Li Ka-shing’s Three Prin­ci­ples


Special Focus - - Contents - By Wang Shuo

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

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