Lim Goh Tong: Malaysian-Chinese Billionaire
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 live.
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 land.
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 the Rape 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 contracting business.
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.
Author: Wesley Burns
Updated: March 2015