´Su­per­man´ re­tires: Hong Kong ty­coon Li Ka-shing to step down

Enterprise - - International news -

Hong Kong´s rich­est man, Li Ka-shing, has fi­nally stepped down from his busi­ness em­pire at the age of 89, as one of the world´s most sto­ried ty­coons brings his ca­reer to a close al­most 70 years af­ter found­ing his first com­pany.

Li spent decades mak­ing his name in Hong Kong and around the world at the helm of a pros­per­ous con­glom­er­ate that cov­ered sec­tors from con­tainer ports to telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, with his busi­ness moves set­ting mar­ket trends.

Nick­named “Su­per­man” for his busi­ness acu­men, Li´s com­pa­nies are part of the fab­ric of Hong Kong life, pro­vid­ing ev­ery­thing from in­ter­net ser­vices to su­per­mar­ket chains.

His de­ci­sions have the po­ten­tial to af­fect prop­erty and util­ity prices for the city´s seven mil­lion res­i­dents as in­vestors hang on his ev­ery word.

Li was born in 1928 in the main­land Chi­nese city of Chaozhou.

He and his fam­ily fled to neigh­bour­ing Hong Kong dur­ing the Sino-Ja­panese War -- Li re­called bombs be­ing dropped on his home­town when he was in pri­mary school in an in­ter­view with Forbes mag­a­zine in 2012.

He first started his own busi­ness in 1950 man­u­fac­tur­ing plas­tic flow­ers, call­ing the com­pany Che­ung Kong af­ter China´s Yangtze River.

But af­ter di­ver­si­fy­ing into prop­erty he saw large prof­its in the 1960s and in the fol­low­ing decades his busi­nesses reached into many sec­tors of Hong Kong.

His firm has a long­stand­ing in­ter­est in over­seas mar­kets, mak­ing in­vest­ments in the Cana­dian prop­erty and en­ergy sec­tors in the 1980s.

He has been of­fload­ing ma­jor prop­erty in­vest­ments in China af­ter in­vest­ing heav­ily there in the 1990s, in a move seen as part of a quest for sta­bil­ity for his vast em­pire and a sign of di­min­ish­ing con­fi­dence as China´s for­merly strato­spheric growth rates cool.

He has also sought to trim his Hong Kong as­sets and his CK As­set Hold­ings sold its stake in the Cen­tre sky­scraper -one of the jew­els in the crown of his prop­erty port­fo­lio in the city -- in Novem­ber for a record HK$40.2 bil­lion ($5.2 bil­lion). Analysts said the deal showed CK As­set´s move to di­ver­sify out of real es­tate as it ex­pands into in­fra­struc­ture and en­ergy.

Li´s firms have op­er­a­tions in Bri­tain, the Nether­lands, New Zealand and Por­tu­gal, and ac­cord­ing to Forbes his com­pa­nies em­ploy 310,000 peo­ple in more than 50 coun­tries. But his di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion away from the main­land irked Chi­nese crit­ics.

“He is wor­thy of the nick­name ´Su­per­man,´ but he may not be suit­able as a bell­wether for the fu­ture,” The Global Times, a news­pa­per close to China´s rul­ing com­mu­nist party, said in 2015.

“Li´s in­vest­ment is a drop in the ocean com­pared to the huge size of the Chi­nese econ­omy,” it said.

Forbes 2018 rank­ing of lead­ing bil­lion­aires put Li as 23 in the world -- three places be­hind Alibaba founder Jack Ma and six be­hind Ten­cent´s Pony Ma -- with a net worth of $34.9 bil­lion.

Three years ago Li an­nounced a sweep­ing re-ar­range­ment of his vast busi­ness em­pire which was ex­pected to pave the way for him to hand over the reins to his el­dest son Vic­tor.

The re-struc­ture com­bined as­sets from mul­ti­ple sec­tors un­der two new listed com­pa­nies.

Af­ter the an­nounce­ment of the re­vamp, when asked if he was pre­par­ing to pass the ba­ton to his son, a lively Li said he would have to re­tire some day.

“The tracks have been laid down, ev­ery­one has a goal, it´s a good thing for the com­pany´s foun­da­tion,” he said.

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