Li Ka-shing, the frugal billionaire
Li Ka-shing GBM KBE JP is a Hong Kong business magnate, investor, and philanthropist. As of June 2019, Li is the 30th richest person in the world, with an estimated net wealth of US$29.4 billion. He is the senior advisor for CK Hutchison Holdings, after he retired from the Chairman of the Board in May 2018; through it, he is the world’s leading port investor, developer, and operator of the largest health and beauty retailer in Asia and Europe.
Li was one of the most influential entrepreneurs in Asia, presiding over a business empire with a diverse portfolio of businesses from a wide array of industries, including transportation, real estate, financial services, retail, and energy and utilities. His conglomerate company Cheung Kong Holdings was influential in many sectors of the Hong Kong economy and made up 4% of the aggregate market capitalisation of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Forbes Magazine and the Forbes family honoured Li Ka-shing with the first ever Malcolm S. Forbes Lifetime Achievement Award on 5 September 2006, in Singapore. In spite of his wealth, Li cultivated a reputation for leading a frugal no-frills lifestyle, and was known to wear simple black dress shoes and an inexpensive Seiko wristwatch. He lived in the same house for decades, in what has now become one of the most expensive districts in Hong Kong, Deep Water Bay in Hong Kong Island. Li is also regarded as one of Asia’s most generous philanthropists, donating billions of dollars to charity and other various philanthropic causes, and owning the second largest private foundation in the world after Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Li was often referred to as “Superman Li” in Hong Kong because of his business prowess.
Li was born in Chao’an, Chaozhou in Guangdong Province in 1928 to Teochew parents. Owing to his father’s death, he was forced to leave school before the age of 15 and found a job in a plastics trading company where he worked 16 hours a day. In 1950 he started his own company, Cheung Kong Industries. From manufacturing plastics, Li developed his company into a leading real estate investment company in Hong Kong that was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 1971. Cheung Kong expanded by acquiring Hutchison Whampoa and Hongkong Electric Holdings Limited in 1979 and 1985 respectively.
In September 2017, Li worked with Alibaba’s Jack Ma to bring a digital wallet service to Hong Kong. In March 2018, Li retired at the age of 89 after a 68-year reign over his holdings and assets companies. He continues to serve his conglomerate as a senior advisor and his son, Victor Li, has succeeded him as chairman.