What happens when the investor known as Superman decides to hang up his cape? The answer to that question may soon be known after Li Ka-shing announced in Hong Kong today that he would be stepping down from atop his property-driven empire.
In separate announcements to the Hong Kong stock exchange this afternoon, CK Asset Holdings, and CK Hutchison Holdings both announced that Li would be stepping down from his chairmanship of the two corporations.
While long-expected, the announcement by 89-year-old Li will raise questions about the future of the billionaire’s holdings which include stakes in a number of real estate investment trusts, and real estate investment firm ARA Investment Management as well as CK Asset Holdings and CK Hutchison Holdings.
Elder Li Now to Be SuperAdvisor
In the chairman’s statement for 2017 posted by CK Asset to the Hong Kong exchange today, Li noted that, “I have decided 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.”
According to the stock market announcements, Li’s retirement will take affect from the conclusion of the two companies’ annual general meetings on May 10th of this year.
After advising last year that his oldest son, 53-year-old Victor Li was his “successor in principle” at the helm of his companies, Li Ka-shing confirmed the succession plan in the stock market announcements.
“Going forward, the Board of Directors (the “Board”) has requested and I have agreed to serve as Senior Advisor of the Company and in that capacity to continue to contribute to the Group on significant matters. The Board has also proposed and elected Mr. Li Tzar Kuoi, Victor, who has worked side-by-side with me at the CK Group for 33 years, to succeed as Chairman of the Company whilst continuing with his present role as Managing Director,” the CK Hutchison chairman’s letter read.
Making Way for the Younger Generation at 90
After building Hong Kong’s biggest fortune, Li’s retirement has been expected for some time, with the Wall Street Journal having reported last June that Li had told associates that he would step down before he turns 90 this July.
The native of Chaozhou in China’s Guangdong province apocryphally rose from sweeping factory floors, to selling plastic flowers, to become a leading manufacturer, and later one of Hong Kong’s largest developers and landlords.
One of Asia’s Biggest Real Estate Investors
While CK Asset made news by selling the Center on Hong Kong’s Queen’s Road for HK$40.2 billion ($5.15 billion) last year, the company remains one of the region’s biggest real estate investors.
The listed firm had a market cap of some HK$ 258.82 billion ($33 billion) as of market closing on Friday, and directly holds more than 27 percent of the units in Fortune REIT, nearly 19 percent of Fortune REIT and over 39 percent of mainland-focused Hui Xian REIT. All three real estate investment trusts are listed on the Hong Kong exchange.
In Hong Kong, the company continues to hold some 25 investment properties, including the Cheung Kong Centre in Central. In mainland China, the developer wholly or partially owns seven properties across Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and other cities, and has more projects under development, as well as projects in London and Singapore.
Li Turns Over Infrastructure and Retail Assets Via CK Hutchison
In a move that many saw as a run-up to today’s retirement announcement, Li in 2015 reorganised his corporate holdings into CK Asset and CK Hutchison. Through Hutchison, the elder Li will be turning over to son Victor control of a sprawling set of assets that range from Watsons stores in Asia to port operations.
Through Watsons, as well as grocery chain Parknshop and other chains, Li’s empire covers much of everyday shopping in Hong Kong. Hutchison Telecommunications also controls three cell phone networks in the city. The company also owns and operates telecom networks in six European countries, as well as Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
Through subsidiary CK Infrastructure Holdings, CK holds rail and gas operators in the UK and Australia, as well as Hong Kong’s electric utility.
Li, who says he will devote more of his time to philanthropy, leaves his empire seemingly in good shape with CK Asset announcing profits before adjusting property valuations of HK$20.32 billion (US$2.59 billion) for 2017, while CK Hutchison posted profits attributable to ordinary shareholders of HK$35.1 billion ($4.48 billion) for 2017, up from HK$33 billion for 2016.