Resorts World Miami: Who's behind Genting Group?

By Christina Vazquez, Reporter, cvazquez@wplg.com
Published On: Nov 14 2011 04:00:50 PM EST
Updated On: Nov 16 2011 11:25:16 PM EST

There's an air of mystery surrounding the Malaysian company that aims to build a destination casino resort in Miami. To find out more, Local 10's Christina Vazquez visits the company's resort in Singapore and speaks with its chairman.

SINGAPORE -

There's been an air of mystery surrounding the Malaysian company that aims to build a destination casino resort in Miami.

VIDEO: Local 10's Christina Vazquez sits down with Genting Group chairman

It seemed to come out of the blue, investing nearly half a billion dollars in property at and around the Miami Herald building in downtown Miami. 

Local 10 wanted to know more about the company, which often points to its destination casino resort in Singapore as a model for what it wants to bring to Biscayne Bay.

Local 10 thought the best way to do that is go there itself, bringing viewers halfway around the world. Local 10's Christina Vazquez flew nearly 11,000 miles over two days and several time zones to travel to Singapore in Southeast Asia. 

She toured the resort and discovered how the debate that ensued in Singapore closely mirrors what is happening right now in Florida. 

When she returned, she sat down with the company's current chairman at the property it now owns, the Hilton Omni in downtown Miami. Click here to watch more of that interview and to read excerpts.

The company may come from a part of the world many South Floridians have never seen, but it turns out the patriarch of this family-run business, the son of a vegetable seed salesman, achieved what many would call "The American Dream."  Despite having no formal education, the founder of what is now The Genting Group established a multibillion-dollar business following years of hard work, tenacity and perseverance. 

PHOTOS: Genting Group History

As Vazquez greeted K.T. Lim, he revealed how this would be one of just a handful of television interviews ever granted in the company's nearly 50-year history. 

"Typically, the low-profile way of getting things done is very much an Asian sort of culture," explained Lim. "So what is more important to us is talk less and do more, so the end result is important rather than try to boast of what one is capable of doing, so the end result should speak for itself." 

Local 10 began the interview talking to Lim about his late father, Lim Goh Tong, the founder of Genting Group. 

"It would surely be a rags to riches sort of story. It is amazing what he's done," he said.

K.T. Lim spoke warmly of his father. 

Lim Goh Tong was born in a rural Chinese village, one of seven children. At just 16, Lim Goh Tong had to leave school to provide for his family after the death of his father, a vegetable seed salesman. 

A few years later, with $175 in his pocket, Lim left his native China for Malaysia. 

"He did not have any formal education," K.T. Lim said. "Pretty much when he arrived in Malaysia, it was through what one would call the school of hard knocks, and that is what made him the practical person that he is." 

In his autobiography, "My Story," Lim Goh Tong described himself as a "country bumpkin" who was "shy, introvert and sensitive." His first obstacle, he stated, was overcoming being bashful. 

Lim Goh Tong eventually wound up in scrap metal and hardware trading before launching his own construction company in 1951. He later won several engineering contracts with the government. 

While at a job site, enjoying the crisp air of the country's mountainside, he had a simple idea, a thought, really, that would unwittingly launch an empire. He wanted to build a vacation spot on a cool hillside, about 6,000 feet above the tropical heat of Malaysia's valley, close to its capital, Kuala Lumpur. 

"He found this piece of jungle outside the capital city and has developed it into over 20 million visitors have visited the resort," his son said. 

Lim Goh Tong wrote of the project, "The Genting project basically fitted my idea of an ideal business: No one was interested in it, which meant no competition."

Click here to read excerpts from Lim Goh Tong's autobiography.

K.T. Lim said his mom came up with the name for what would be his first destination casino resort. 

She called it, "Genting," K.T. Lim said, which is Mandarin for "above the cloud." 

"Which is true -- every morning when you wake up, you are actually looking down on the cloud because the cloud level is really low," K.T. Lim said. 

Lim Goh Tong secured Malaysia's first and only gaming license and opened the casino resort in 1971. The monopoly proved to be incredibly profitable. 

In the 40 years since, Genting has diversified and expanded. It is now the largest casino operator in the UK after buying British casino operator Stanley Leisure.

Genting founded Star Cruises, Asia's largest cruise operator. It also owns 50 percent of Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line. 

"Ten years ago, I was the one who was responsible to buy Norwegian Cruise Line," explained K.T. Lim.

K.T. Lim said he's been vacationing in Miami since he was a college student at the University of London. He has always felt comfortable here because Miami's climate is very similar to Singapore's; it is tropical, hot and humid.

"I would, if you may, 'backpack' because this is the place where the weather is the same. It's not London weather," he said with a chuckle.

NCL is known for the concept of "freestyle dining," which set an industry standard. Basically that means cruise passengers don't have to eat at a certain time, and K.T. Lim said that was his idea. 

"We turned Norwegian Cruise Line upside-down. We ordered new ships to be designed like a land resort, and I think that has worked. I would like to think that is through a better understanding of what the market needs and not just copying or doing the same thing as other players are doing in the industry.

"In one way, it's like we went full circle. We brought what we had been doing on land to the ships where you can dine wherever you want, at whatever time you want, eat whatever you want and do whatever you want. One of the tag lines was you could also do nothing. That's how I see the vacation experience should be, not so regimented. But of course there are people who would like that, than let other players in the business take (care) of that. We need to grow the pie, right. That's the philosophy of the Genting Group," K.T. Lim said. 

The company also owns palm oil plantations, has ventured into oil and gases exploration and the paper and packaging industry. 

But it is the Resorts World brand that is capturing headlines in South Florida. 

The first resort may have opened in Malaysia four decades ago, but it has only been in the past two years that Genting has opened properties under the Resorts World brand. There is a Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore, Resorts World Manila in the Philippines and Resorts World New York. 

Now the company is looking at Miami.

"We would like to bring our experience in Asia, especially in terms of developing destination resorts, which we have done for the last 50 years," K.T. Lim said. "We need to be the catalyst to bring new people here, to enjoy not just the destination resort, but the rest of what is here in Miami and ultimately through the state of Florida." 

K.T. Lim said his father is first and foremost a family man. In his autobiography his father wrote, "Even during those hectic days when I was struggling to build up my business, I made it a point to spend a fair amount of time with my family. I believe a warm, harmonious family is more important to a man than his career." 

Then, just two pages later, he went on to say, "A happy family is even more important than one's career." 

"My father would also remind us that that is a very important factor in one's life," K.T. Lim said. "It is not always about making money. In terms of family values, that's important. Get that right, and the rest will sort of take care of itself."

Preserving the family's "ethnic and cultural roots" was also important to K.T. Lim's father. He wrote that he made sure all his kids had a "basic knowledge of Chinese language and culture." 

He also takes pride in that he was able to provide all of them with formal education, something he was not able to attain. 

K.T. Lim said those family values extended to how he ran his business. 

"He actually treated his employees as if they were no different as members of his family, and when they were in need he would make sure they were taken care of, and in turn I think that's how you get the loyalty to out of one's employees. As a proof of that, a lot of employees of the original company work for 40-50 years. That's how they started their working life and how they ended their working life with one company, and I think that's very remarkable," K.T. Lim said.

K.T. Lim now sits at the helm of what is a multi-billion dollar business, a humble tycoon who will still travel in the economy class if that's the fastest way to get somewhere. It's a pragmatism he said he learned from his late father. 

"In a way, you hope you can do just as well as he has done," he said.

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