LiKa-shing, a Hong Kong entrepreneur and philanthropist, is one of the wealthiest persons in Asia. Li is a very powerful figure in his own city HK. he is also one of the most influential businessmen in Asia.
He was the Chairman of the Board of the now defunct Hutchison Whampoa Limited (HWL) and currently serves as the Chairman of Cheung Kong Holdings, one of Hong Kong’s leading multi-national conglomerates. He has businesses involved in diverse fields such as real estate, ports, electricity, telecommunication and internet. Li is called by HK media and people as the ‘Superman’.
The story of his phenomenal success is truly an inspiring one: born to poor parents in mainland China, he fled to Hong Kong as a refugee after Japanese invasions in 1940. He also lost his father at a youthful age and was forced to take up a job at the age of 15. As an intelligent, hardworking and determined man, he went on to form his own businesses in the ensuing years and rose to become one of Hong Kong’s leading industrialists.
Respected all over the world as a man truly committed to ethics and moral values, Li Ka-shing is also a noted philanthropist and has donated over a billion US dollars to charity. Despite being one of the richest individuals in the world, he is known for being an unassuming person who leads a frugal lifestyle.
Last month, Li announced his retirement.
Cross-industry Business Empire built by a Refugee
From his humble beginnings in China as a teacher’s son, a refugee, and later a salesman, Li provides a lesson in integrity and adaptability. Through hard work, and a reputation for remaining true to his internal moral compass, he was able to build a business empire that includes: banking, construction, real estate, plastics, cellular phones, satellite television, cement production, retail outlets (pharmacies and supermarkets), hotels, domestic transportation (sky train), airports, electric power, steel production, ports, and shipping.
The Cheung Kong Group’s market capitalisation is HK$1,193 billion (US$154 billion) as of April 2016. (This includes the Group’s controlling stake in 15 listed companies around the world.) The Group operates in over 50 countries and employs around 300,000 staff worldwide.
Let us have a closer look at how Li built up his business empire, step by step:
In 1950, after learning how to operate a plant, Li founded a plastic manufacturing company in Hong Kong with personal savings and funds borrowed from family members. Li enthusiastically read trade publications and business news before deciding to supply the world with high quality plastic flowers at low prices.
Li learned the technique of mixing colour with plastics that resemble real flowers. After retooling his shop and hiring the best technicians he could find, he prepared the plant for a visit from a large foreign buyer. Impressed with the quality of Li’s plant, the buyer placed a large order. A few years later, Li’s plastic business grew to be the largest supplier of plastic flowers in Asia. As the owner, he made a fortune selling the products.
In 1958, believing rents would continue to rise, Li decided to purchase a site and develop his own factory building. An opportunity to acquire more land arrived after the 1967 riots when many people fled Hong Kong, and, as a result, property prices plummeted. Li believed the political crisis would be temporary and property prices would eventually rise and bought land from the fleeing residents at low prices. In 1971, Li officially named his real estate development company Cheung Kong, named after Yangtze River, the longest river in China.
Cheung Kong Holdings was publicly listed in Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 1972. During board meetings, Li stated on several occasions his goal of surpassing the Jardines-owned Hongkong Land as a leading developer.
The successful bid by Cheung Kong for development sites above the Central and Admiralty MTR stations in 1977 was the key to challenging Hongkong Land as the No.1 property developer in Hong Kong. Despite its size, Jardines decided in the 1980s to protect itself from hostile takeover by Li or other outside investors. The company implemented a cross-shareholding structure that was designed to place control in the hands of Britain’s Keswick family despite their less than 10% holdings in the group. In 1984, the company also moved its legal domicile from Hong Kong to another British overseas territory – Bermuda, in anticipation of the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong to People’s Republic of China in 1997.
In an effort to drive forward divestitures of assets in Hong Kong and the Chinese Mainland, Li agreed to sell The Center, the fifth-tallest skyscraper in Hong Kong. With a volume of HK$40.2 billion ($5.15 billion), the deal constitutes the biggest ever office space real estate sale in the Asia-Pacific region. In October 2016, Li sold the Century Link complex in Shanghai for $2.95 billon, the second largest transaction for a single building, according to the Financial Times.
In 1979, with help from HSBC, Li controlled the Hutchison Whampoa Company Limited, which increased Cheung Kong Holdings control to 12% of the world container port facilities, especially in Hong Kong, Canada (Vancouver), China, the United Kingdom, Rotterdam, Panama, Bahamas and some other developing countries.
A subsidiary of CK Hutchison, the A.S. Watson Group (ASW), is a retail operator with over 12,000 stores. Its portfolio encompasses retail brands in Europe such as Superdrug (UK), Marionnaud (France), Kruidvat (Benelux countries), and in Asia including health and beauty retailer Watson’s store and wine cellars et al., PARKnSHOP supermarkets (and spin-off brands), and Fortress electrical appliance stores. ASW also produces and distributes water products and beverages in the region.
CK Hutchison group has the reputation of being a perceptive asset trader. It builds up new businesses and sells them off when shareholder value could be created. Huge profits were obtained in the sale of its interest in Orange to Mannesmann Group in 1999, making a profit of $15.12 billion. In 2006 Li sold 20% of Hutchison’s ports business to Singapore rival PSA Corp., making a $3.12 billion profit on a $4 billion deal.
Group subsidiary Hutchison Telecommunications sold a controlling stake of 67% in Hutchison Essar, a joint venture Mobile operator in India, to Vodafone for $11.1 billion. It had invested roughly $2 billion earlier.
Internet and Technology
Li has also made a foray into technology, where his investment and venture capital firm Horizons Ventures is specifically allocated towards backing new internet and technology start-up firms and bought a stake in doubleTwist. His other firm, the Li Ka-Shing Foundation bought a 0.8% stake in social networking website Facebook for $120 million in two separate rounds, as well as invested an estimated $50 million in the music streaming service Spotify.
Some time between late 2009 and early 2010, Li Ka-shing led a $15.5 million Series B round of financing for Siri In, which was soon after acquired by Apple.
In 2011, Horizons Ventures invested in Summly, a website-summarizing app. Notably, the investment made Nick D’Aloisio, Summly’s founder, the world’s youngest person to receive a venture capital investment at just fifteen years old.
In 2012, Horizons Ventures invested $2.3 million in Wibbitz, a company that provides a text-to-video technology that can automatically convert any article post or feed on the web into a video in a matter of seconds. In August 2012, Li acquired a stake in Ginger Software Incorporated. In 2013, Horizons Ventures invested in Bitcoin payment company BitPay.
In February 2015, Horizons Ventures participated in a $30 million Series C funding round in Zoom Video Communications. Later in the year, Li participated in a $108 million Series D round in Impossible Foods. In 2016, he continued investments in technology companies and Horizons Ventures led a $55 million Series A round in Blockstream, the leader in blockchain related technologies, and also invested in a start-up incubator fund Expa, that works with the founders to build new companies.
No Prodigal Son Dramas
Few expect Mr Li, who will turn 90 this summer, to hang up his cape for good. He says he will stay on to advise his eldest son, Victor Li, who will inherit his two main businesses. The ﬁ rst is CK Hutchison, a conglomerate with interests in power plants, perfume and much in between. It runs 52 ports and owns 14,000 high-street stores, including Watsons at home and Superdrug in Britain. The second is CK Asset, one of Hong Kong’s biggest property developers. Combined they are worth $79.7bn.
Succession is a delicate matter. Joseph Fan of the Chinese University of Hong Kong has found that family-run ﬁ rms in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan lose 60% of their value on average in the years before and after a change. Many a tycoon has proved hopeless at planning for his departure. Discussing death is regarded as unlucky. Most cling on past their prime.
Not so the meticulous Mr Li. As early as 2000 it became clear that Victor would inherit his empire, after his second son, Richard, stepped down as deputy chairman of Hutchison Whampoa (now CK Hutchison) and went his own way. In 2012 Mr Li made this line of succession oﬃ cial.
According to Oliver Rui of the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai, Mr Li also simpliﬁ ed a complex holding structure in 2015 with the handover in mind. He split property holdings from other assets, boosting both ﬁ rms’ valuations and making it easier for his son to sell oﬀ bits of the empire in future.
Who Is Hong Kong’s Next Li Ka-shing?
The end of Li’s active days in business, however, also raise the question: Who is Hong Kong’s next Li Ka-shing? High real estate costs make it diﬃ cult for young entrepreneurs to get started in Hong Kong as Li once managed to do 6 decades ago.
What’s more, Hong Kong’s economic growth and overall opportunities have been overshadowed by its once ‘poor’ cousin to the north, mainland China, whose global competitiveness in an expanding number of industries is a potent challenge for rivals in HK and globe. Underscoring China’s skyrocketing wealth, Li’s own fortune has been surpassed by two mainlanders that have prospered from the Internet boom: Tencent Holdings Pony Ma (also known as Ma Huateng) was Asia’s richest man on the 2018 Forbes Billionaires List unveiled this month, ranking No. 17 with a fortune of $45.3 billion; Asia’s third richest man was Alibaba Group Chairman Jack Ma, who came in at No. 20 with an estimated fortune of $39 billion. Li’s fortune of $34.9 billion ranked him further down at No. 23.
But again, the world has not yet seemed a potential successor to be the next Li Ka-Shing for HK.