Heirs' rights are no longer so apparent

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2012, 12:00am


As the old Chinese saying goes, the first generation makes the wealth and the next generation wastes it away. Most of our leading tycoons have taken this warning to heart and strive to avoid it in their families. One by one, they are making known their succession plans and designating their empires' heirs.

Our ageing tycoons have, by and large, educated their children well, most of whom are nothing like those infamous playboys and spoiled tai-tais of old. Young, well educated and ambitious, many of these children are taking over.

For example, Henderson Land Development boss Lee Shau-kee has made known his succession plan, saying a preliminary idea would be for elder son Peter Lee Ka-kit to take charge of mainland operations while younger son Martin Lee Ka-shing would oversee business in Hong Kong.

This follows an announcement two weeks ago by Asia's richest man, Li Ka-shing, that he plans to split his business empire between eldest son Victor Li Tzar-kuoi and youngest son Richard Li Tzar-kai. Other super-rich families are doing the same.

We don't know if the heirs-designate are the most professionally qualified. No doubt the tycoons could be faulted for maintaining hereditary kingdoms, much of them publicly listed, instead of aiming to hire more talented outside managers. But let's face it: it's still family business as far as they are concerned. Transition in business, as in politics, is often difficult and full of dangers.

There are signs the tycoons' influence is already on the wane. Until now, they have exerted a stranglehold over the local economy. It's a rich field of research for economists and sociologists to determine to what extent the so-called property hegemony has corrupted governance, deterred fair competition, widened the wealth gap and undermined our social and economic vibrancy. But the tycoons' undue influence could not have been healthy.

As the baton is passed to the next generation, the power and influence of these families are likely to decline. We wish their heirs every success, but Hong Kong, too, deserves another chance.