Lim Goh Tong is a deceased Malaysian-Chinese businessman and
billionaire who is famous for his extraordinarily risky and
successful development of gambling in Malaysia. He may not have
much in the way of name recognition in the United States, but he
played a pivotal role in developing gaming in Asia.
It’s hard to overstate how much of an influence Lim Goh Tong
had in Malaysia. He was recognized numerous times throughout his
life with rewards for entrepreneurship, business development and
excellent working conditions for his employees. When he passed
away in 2007, more than 20,000 people either attended his wake
or sent condolences to the family.
The Early Years: Hardship and War
Lim Goh Tong was born in the Fujian province in China in
1918. He grew up in a peaceful village that was mostly removed
from the political unrest that followed the Chinese Revolution
of 1911. He was able to attend school until his father died when
he was 16 years old.
The death of his father forced Tong to withdraw from school
so he could help provide for his mother and six siblings. He
stayed in China for three more years, but things continued to
deteriorate in China. At the age of 19, he left China for
Malaysia in search of new opportunities and a better place to
There, he met his uncle and worked as a carpenter for several
years. He learned the language, acquired experience in
contracting and even took on several of his own jobs. Things
were looking up until Japan invaded Malaysia in 1941. Once
again, war would throw his life into turmoil.
Numerous biographical accounts state that Lim Goh Tong nearly
died several times during the invasion, but there are no details
regarding these experiences. But considering the brutality of
Japanese forces during WWII, this was a dangerous time in the
life of the young entrepreneur. The Japanese invasion began with
a bombardment and followed with troops physically invading
Malaysian-Chinese people in Malaysia were subject to
especially harsh treatment. At the time, Japan was fighting a
brutal war with China that was marked with wide scale
bombardment of civilian targets in China, and atrocities such as
of Nanking. Suspected Chinese sympathizers in Malaysia were
subject to imprisonment, interrogation, and torture.
So although we don’t have the details of Lim Goh Tong’s “near
death” experiences, we can assume life was not easy for him at
the time. He eked out a living as a vegetable farmer, and then
moved to trading. When Japanese forces finally left Malaysia,
the demand for scrap metal and machinery in Malaysia boomed.
Lim Goh Tong earned his first serious money during this time. He got
into trading used machinery, used the money from that, and
expanded into iron mining. He was then able to use his
significant capital, collection of machinery, experience in
mining, and the help of his uncle to get back into the
His contracting business was successful, and he earned larger
and larger contracts. As the name grew and his company received
national recognition for its work, Lim Goh Tong prospered. His
company was even tapped for major projects such as the Ayer Itam
Dam in Malaysia.
By the 1960s, Lim Goh Tong was a very wealthy man, but he
was just getting started.
The Genting Highlands
It was during a trip to the Cameron Highlands in Central
Malaysia that the idea for a hilltop resort hit Lim Goh Tong.
What he envisioned was a massive resort that would provide world
class gambling, accommodations, and a theme park. The resort
would be located in a beautiful area away from the hustle and
bustle of the city.
His plan was bold and risky; people told him it couldn’t be
done and that it shouldn’t be done. But he was determined to
implement his vision. He eventually settled on a piece of land a
little to the north of Kuala Lumpur. It would be called the
Genting Highlands Resort.
The area wasn’t the first place most would-be casino moguls
would settle on when planning to make a significant investment.
The area was remote, marked by a river, hills, and dense
vegetation. It would require a mammoth effort to even construct
the resort, let alone entice people to make the journey and
spend money there.
Ground broke on the project in 1965. Lim Goh Tong acquired
the land and gambling permits, and then set to work. The first
task was to construct an access road and get water, power, and
sewer access to the hilltop. It was estimated that the road
alone would take 15 years to construct. It was finished in less
than 4 years.
Lim Goh Tong devoted every bit of financial capital he had to
the project. He even tapped into the reserves of his successful
contracting company. Everything was put on the line to fund his
vision. He sold off land and invested every dollar he had. His
friends and family told him to reconsider. He came very close to
bankruptcy and it is said he nearly died several times
overseeing the construction.
Construction of the resort took a total of 6 years. He was
ready to open for business in 1971, but Malaysia was hit by
powerful rainstorms. Mudslides destroyed portions of the access
road. Undeterred, he rebuilt the roads over the next four
months. Finally, in May, 1971, the doors to the Genting
Highlands Resort were opened to the public.
As history has it, the resort was a massive success. Visitors
streamed to the Genting Highlands to gamble, sleep, and see the
sights. He earned back all of his investment and then some. Over
the next three decades, he would construct additional hotels,
restaurants, convention centers, and attractions. The resort
eventually became an international tourist destination and one
of the most popular things to do for those on vacation.
Over time, the Genting Group expanded into other industries
such as plantations, power generation, oil and gas exploration,
biotechnology and more. The Genting Group also operates
casino-resorts in other parts of the world to this day. The
company has invested in properties such as Foxwoods in the
United States and Resorts World in New York City.
Lim Goh Tong died as a billionaire on October 23rd, 2007. His
son now runs the Genting Group and continues to do business
around the world. Lim Goh Tong left behind a legacy not only for
success, but also for providing his workers with excellent
working conditions and contributing to the overall success of
Malaysia on the world stage.
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