Wealthy and pragmatic

Wealth Magazine by The Business Times

BY any private banker's reckoning, he is ultra wealthy. But Liew Mun Leong has this to say of his wealth: "I never think of wealth as anything that is important in my life. I always tell people I never think of becoming a CEO, I never think of becoming a millionaire in my life. I think of survival."

Indeed, he tells Wealth in a recent interview at his Changi Airport Group (CAG) office where he is chairman: "As long as I can survive and live reasonably well, and loved ones are attended to, that is enough for me. I never take wealth as a driving force in my life, never. Once you are driven too much by wealth, you may not be a wholesome person."

Ironic words from someone who set a record for being the highest paid chief executive officer in corporate Singapore when his salary in 2007 topped $20 million for helping CapitaLand rake in net profits of $2.76 billion that year. That record is still unbroken.

"If I have $10 million or $20 million, what's the difference? In my whole life I've only had one car. A lot of people in my position will have three, four or five cars, but I only have one car and the purpose is to take me from point A to B. I can get a good car, I've a BMW, but I only have one."

He shares that he has the same pared down approach to his home: "I live in a semi-D. My architect tells me you can go and buy 25,000 square feet of land and build a big bungalow. But why do I need a big bungalow? I don't see value in it, I don't see any motivation because I'm happy where I am."

Wealthy, but former CapitaLand CEO wants just 1 car and 1 semi-D home

He says half-seriously that there is another reason for not moving: "I've stayed there since the early 1990s, I've grown professionally, I've been successful as a business person, my family has been good, there is some fengshui effect. In fact, some of my people said 'Don't sell it, boss. If you move, CapitaLand may be affected!'"

Superstition, but perhaps not entirely without reason. When Mr Liew became CapitaLand CEO in the year 2000, following the merger of the former Pidemco Land and listed DBS Land, the group's market capitalisation was $8.9 billion.

Twelve years later when he stepped down, the market capitalisation was $44.5 billion.

"So I created $35 billion of wealth to shareholders," he says with some pride. Among these shareholders are his former CapitaLand colleagues. At one point several years ago, there were about 600 millionaires in the group, all made wealthy by their share options.

The steep rise in CapitaLand's share price in its earlier years also helped create a very loyal following among retail investors. CapitaLand's share price peaked at $8.60 in end-April 2007.

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