Li Ka-shing’s Three Principles
Wang Shuo 王烁
Iinterviewed Li Ka- shing in 2013, when he had just begun preparing for retirement. I was recently granted another opportunity to interview him; and on the day I met him at his 70th floor office in Cheung Kong Center, the entire building was enshrouded by an ethereal cover of mist. Here I was, back at the very same place I’d interviewed him the first time, and visions of those past events and stories that happened at Victoria Harbor danced in front of my eyes.
As it turns out, his retirement went off without a hitch. As the old saying goes, “Every project has a beginning, but not many have an ending.” But for Li Ka- shing, the beginning and the ending were both equally triumphant. He made sure that every project not only made a promising start but came to a roaring conclusion. And so, he is truly deserving of the title he has been bestowed with by the adoring throngs of Hongkongers: “The Superman of Business.” And his every word and deed have never betrayed his reputation as the “most philanthropic billionaire on Hong Kong island.”
As a successful businessman, a guardian of business and a happy family man, Li Ka- shing left his flourishing business empire at the height of its power to his worthy heir, just as it was flushed with cash, had consistently exemplary performance, and had attained global reach. His distinguished life and career culminated in a climax and ended in calmness.
It was during this interview that he imparted me his three principles that had sustained him throughout his career and life.
The first is constant study. At the age of twelve, Li Ka- shing dropped out of school and had to work for a living. I once asked him, which book had impressed him most; the answer was a second- hand book he had once purchased from a street vendor, whose theme was how to treat patients with tuberculosis ( TB). He got the disease from his father, and at that time there was no effective treatment for TB. Yet, using the methodology provided in the book, Li Ka- shing saved his father and himself by his own power. Since then, buying second- hand books from street vendors has become something of a curious addiction, and he has become a hardcore book lover.
“Knowledge is power.” This is the saying that he mentioned three times in the conversation. Li, a teenage boy stricken with TB who worked diurnally and read nocturnally, woke up every morning with a book lying on his chest. Then one day the secretary
at the company he worked for resigned, and the manager asked the grunt workers at the bottom rung of the ladder who was good at pen- and- paper writing– Li’s name was mentioned unanimously. Li’s manager asked him whether he was familiar with the abacus, to which he replied yes. He was then asked whether he knew accounting, to which he replied in the affirmative. This resulted in him being promoted to the position of accountant, where his salary doubled.
The second principle is choosing a career with great prospects. Later, Li decided not to be an accountant and became a salesperson instead. For what reason? He reckoned that being an accountant earned more, but that there was a glass ceiling in the profession. A salesperson may receive a lower salary, but the skills built and networking opportunities give the trade limitless potential. In the first year as a salesperson, Li Ka-shing sold seven times more than the second- place salesperson in the company. A few years later, Li again decided to start his own business. Before he was thirty he had earned “more money than he could spend in a lifetime.”
The third principle is to never put one’s eggs in one basket, meaning to diversify one’s interests. Among his wealthy cohorts, Li Ka-shing was the only one who had expanded to a global level. Li’s business empire had penetrated markets in over fifty countries and regions. At a time when Hong Kong’s real- estate prices were rising exponentially, it was diversification that made Li’s nominal wealth seem lower than those rich who focused business in Hong Kong, yet, as evidenced by the continued growth of his businesses, it was diversification that allowed Li’s enterprises to have such staying power.
Yet there was something else about diversification that has another revelation. More than fifty percent of the revenues in Cheung Kong Holdings come from rental units, which have led to consistent and stable capital inflows. These rental properties are now under the direction of Li Ka-shing’s elder son, Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, who has shown himself to be a responsible and astute businessman. As for Li Ka-shing’s second son, Richard Li Tzar-kai, his creativity and pragmatism have been greatly appreciated by his father, who decided to provide him with financial support for his own career. Finally, Li Kashing’s “third son,” namely, the Li Ka Shing Foundation, was set up solely for philanthropic causes, while indirectly holding some sources of venture capital.
In mentoring his two children and guiding his third, Li Kashing never forgot to strike a balance between diversification and specialization: putting the safest capital on one side, and the riskiest on the other side. Through smart business moves and wise management, Li Ka- shing managed to realize both durability and profitability in all his business ventures, which is precisely why he has achieved the sage- like status of the likes of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet in Hong Kong.
(From CaixinWeekly , Issue 12, 2018. Translation: Gary Chen)
Li Ka-shing in his childhood 童年时代的李嘉诚