An argument over the speed of democratic reforms was the immediate trigger that sent thousands of protesters onto the streets of Hong Kong over the past month, but the malaise in the city-state is also economic: it has the largest income inequality in the developed world. Many people complain that the city is dominated to an unhealthy degree by a small number of over-powerful family dynasties. Family Capital look at five of the mega-families who dominate Hong Kong.
Patriarch: Li Ka Shing
Estimated fortune: $30.9bn
Asia’s richest man started off making plastic flowers and GI Joe figures, but became so successful during the post-war boom that in 1979 he took control of Hutchison Whampoa, a conglomerate which gives him over 10% of the world’s container port capacity, and a vast global retail empire. Li and his family — his sons Richard and Victor are deeply involved in the business — own most of the port of Hong Kong, its power company, most of its broadband capacity. Li was once so revered that he known as “superman”, but these days often complain that so much of the money spent in Hong Kong finds its way into his pockets that it is impossible to live “Li free.”
Patriarchs: Walter, Raymond and Thomas Kwok
Ages: 64, 63, 62
Rumoured combined fortune: $14.3bn
Patriarch Kwok Tak-seng made his money selling zips to the garment industry, but in 1958 partnered with Lee Shau Kee (see below) in a property company which made both rich. His sons Walter, Raymond and Thomas inherited Sun Hung Kai Properties, Hong Kong’s biggest real estate developer by market capitalisation, when their father died in 1990. Walter was kidnapped in 1997 by a man who had done the same to one of Li-Ka Shing’s sons, and although released is said to be traumatised by the ordeal. For this, or other reasons, his two brothers ousted him from the family business in 2008. When they were arrested in 2012 on politcal corruption charges, some said Walter had informed on them as revenge.
Patriarch: Lee Shau Kee
Rumoured fortune: $22.1bn
Said to be the world’s fourth richest person until the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China in 1997, and known as Asia’s Warren Buffett for his investment nous, Lee’s main business is Henderson Land Development, which brings a vast rental income. As well as being involved in glamorous buildings like the island’s tallest, the International Finance Centre, Lee controls the Hong Kong and China Gas Company, known as Towngas, which provides power to 85% of Hong Kong’s homes, and the Hong Kong Ferry, which franchises ferry routes and owns a shipyard.
Patriarch: Chen Yu Tung
Rumoured fortune: $13.2bn
Chen left China for Macau as a young man and married a jeweller’s daughter there. He made his fortune through his New World property company in the 1970s, but these days it is jewellery chain Chow Tai Fook, which Chen took over from his father-in-law, that is the big money-spinner. It is one of Asia’s biggest luxury brands with 1,000-plus stores in China, including at least 50 in Hong Kong. Unusually for an Asian tycoon Chen has officially retired — he had a stroke in 2012 — and has handed the business over to grandchildren Adrian and Sonia.
Patriarch: Stanley Ho
Rumoured fortune: $6.8bn
Born into one of Hong Kong’s most powerful families, Ho ran luxury goods and construction businesses before hitting the jackpot when he was granted monopoly rights to gambling in Macau in 1962. He still owns almost all of the island’s casinos now, and its ferry ports. His 17 children from four wives (polygamy was legal in Hong Kong until 1971) make succession talk complex, but Pansy and Lawrence are both tipped to carry on the family businesses. Alleged links with organised crime, which Ho strenuously denies, have slowed expansions into the US, however.