In 1936, Liem Sioe Liong left Fujian to join his brother Lim Ke Lok and brother-in-law Zheng Xusheng in Medan, North Sumatra. He diversified their peanut oil trading business into the clove market, which was growing rapidly from demand for production. While in Medan, Liem Sioe Liong supplied soldiers of the Indonesian National Revolution with medical supplies and came into contact with Suharto, an officer of the army. He denied allegations that he also provided arms to Indonesian soldiers to resist Dutch forces. As soldiers seized Dutch businesses following independence, his business absorbed many of their assets and gained a monopoly in the clove market, but he denied working with Suharto in expanding his ventures.
In 1952, after moving to Jakarta, Liem Sioe Liong expanded his trading business by establishing connections with other ethnic Chinese businessmen in Singapore and Hong Kong. His soap factory became one of the primary suppliers to the Indonesian National Armed Forces. He later expanded into textiles and banking, eventually establishing the largest private bank in Indonesia—the Bank Central Asia (BCA). The bank was nationalized following the Asian financial crisis.
In 1968, after a merger, Liem Sioe Liong gained the right to a monopoly on clove importation. Bogasari, a joint venture with another Hokchia businessman became the largest producer of flour in Indonesia.
In 1990, Liem Sioe Liong established the food manufacturer Indofood, the country's largest maker of instant noodles.
By 1997, the Salim Group possessed US$20 billion in assets and included more than 500 companies employing over 200,000 Indonesians. When the Asian Financial Crisis hit, the conglomerate incurred US$4.8 billion in debts and had to give up control of Bank Central Asia in 1998 to the government.
During the May 1998 riots, Liem Sioe Liong fled to Singapore after a mob burned his home in Jakarta; his son remained to fight off the mobs and formed the Salim Group. He eventually settled in Los Angeles in the United States. Forbes magazine listed him as the 25th wealthiest businessperson in Southeast Asia in 2004 with a net worth of US$655 million.
On June 10, 2012, a month before his 96th birthday, Liem Sioe Liong died from natural causes in Raffles Hospital, Singapore. He is buried at the Lim Chu Kang Cemetery.
Liem Sioe Liong has three sons and one daughter.