18 June 2018
Li Ka-shing is calling for higher corporate taxes to help narrow the wealth gap. Photo: Bloomberg
Li Ka-shing is calling for higher corporate taxes to help narrow the wealth gap. Photo: Bloomberg

Li Ka-shing: I could retire today if I wanted to

Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, who turns 88 on July 29, isn’t the least worried about how his US$80 billion business empire will survive without him.

“I could retire today if I wanted to, in the next five minutes or whenever,” Li told Bloomberg Television in a rare interview.

He said his son Victor, 51, has been working alongside him for 30 years and taking care of his businesses full-time for the past few years. “We’ll carry on what we do now.”

His 14 listed companies, including CK Hutchison Holdings, Cheung Kong Property Holdings Ltd., Hutchison Port Holdings and Canada-based Husky Energy, had a combined revenue of US$80 billion in 2015, Bloomberg said.

Li has also supported the founding of a second empire for his other son, Richard, 49, who built PCCW Ltd. into Hong Kong’s cable television, internet and landline-telephone market leader, along with its telecoms subsidiary HKT Trust & HKT Ltd., and Pacific Century Premium Developments, which built Hong Kong’s Cyberport.

They have a combined market value of US$16.2 billion, according to Bloomberg.

With his enormous wealth, Li has come to symbolize the gaping income inequality in the city, where housing prices are becoming increasingly unaffordable to ordinary households and business is dominated by a few families.

In the Bloomberg TV interview, he called for higher corporate taxes to help narrow the wealth gap. “Tax companies an extra 1 or 2 percent, then a lot of the poor would benefit,” he said.

Li has pledged a third of his wealth to philanthropic endeavors.

Since the 1980s, he has donated HK$20 billion (US$2.6 billion) to various causes through his foundation, including building hospitals and funding universities.

Analyst firm Morningstar Inc. sees no disruption when the elder Li hands over the leadership of his companies to Victor.

It noted that CK Hutchison’s businesses are being “run by a team of professional managers for several years. Mr. Li’s retirement would not change our revenue and earnings assumptions on the underlying businesses.”

For now, Li is enjoying his role as chairman of his companies. He plays golf two to three times a week.

“Even now I’m still going strong,” he said. “When I retire, I won’t go fishing. I will put even more time into the foundation.”

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