Date
23 October 2017
Michael Ying Lee-yuen has transferred all his 211 million shares in Esprit to daughters Eileen and Claudine Lauren. Photo: Reuters/Internet
Michael Ying Lee-yuen has transferred all his 211 million shares in Esprit to daughters Eileen and Claudine Lauren. Photo: Reuters/Internet

Ex-Esprit chairman transfers HK$900 mln shares to two daughters

He once was the chairman and chief executive of blue-chip fashion group Esprit Holdings (00330.HK), but he cashed out when its share price was near the peak.

He is married to arguably the most beautiful actress in Greater China. And now he is giving away his minority stake in the company, leaving many people wondering what he will do next.

Hong Kong billionaire Michael Ying Lee-yuen on Thursday notified the stock exchange that he has transferred all his 211 million shares in Esprit to daughters Eileen, 21, and Claudine Lauren, 16.

Those shares are now worth HK$900 million, based on Thursday’s closing price of HK$4.27, but they only represent a small fraction of the company during its heyday.

Exactly 10 years ago, Esprit was trading at HK$130, thanks to China’s booming oubound tourism market, which turned the fashion brand into a US$30 billion company.

Ying managed to sell most of his shares from 2004 to 2006, reaping more than HK$15 billion. He retired as Esprit chairman in 2006.

His last stake sale was in 2010 when he cashed out 86 million shares at HK$54 each, for a total of HK$20 billion.

In hindsight, it was a brilliant move. He cashed out most of his stake when the share was near the peak of the market. Shortly afterwards, Esprit began to decline. It saw a drop of 96 percent in the last decade.

The investors who bought his shares and did not sell even when the stock was over HK$100 later realized their error.

When Ying took over the helm at Esprit in 1993, the company was just a tiny retailer, a franchisee of a US fashion group an annual turnover of less than US$100 million. The shares then were trading at around HK$3.

But Ying managed to buy out the US franchise and started turning Esprit into a global retailer. It soon expanded into Europe, which consequently became the company’s biggest revenue contributor. Esprit made it to the Hang Seng Index in 2002.

During his 13-year tenure, Ying saw Esprit sales surge 30-fold to around US$3 billion in the year ended June 2006.

Years after his departure, Esprit seemed to head into all sorts of problems. The Esprit brand started to wane in the home market. Many Esprit outlets were closed amid intense competition with bigger rivals such as Uniqlo, Zara or H&M.

Now the man who is married to Taiwan actress Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia, dubbed the world’s most beautiful Chinese woman, has completely stepped out of the picture.

Just like the once soaring brands of Li & Fung, Television Broadcasts and the South China Morning Post, Esprit had its glory days, but it is still full of proud memories.

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CG

EJ Insight writer

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