Li Ka-Shing has still got it

Li Ka-Shing opening a department at Stanford University. 
Li Ka-Shing opening a department at Stanford University. 

What is it with Hong Kong’s most successful business tycoons? Do they just get better with age?

Li Ka-Shing, arguably the most successful of them all, certainly the richest, just announced he’s reorganising his business, splitting it up to one holding all his property assets and another holding all his other businesses including telecoms, retail and infrastructure operations. The move led to a huge rally in his companies’ stock prices, netting him, his family and shareholders a big windfall.

The fact that Li is still finessing his businesses at the age of 86 is even more impressive. Maybe because he’s so old, some observers said the move is part of a succession plan, further cementing his eldest son Victor’s elevation to the helm of the family business.

But is that really the reason? At Li’s advancing age, you’d expect he’s done with playing games when it comes to succession and he’d would just announced his decision to step down to be replaced by his son. No need for obfuscation. Of course, the family has its reasons for the reorganisation of the business and they aren’t well known to the outside world.

But Li senior looks to be staying on. He’s had one hell of a ride, building up one of Asia’s most successful businesses from virtually nothing over more than 60 years. He’s without doubt one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs ever.

But look down the list of Hong Kong’s richest tycoons and there’s a similar trend – none of them give any signs of retiring, and many are still doing deals. For example Lee Shau Kee, also aged 86 and nicknamed the Hong Kong Buffett for his stock picking abilities. He’s still very much running his companies and waiting for the next big deal.

So to is Michael Kadoorie, at 75 he’s still chairman of his family’s biggest asset, the electricity company CLP Holdings. Then there’s the legendary Stanley Ho, who at the age of 93 hasn’t completely handed the business over to his various children and wives despite all the talk in the media.

These businessmen have been so much part of Hong Kong’s huge success after World War Two and they continue to be behind the city’s big deal-making and entrepreneurship regardless of their age. Their enduring influence is arguably like no other set of business people anywhere else. Where else in the world do you find a group of septuagenarians, octogenarians and even nonagenarians still exerting so much business power?

Of course, when it comes to sensible succession policies their efforts might not be up to scratch.

But does that matter when they can still pull off coups like Li Ka-Shing just did?