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Peter Lim: From Taxi Driver To Billionaire

Recently, Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim was featured in the news for his generous $1 million meal donation to frontline medical workers who are helping in the fight against Covid-19.

The 66-year-old is known for his philanthropy, with past contributions including a $20 million donation to the Singapore Olympic Foundation-Peter Lim Scholarship to support young local athletes, and a $3 million to fund a professorship in peace studies at Nanyang Technological University.

Beyond his charity works, Singaporeans know him as the owner of Valencia football team but other than that, many of us don’t really know much about what he does. The self-made billionaire is notoriously low-key and usually keeps away from the media limelight.

According to Forbes, his net worth currently stands at US$2 billion (S$2.8 billion) and he was ranked as the 14th richest person in Singapore last year.

So how did the man attain his riches? From his early life till now, we took a look at how the business magnate built up his S$2.8 billion wealth from scratch.

Hustling Hard For A Good Education

Born in 1953 to a fishmonger father and a housewife mother, Lim and his six siblings grew up in a two-bedroom government flat in a Bukit Ho Swee public housing estate.

Sharing the flat with others, space was a constraint and he slept in the living room, or wherever he could find space to lay his mattress down for the night.

Despite his poor family background, Lim managed to become a student at the Raffles Institution but it was financially difficult for him to get into a respectable university.

Regardless, he did not give up on his wish to further his education at a well-known university. After completing National Service, he went to Perth, Australia to study at the University of Western Australia.

Credit: ESPN

It was not easy being a university student. Alongside studying, he had to work part-time doing odd jobs as a taxi driver, cook and waiter to fund his university education.

Apparently, it was during one of these jobs – in the Australian fast-food chain Red Rooster – that opened his eyes to how business was done.

While he was working there, Lim studied how they started, how they grew, and how they scaled up. He would later go on to utilise this knowledge to create huge gains in his own business career.

Dealing With Numbers As A Career

Lim graduated university with a degree in accounting and finance and subsequently secured his first job as an accountant.

According to Lim, he is in his element when dealing with numbers.

“It’s something I’m very comfortable with, something I understand. Give me any numbers. I look at (them) and I’m happy. It can be in any industry. You give me the numbers; somehow I can figure it all out,” he said.

However, his accountant job only lasted for 3 months and he later moved into tax consultancy. That was when he realised that none of that was really satisfying his inner ambition, which was something he had always had since he was 18.

Leaving everything behind, Lim pursued his dream to become a stockbroker.

It was not his first time stockbroking though, as he had bought his first lot of shares before he entered university at the age of 18. He didn’t exactly make a killing then, but it served as a good starting experience for him.

In fact, I lost money. But not much. I was only paid $385 a month, so I can’t have bought, or lost, very much.

– Peter Lim, in an interview with The New Paper in 2007.

Lim served mainly Indonesian clients as a stockbroker. He was so good at it, and his successful returns earned him the nickname “Remisier King” (Singaporean term for stockbroker).

A remisier is a stockbroker who only gets paid in commissions — and Lim made millions.

On his secret to success, he said that he keeps emotions out of investing and does not track the ups and downs of his stocks every day.

“I used to say to my friends, ‘When you are holding stocks, if it goes up, don’t be too happy; when it goes down, don’t be too sad’”.

“Otherwise, how? Your life will also be fluctuating and you’ll die of a heart attack. If you really lose sleep over it, maybe the best way is to keep the money in the bank.”

The then 43-year-old Lim quit the broking business at his peak to take care of divorce proceedings in 1996.

He was filing a divorce from his ex-wife from his first marriage, whom he shares two children, Kim and Kiat, with.

It was reportedly one of the longest divorces in Singapore and a messy one at that, involving a high-profile settlement of S$50 million and entanglements about Lim’s alleged hiding of assets.

Money is a funny thing. When you don’t have it, you want it. But when you have it, you have a lot of problems. I believe that if I’d had no money, I wouldn’t have had my divorce. Things wouldn’t be good, but it wouldn’t end up in a divorce.

– Peter Lim, in an interview with The Business Times in 2007

While his prolonged divorce was in the process, he became a private investor.


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