Who are Singapore’s highest paid bosses?

By Robert Half 11 October 2016

Collectively worth S$47 billion, Singapore’s highest paid bosses represent a variety of industries such as real estate, banking and technology.

Each of these executives possess leadership traits that have set them apart and driven their career (and income) to significant heights. While their leadership styles vary, they're personal stories of achieving great wealth and success may give inspiration to your own career.

Here are five of the country’s highest paid executives as mentioned in Forbes’ Singapore 50 Richest list.

#1 Robert and Philip Ng

Net worth: US$8.6B (S$11.7B)
Industry: Real estate

Brothers Robert and Philip Ng, aged 64 and 57 respectively, earn their billions from two successful property ventures: Sino Group in Hong Kong and Far East Organization in Singapore. They inherited both companies from their late father, real-estate tycoon Ng Teng Fong.

According to Forbes, the brothers – Singapore’s highest paid bosses for seven years now – offset a sluggish local property market with revenues from their ventures in Hong Kong.

Despite their great wealth, they are known to be generous. The younger Ng, in particular, is outspoken about his principle of not idolising money: “[You must be careful about possession…] the ironic thing about possession is that you don’t possess the possessions, the possessions possess you.”

The brothers’ generosity is shown through their philanthropism – with their most notable donations to Jurong Hospital (now Ng Teng Fong Hospital) and the National Gallery of Singapore.

#2 Kwek Leng Beng

Net worth: US$7.6B (S$10.3B)
Industry: Real estate, hospitality, banking

At 75 years old, Kwek Leng Beng is Singapore’s second richest boss and the executive chairman of Hong Leong Group, one of Asia’s largest and most successful conglomerates, as well as its property development arm City Development Limited.

Despite facing challenges in the global tourism industry, Kwek sees opportunities even in a crisis. He extensively restored and reopened New York’s Millennium Hilton Hotel 2 years after it was damaged during the September 11 attacks, and has been looking out to buy hotels in Britain’s post-Brexit.

Back home in Singapore, he’s launched 2 hotels: MSocial, designed by renowned designer Philippe Stark, as well as the country’s first JW Marriott hotel at South Beach.

Kwek’s success can be attributed to his ability to persevere in the midst of business challenges. After all, according to him, “hospitality is not all handshakes and good food”. To survive, one needs to think out of the box.

#3 Eduardo Saverin

Net worth: US$7.2B (S$9.8B)
Industry: Technology

A native of Brazil, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin has called Singapore home since 2009. Despite leaving behind much controversy when he left Facebook and renounced his U.S citizenship, Saverin’s successful investments in Asia (along with his minority share in Facebook) makes him one of Singapore’s highest paid bosses.

An active ‘angel investor’, Saverin is a co-founder and partner of B Capital Group, an investment group with a presence in Singapore and the U.S. He is an outspoken supporter of investing in Asia’s tech scene – his own fund under B Capital has closed an initial of US$140M (S$190M) for deals in Asia, and he has funded some of Singapore’s most successful start-ups.

Respected by Singaporean start-up founders for his support, Saverin doesn’t believe in burning bridges. Despite being subject to much criticism after leaving Facebook and renouncing his US citizenship, he still has positive things to say about the company, calling founder Mark Zuckerberg a ‘visionary’.

#4 Goh Cheng Liang

Net worth: US$6.3B (S$8.6B)
Industry: Paints

Unlike many of Singapore’s highest paid bosses who inherited family wealth, Goh Cheng Liang is a rags-to-riches billionaire. The majority shareholder of Nippon Paints and chairman of its Singapore arm, Goh started his career by buying cans of rotten paint and then modifying them with his own colours and solvents. His modified paints sold well – and the rest is history.

Besides expanding Nippon’s presence in South East Asia, Goh diversified his portfolio into real estate, property developments and logistics. He financed the construction of Singapore's Liang Court mall and Mount Elizabeth Hospital in the 1970s and 1980s. Goh has opened a charitable foundation under his name as well as invested in his hobby – superyachts.

Goh’s story proves that it is possible to create opportunity out of adversity. In a 1997 interview, Goh attributes his fortune to two global economic crises, – where his continued investment in the paints industry paid off.

#5 Wee Cho Yaw

Net worth: US$4.9B (S$6.7B)

Industry: Banking

The son of United Overseas Bank (UOB) founder Wee Kheng Chiang, Wee Cho Yaw’s achievements are impressive. After taking over the management of UOB Group from his father, Wee grew the business from a local Singaporean bank to a strong regional giant with operations in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

Today, UOB Group has a network of more than 500 offices in 19 countries and territories in the Asia Pacific, Western Europe and North America.

Besides his active involvement in the banking industry, Wee Cho Yaw has also actively contributed to cultural preservation and education, including serving as chairman of Singapore’s Chinese Heritage Center and awarding scholarships to underprivileged students at NUS and NTU.

Regarded as a key figure in shaping Singapore’s finance industry, Wee Cho Yaw’s success is attributed to his steady approach to banking decisions in the midst of several financial crises – a fact attested by UOB’s current non-executive chairman, Hsieh Fu Hua.

How do Singapore’s highest paid bosses compare with the rest of us?

According to Robert Half’s Salary Guide, senior executives in Singapore earn between S$240,000/year (CFOs of large firms) to S$360,000/year (CIOs of large firms).

Professionals in Singapore’s tech industry enjoy high salaries in general – ranging from S$48,000 (helpdesk support) to S$360,000 (CIOs of large firms).

In the banking industry, salaries start from S$38,000/year (documentation and loan analysts) to S$260,000/year (managing directors of corporate offices).

One important lesson from Singapore’s highest paid bosses

Regardless of whether they inherited the family business or built their riches from the ground up, Singapore’s highest paid bosses became successful because they possessed the right leadership skills that helped them navigate their business challenges.

Instead of giving up, challenging times became an opportunity for these business leaders to shine.

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