5 Inspiring Life Lessons We Can All Learn From Robert Kuok in Rare Interview
Robert Kuok Hock Nien is a big name in both Malaysia and the world of entrepreneurship. With his business empire spanning across the world, Kuok is the richest man in Malaysia, with a net worth of $15.5 billion (approx. RM58.6 billion), according to Forbes.
Despite having such wealth, Kuok is probably the most humble person you’ll ever meet, which explains why he seldom sheds light in public about his business and personal life. Surprisingly though, Kuok did an interview a few years ago with ‘Dialogue’, and shared some juicy bits of his life journey and business tips with the audience. The interview was done in Mandarin, but we’ve translated it and compiled some of the inspiring facts and nuggets of wisdom for you guys. Enjoy!
1. Kuok isn’t fond of the ‘Sugar King’ nickname because it’s nothing but a man-given fame
Kuok founded the Kuok Brothers Company at age 26 and people began calling him ‘Malaysia’s Sugar King’ when he was 38. Two years later, he went up a level higher and became the ‘Sugar King of Asia’. In the heyday of his sugar business, it was said that he was responsible for 10 per cent of the annual global trade volume of sugar, but Kuok humbly said that the true figure was only 5 per cent.
2. Kuok almost became bankrupt in 1963
Basically, he made a prediction that didn’t turn out in his favour, which caused him a huge financial loss.
“I got too ambitious and stocked up 100,000 to 200,000 tonnes of sugar to cater for the future market. I thought the market would grow and I can make big money, but the market fell sharply in July and August.”
However, things soon picked up for him because a typhoon caused the granulated sugar production in Cuba to become crippled.
“At the end of August, a severe typhoon hit Cuba and caused catastrophic damages to the sugarcane plantations,” Kuok said.
This in turn spiked the international sugar price, and Kuok was able to sell his sugar for a good price again. FYI, Cuba was producing 5.5 million tonnes of sugar annually and was one of the major players in the industry at that time
3. “Success is 90% hard work and knowledge”
For instance, in the sugar business, Kuok studied about the demand, supply, production, consumption, and the shipping process in order to stay on top. Success doesn’t come easy, right?
4. Kuok works FASTER than his competitors
“Once we’ve seen through the situation, our horse must run fast (we must act fast). Because others (competitors) can see it as well.”
“I believe many of my competitors are smarter than me, but their nightlife is a bit chaotic. So, the next day, they would fall asleep on their table and I would not. Therefore, my horse runs faster than theirs (I act faster).”
For example, in April 1973, China was facing a severe shortage of money and sugar. Two Chinese high-level officials from the Ministry of Foreign Trade had secretly asked a favour from Kuok. They needed 300,000 tonnes of sugar, which is equivalent to one million tonne of sugar today. The request had to be kept confidential because if it’s leaked, the insane demand would spike the international sugar price.
Kuok only had small amount of sugar in his inventory at that time, so he sent a few employees to Brazil to buy huge amounts of sugar. At the same time, Kuok registered himself for the upcoming international sugar conference in Geneva, Switzerland to counter the rumours that he’s stocking up sugar in Brazil.
Thanks to his quick thinking and action, he managed to stock up sugar from Brazil, London, New York, and Paris. True enough, the price started rising days after Kuok’s employees signed the contract with the Brazilian government as the news have leaked out.
5. Kuok’s excellent command in English gives him an advantage over his competitors
“I could speak very good English since I was young. The businessmen in London and New York were curious about how a young Chinese man could speak such fluent English. As such, it was easy for me to approach them.”
Time to master English guys!