Henderson Land

Peter Lee builds on charitable foundations

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 March, 2008, 12:00am

Henderson Land scion finds guidance in religious beliefs

Being the eldest son of one of Hong Kong's richest men is not the toughest job in the world.

But for Peter Lee Ka-kit, son of Henderson Land Development's Lee Shau-kee, it is not all about fast cars, private jets and luxury yachts.

Having a father with a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth US$23 billion allows the 45-year-old devout Buddhist to give something back to society through charity work.

The vice-chairman of Henderson has a trust under his name providing suicide prevention services and he also chairs the Centum Caritas Foundation, a recently formed organisation founded by the sons and daughters of Hong Kong's tycoons and political heavyweights.

Although Caritas has been criticised as an attempt by Beijing to counter the influence of the pan-democrats, Mr Lee says its role is to help the underprivileged.

He also has taken part in a project of the National Association of Vocational Education of China to help the unemployed find jobs through vocational education and training.

And as if those charity projects have not taken enough of his time, he also has been asked by his father to take charge of a mega water conservancy project on the mainland.

A Buddhist since his teenage years, Mr Lee shrugs off criticism that he is not aggressive enough in running the family controlled listed companies - Henderson Land and Henderson Investment.

His philosophy in running a business reflects his religious beliefs - that reality is constantly changing and when the timing for running a business is not good, it is time to do more charity work.

Why are you so devoted to charity work?

Probably because I am a Buddhist. [Because of the doctrine of Buddhism] I have a heart of sadness so that I can see the grassroots' pain and suffering.

Not all people can see it.

I feel fortunate [being born to a wealthy family] but not everyone is as lucky as I. The poor suffer whenever rain or snowstorms hit.

When did you start to believe in Buddhism and was it triggered by any particular incident?

It was when I was 19 years old. In the beginning, I studied it from an academic aspect and as a kind of philosophy.

As I grew up, I realised that everything that happened in the world could be explained by the teachings of Buddha.

What is your philosophy of giving?

If you only donate to charity, it may not last too long because your savings will diminish. But if you participate in charity work, you will feel a sense of satisfaction. Economically, taking part in charity work is not an efficient way to help people, but emotionally, you feel happy. The poor will have a better life because of you.

You spend a lot of time on charity work. How do you allocate your time?

My father has said he worked very hard and had no time to do charity work when our company was not well established. But now we are a success and our businesses are on the right track, we can spend more time on charity work.

No company will reap good business all the time and it will not always be a good time to invest in the stock market. Do more charity work when business slows down.

Do you mind people criticising you for not being aggressive enough in business?

Some of my uncles, whom I admire very much, have said opportunity is more important than anything else.

Constantly working hard is good, but it does not mean that you will be successful. When it is windy, a boat will move forward even if you do not use the paddles.

You can make money in two ways: you can run the business yourself or invest in companies that make good returns. Right now, we do not need to work, we make money by investing in other companies that make money.

Does your charity work mean you do not have time to play?

At my age, what entertainment have I not tried? Doing charity work gives me a feeling of satisfaction that playing cannot give.

Your father's water conservancy project on the mainland, are you going to execute it?

I dare not be responsible for the whole thing. It is a huge project aimed at helping millions of people on the mainland who suffer from a lack of water in their daily lives.

The project will last for many years and it will be huge.

How is it going?

We are in discussions with experts from Tsinghua University and have also met former minister of water resources Wang Shucheng to discuss how to run the project. Many options are being considered.

What about the Centum Caritas Foundation - what has it been doing?

I visited two brothers, aged 12 and eight, recently. Their mother ran away three years ago and they were made orphans after their father died in an accident at the end of last year.

I kept thinking about them ever since I visited their home in a public housing estate in Choi Hung. I am still contemplating how to help them.

We can't just give them a large amount of money because this will disqualify them from social welfare.

I'm still on the learning curve. This is particularly difficult for me because I'm not a father yet.

Is working for the foundation an enjoyable experience?

These two kids are very cute and it is very difficult not being able to help them. We need to develop a sustainable way to help people.

The first important task is to find a chief executive for the foundation. I have written this on my blog but there has been no response so far.

The reason I'm not advertising it in the newspapers is because I want to save money, so the foundation will have more money to help people.

Will the foundation also run projects on the mainland?

Yes, we have members whose businesses are mainly on the mainland. It is possible our next project will be in Shanghai.

Your father has suggested that mainland university students should not get married too early if they want to get rich. Is that the reason why you are still single?

It is less relevant to me.

Your father married in his 30s. But you are now 40-something, do you feel any pressure?

My father has not given me any pressure.