23 July 2019
Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing waves goodbye after announcing his retirement at a news conference on Friday. Photo: Reuters
Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing waves goodbye after announcing his retirement at a news conference on Friday. Photo: Reuters

Li Ka-shing announces retirement, will stay on as senior adviser

Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong’s richest man, on Friday announced that he will step down as chairman of his business empire later this year but stay on as a senior adviser.

He will be succeeded by his eldest son Victor Li, 53, regarded as a steady hand who is unlikely to change course, Reuters reports. 

The 89-year-old tycoon, dubbed as “Superman” for his business acumen, will retire as chairman of CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd. (00001.HK) at the annual general meeting on May 10, the ports-to-telecoms group said in a filing to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Li, who ranked 23rd on the world’s rich list by Forbes, will also retire as chairman of CK Asset Holdings Ltd. (1113.HK), the property group said in its earnings statement.

“I’ve been working for a long time, too long,” a relaxed Li told reporters.

“I’ve always said I could go on a trip anytime, the company would still run the same way,” he added.

Li said the senior management will continue to work with Victor in leading the business towards the next new horizon of growth, according to public broadcaster RTHK.

He also called on shareholders to give his son the same support they have given him.

Friday’s announcement caps a rags-to-riches career spanning the 78 years since his family fled war-torn China for Hong Kong.

A factory apprentice when he was 13, Li built one of Asia’s most outward-looking business empires, spanning more than 50 countries and 323,000 employees at last count, Reuters said.

He gained fortunes first in plastics and property before joining the first wave of top-tier Chinese tycoons in the city with the 1979 purchase of Hutchison Whampoa, a venerable British “hong” or trading house.

“Li Ka-shing’s real genius, to me, is not necessarily in the assets he acquired, but his ability to sell them at the right time,” said Jonathan Galligan, head of Asia gaming and conglomerates research at CLSA. “Look at anything he sold and, plus or minus a year, it’s hard to say he didn’t pick the top – that’s a tremendous skill.”

One of Li’s best-known deals in this respect was the 1999 sale of the telecoms unit Orange to Germany’s Mannesmann at the height of a market boom. Following Vodafone’s purchase of Mannesmann soon after, the subsequent forced disposal of Orange to France Telecom produced a second windfall for the Li empire, which netted US$21 billion in profits from the two deals, the news agency said.

Today, the assets still held by Li, through CK Hutchison, include the biggest container port operator in the world, Canadian oil giant Husky, one of Europe’s leading telecoms operators as well as a collection of UK businesses that saw him awarded a knighthood by the Queen in 2000.

Li’s Hongkong Electric is one of two power utilities in the city, while Cheung Kong is one of Hong Kong’s biggest residential developers. His companies also control one of the two dominant supermarket chains and one of the two largest pharmacies as well as one of Hong Kong’s largest cellphone companies.

CK Hutchison reported a 6 percent rise in 2017 profit to HK$35.1 billion (US$4.48 billion), versus the average forecast of HK$34.63 billion from 12 analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

The real estate arm CK Asset Holdings saw annual profits surge 55 percent, also beating estimates.

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