Crash tycoon Kok Lam’s wife behind much of Brilliant Group’s success

As search goes on, reports emerge that Kok Lam admitted he only executed strategies thought up by Liu Xiangyun for Brilliant Group

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 December, 2013, 5:37pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 December, 2013, 9:29am

Behind every great man is a woman. That popular saying is particularly apt in the case of Kok Lam, the mainland tycoon killed in a helicopter crash in France on Friday.

Business friends of Kok say his wife, Lau Sheung-wan, also known as Liu Xiangyun, was the real brains behind many of the successful projects of the Brilliant Group, the company he headed.

Founded by the couple in 1995, the Kunming-based business empire is a household name in Yunnan province.

The group's business activities include upmarket teas, cultural tourism, property development, hotels and resorts, management of shopping centres, and recently fine French wine.

In a previous interview with Kunming newspaper Metro Times, Kok was honest enough to say that his role in the group was to execute the strategies thought up by his wife.

In the same interview, Liu said: "I and my husband are the best partners. He takes care of money. I do not take care of the money stuff. I am not good at managing money. But I am good at making it."

Some of the couple's business friends said the Brilliant Group had been involved in some unsuccessful property projects in its early years and that it was Liu who had revived them, turning them into boutique hotels and spa resorts. "Some of Ms Liu's projects have even won awards," one of the friends said.

The group later invested in projects to develop ancient villages and towns in Yunnan province into tourist attractions.

After their success in the hotel business, they entered the wine business. Kok reportedly told business friends in Yunnan that they had wanted to buy a wine estate in France and develop it into an upmarket tea- and wine-tasting retreat. They also planned to build a hotel nearby. They also had plans to sell the French wine at their hotels in the mainland.

Kok bought Chateau de La Riviere and its 65 hectares of vineyards for €30 million (HK$318 million), reportedly the biggest-ever Chinese investment in Bordeaux. He was in the helicopter surveying the vineyard with its former owner and an interpreter when it crashed into the Dordogne river. The body of Kok's 12-year-old son was recovered on Saturday. There is no chance that Kok, French winemaker James Gregoire or their interpreter could have survived.

Liu was meant to be on the doomed flight, but she declined at the last minute, saying she was afraid of helicopters.

A Brilliant Group spokesman said some executives had travelled to Bordeaux to take care of related matters. The executives issued a statement saying the company would stick with its plan to turn the chateau into a tea- and wine-tasting retreat.

The statement said 20 Buddhist monks from Europe would perform a ceremony at the scene of the accident today.

French police have recovered the helicopter from the river. Colonel Ghislain Rety, the head of the gendarmerie in the Gironde region, where the chateau is located, said: "It's a delicate operation. The aim is to preserve the wreckage in its current form for small details that can explain why it crashed."

Rety was not sure when the bodies would be recovered: "We can recover them today or in six months but we will find them."

Watch: Chinese tycoon's chopper crash: police lift wreck from river bed