Hong Kong’s superstar investor may not be quite ready to cede the stage to the next generation, even if he does turn 89 next month.
In battling media reports yesterday, Li Ka-shing appears to be wavering on his retirement plans, with his conglomerate, CK Hutchison Holdings, brushing off reports on Tuesday that the tycoon known as “Superman” intends to step down as chairman by the time he turns 90 next year.
According to the South China Morning Post, the group said in a statement that Li “has no concrete timetable” to retire. The statement came in response to an earlier report in The Wall Street Journal citing sources close to Hong Kong’s richest man as having told his inner circle of advisers that he plans to step down as chairman by next year and would be passing the torch to his son Victor Li, the group’s deputy chairman.
Is 88 the New 65?
The Journal report, which cites people briefed by the elder Li, states that the tycoon plans to keep his office on the 70th floor of his headquarters, the Cheung Kong Center in downtown Hong Kong, and would remain as senior advisor.
Li has involved his elder son in all key decision-making since the conglomerate was restructured in 2015, and will hand over more control upon stepping down, said one of the insiders quoted in the Journal article. “It’s not easy for Superman to completely remove himself,” the person said. “He’ll still stay on and steer the ship but let his son run more of the show.”
Later the same day, the SCMP reported that Li declined to confirm the rumors. “Mr Li has from time to time talked about his retirement and his confidence in Victor to lead the company. Mr Li is in very good health,” CK Hutchison told the Hong Kong newspaper in a statement. “There is no concrete timetable at this stage and Mr Li will make his official announcement when he decides to retire.”
The influential mogul who turns 89 next month said at the group’s annual general meeting in May that he might step down anytime, leaving his elder son to take the reins. It’s possible that the energetic Li would subsequently stay on at Hutchison for some time to see whether his son will prove an able steward of the global business empire valued at nearly $49 billion.
An Uncertain Future for Li’s Sprawling Conglomerate
Famous for his investing prowess, Li is the richest man in Hong Kong with an estimated fortune of $33 billion, and along with Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Dalian Wanda’s Wang Jianlin, is ranked as one of the three wealthiest people in Asia.
In 2015 the investor reorganised his Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Hutchison Whampoa fiefdoms into industry specific companies, in a move that clearly foreshadowed a possible change in leadership.
“As a person reaching a certain age, you want the company’s successor and all the executives here to more easily operate and to do well, so it’s not a surprise,” the octogeneranian was quoted as saying in Bloomberg at the time. “I want the company to do well not only today but also in the future. That’s my responsibility.”
Prior to the restructuring, Cheung Kong and Hutchison had often co-invested in property assets, with each company typically holding 50 percent of the group’s stake in a project. Between the two companies, the group’s holdings span a range of industries from real estate and ports to retail and technology.
The group’s flagship property arm, Cheung Kong Property Holdings, is one of the leading developers in Hong Kong, having built about one in seven of the city’s private residences along with many commercial landmarks, and has major investments in mainland China, Singapore, Australia and Britain.
Li Looks for Returns in Europe and Australia
Over the past several years, Li has been selling off much of his property assets in Hong Kong and mainland China and shifting more of his attention to opportunities overseas. Nearly half of the conglomerate’s revenue now comes from Europe.
Bucking the overseas trend, however, Cheung Kong Property last September won its first land auction in Hong Kong in four years, agreeing to buy a residential site in the city’s New Territories for HK$1.95 billion ($252 million).
This past April, Li wrapped up his biggest overseas acquisition ever when a group led by Cheung Kong Infrastructure, which Li controls, won approval from Australian authorities for a A$7.4 billion ($5.6 billion) takeover bid for Aussie power firm Duet Group.