to work in a hardware store where he acquired a chemical dictionary and stayed there for four years and a half.
In 1949, as Singapore had gained some independence from the Crown in 1946, Goh assisted to an auction organized by the British army.
He bought some spoiled paints with the money saved from the hardware store and with the help of his dictionary, started mixing the paint with other varied chemicals.
He quickly sold the mixture and decided to set up a paint business. That same year, Pigeon Paint was born.
In 1950, the Korean War broke out.
Since imports were restricted, it became much more difficult to find paint in Singapore. As such, Goh’s business boomed.
However, he wasn’t exactly satisfied with the quality of his products, but he didn’t know how to make it better.
After all, Goh had no education whatsoever. So he sought it.
He went to Denmark and learned what he needed to know to make better paint.
He went back to Singapore and the quality of his products rose.
This quickly interested Nippon Paint.
Nippon Paint was one of the biggest paint manufacturers in the world. At the end of the 50s, they were looking for new markets to penetrate and offered Goh Cheng Liang a partnership.
In 1959, Nippon Paint and Goh Cheng Liang built a mixing plant as a joint venture and implemented it in Singapore.
Goh Cheng Liang went on to become one of the biggest paint manufacturers in Asia thanks to his relation with Nippon Paint.
Together, they set up more than 60 factories in more than 15 countries.
In 1974, he founded Wuthelam Holdings to diversify.
He has since bought and grown logistics companies, hotels and resorts, golf courses, mines, electronics shops, trading offices, restaurants, and real estate projects like the Liang Court (a shopping center) and the Mount Elizabeth Hospital.
His biggest move though happened at the end of 2020.
After more than half a century of partnership, Goh Cheng Liang sold his factories against a percentage in Nippon Paint, raising his stake in the company to 58%. His net worth grew by more than $3 billion doing so.
Goh Cheng Liang is a very private person. He rarely gives any interviews and lives quite frugally. His only indulgence is to buy mega-yachts, something normal for someone with his fortune.
Unlike most other billionaires, he also doesn’t take his companies public, stating “he wouldn’t know how to manage them”.
That didn’t prevent him from building enormous wealth.
This story, such as the first and second stories, outlines how Goh Cheng Liang wished to remain in control of his companies.
While taking your company public enables you to make money quickly, it also forces you to give up information and control.
While this has worked well for Amazon and Tesla, it may be wiser to remain in command as much as you can. It worked just fine for Goh Cheng Liang.
It’s also interesting to note that Goh Cheng Liang did not quit his entrepreneurial adventure after his first failure of selling sparkling water.
Rather, he took the opportunity to work in a hardware store to learn what he could.
Had he not done so, maybe he wouldn’t have seen the opportunity to sell paint.
This is proof that any type of knowledge in this world can become valuable if you truly seek to make it so.
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