Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing retires ahead of 90th birthday

Ivan Schwartz
March 17, 2018

"I have made a decision to step down as chairman of the company and retire from the position of executive director at the forthcoming annual general meeting of the company", Li said in a statement included in the filing for CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd and CK Asset Holdings Ltd to the Hong Kong bourse.

Li announced this at a press conference.

Li built an empire from scratch that now spans across the telecommunications, property, shipping and retail industries.

The billionaire added he would serve as "senior advisor" of the company.

But he said he would stay on as an adviser for his operations, which stretch across more than 50 countries and employ more than 300,000 people.

Forbes 2018 ranking of leading billionaires put Mr 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.

Li's "rags to riches" story has been an inspiration to many Asian businesspeople. When his father fell ill, Li left school at 15 and began working in a plastics factory.

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He first started his own business in 1950 manufacturing plastic flowers, calling the company Cheung Kong after China's Yangtze River. This will now become his main focus.

The 89-year-old Li will, as expected, stay on as senior adviser to the group.

Hong Kong residents revere Li for his moneymaking prowess, which has earned him the nickname "Superman".

At the news conference, however, when several questions were addressed directly to Victor, Li ended up interrupting his son with his own answers. In his 20s he joined CK Hutchison Holdings and has steadily learned the business and worked his way up. During that period, the young Li would sleep in a storage room to save money.

During his tenure, Li Ka-shing increased the pace of overseas acquisitions, helping boost the group's profits with growth in the European telecoms business offsetting a drop in the value of the British business following Brexit.

Rumours about Mr Li's impending retirement as chairman and executive director at CK Hutchison Holdings and CK Asset Holdings have been circulating for some time. The Financial Times states that Li "built his Cheung Kong group from humble beginnings making plastic flowers in the 1950s to a global conglomerate" and says his resignation marks "a symbolic turning point for Hong Kong, where the economy has always been dominated by a coterie of tycoons". 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.

But despite the fables of Li's thrift and being an active philanthropist, many Hong Kongers resent the pervasive role his family plays in the local economy. "Li has been a fixture as the city's richest man for an entire generation of Hong Kongers and spearheaded an era defined by a handful of swashbuckling Chinese immigrants who built large empires across Asia".

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