How much vitality do our leading Hong Kong corporates have?
One approach is to look at the age of the chairman.
Generally speaking, the older the boss gets, the fewer are their corporate exercises. They become more risk-averse.
It is rare for senior executives to make regular acquisitions — unless, of course, they are Li Ka-shing or Warren Buffett.
The subject was recently brought into the spotlight after candy maker Tootsie Roll Industries lost its chief executive Melvin Gordon at age 95.
Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the world’s richest, is now the third most senior executive of a major US corporation at 84, followed by media magnate Rupert Murdoch at 83, according to Bloomberg.
(In case you’re wondering who’s the first and second, they’re Bruton Smith, chairman and CEO of Sonic Automotive, at 87, and Harold Riley, founder and chief executive of insurance holding company Citizens, at 86.)
It is safe to say, and not surprising, that major Hong Kong corporates are still run by senior citizens. The average age of the chairmen of 22 Hong Kong companies on the Hang Seng Index (excluding China red chips and state-owned enterprises) is 70, based on data compiled by stock market activist/analyst David Webb.
The geriatric character of Hong Kong business stems from the fact that many of these companies are family-owned enterprises, meaning they are run by people who founded them at least half a century ago. And our tycoons, aside from having the knack for growing fortunes, know how to stay healthy and wise.
Leading the pack is Henderson Land and Hong Kong and China Gas chairman Lee Shau-kee, who at 87 still manages to report daily for work at his IFC office, rain or shine. He is six months older than Li Ka-shing of Cheung Kong and Hutchison Whampoa.
Rounding out the young-at-heart corporate roster are Galaxy Entertainment’s Lui Che-wo (86), Sands China’s Sheldon Adelson (82) and Belle International’s Tang Yiu (81). We can safely conclude that almost 15 percent of the business captains on the blue-chip index are in their 80s.
According to Webb’s database, at least 141 directors of listed companies in Hong Kong are over 80. (See http://webb-site.com/dbpub/DirsHKAgeDistn.asp)
Among the famous names are Stanley Ho Hung-sun of SJM Holdings at 94, Robert Kuok Hock-nien of Kerry Group at 92, and Cheng Yu-tung of New World Development at 89.
This is not the case with most of China’s state-owned enterprises, where we rarely see a chairman older than 65 because of the mandatory retirement. The average age of chairmen in all the 50 blue-chip companies is 65.
That is just another way of saying that Hong Kong’s corporate scene is pretty much run by senior citizens.
There are exceptions, of course. Readily coming to mind are Douglas Flint of HSBC at 60, Canning Fok Kin-ning of Power Assets at 64, Rose Li Wai-man of Hang Seng Bank at 62, Raymond Kwok Ping-luen of Sun Hung Kai Properties at 62, Henry Cheng Kar-shing of New World Development at 69, and John Slosar of Swire Pacific and Cathay Pacific at 59.
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