Goh Cheng Liang, founder of Nippon Paint South-East Asia Group (Nipsea), is Singapore's richest man with a US$8.2 billion (S$10.8 billion) fortune, according to a Bloomberg report yesterday.

Mr Goh's wealth puts him ahead of Wee Cho Yaw, the largest shareholder of United Overseas Bank with a US$6.9 billion fortune, who was the richest Singaporean last year on Forbes list.

Tan Kim Choo, the widow of property tycoon Ng Teng Fong, is next with US$4.9 billion. Her sons Philip and Robert Ng have fortunes of US$4.6 billion and US$4.5 billion respectively, Bloomberg said.

Mr Goh, 87, and Osaka-based Nippon Paint Holdings jointly own Nipsea, with the billionaire recently boosting his stake in Nipsea to 39 per cent, making him the largest shareholder in the firm, Bloomberg reported. His stake in the joint venture is held through his private investment company, Wuthelam Holdings.

A profile of the publicity-shy tycoon in Forbes magazine in 2013 revealed his rags-to-riches story.

Mr Goh was born to a poor family in a one-room tenement in 1928, one of four siblings. As a boy, he sold fishing nets and worked in a hardware store, learning business skills that were to shape his destiny.

In 1949, he bought barrels of rotten paint - surplus World War II stocks the British were auctioning off - for a song. With a Chinese dictionary of chemicals in hand, he went about mixing solvents, pigments and chemicals to make his paint brand, called Pigeon.

The following year, the Korean War broke out and an import ban landed Mr Goh a whopping profit windfall.

Business was booming when an opportunity to tie up with Nippon Paint of Japan surfaced. Mr Goh took the plunge with a 60-40 holding in a joint venture called the Nipsea Management Group.

From nothing rose a paints conglomerate whose Nippon brand is today a household name in Asia.

Nipsea now operates in 15 Asian countries and is Asia's biggest paintmaker. Mr Goh's son, Goh Hup Jin, 61, has headed the company since the 1980s, according to Bloomberg.

Over the years, the elder Goh built up the Wuthelam group by investing in property like the Liang Court shopping complex, hotels, electronics, logistics, manufacturing and trading.