Beware the descendants of tycoons

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 February, 2012, 12:00am


The first generation builds wealth, the next generation maintains it and the third generation idles it away. So goes an old Chinese saying. If only that third generation idled away its private assets, it wouldn't cost society too much.

Alas, many of Hong Kong's largest public companies and public offices since the handover are increasingly run by the second or third generation of tycoons and prominent families. Henry Tang Ying-yen, the scion of a wealthy family whose fortune is built on textiles, is just the most obvious example. And what a mess he has made in his drive to become the next chief executive. Instead of being a credible candidate, he increasingly looks like the proverbial guy born with a silver spoon in his mouth who thinks ordinary rules don't apply to him.

Our ageing tycoons - who built up their wealth by guile, cunning and perseverance - may not have university degrees other than a bucketful of honorary titles, but they did have native intelligence. Unlike in the olden days, however, many no longer tolerate their offspring idling on family wealth. Their children are sent to the best schools overseas, where hefty donations and personal connections guarantee admission. Many return upon graduation from top-notch business schools and are groomed to take over the family business. Not a few of them now sit on the Election Committee alongside daddies ready to choose the next chief executive.

Many of the family businesses they take over are also publicly listed and play a dominant role in Hong Kong's economy. Others of the younger generation are so driven they start their own enterprises confident in their own abilities, though they are never shy about exploiting the family name.

Family privilege sends them to the top, and that's usually when trouble hits and they prove unequal to the job. If only they were just idling away family money from the lap of luxury instead of ruining public assets.