City Weekend

From rags to riches: three billionaire Hong Kong tycoons who rose to the top from simple beginnings

Business managers should always know what is going on at the lower levels of their enterprise, says Lee Yuen-hong

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 April, 2017, 11:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 April, 2017, 4:35pm

Some of Hong Kong’s most successful business tycoons worked in unskilled manual labour roles before making their millions.

Lee Yuen-hong is the owner of Tsui Wah Holdings Ltd, which operates the traditional Hong Kong-style cha chaan teng restaurant chain Tsui Wah. The chain has more than 32 restaurants in Hong Kong and launched its first mainland branch in Shanghai in 2009. Lee, 62, started his career as a food delivery boy for a Hong Kong restaurant in 1966, when there were few cha chaan tengs in the city, and worked his way up to become a chef before taking over as head of Tsui Wah in 1989.

He has emphasised his belief that senior business managers should always know what is going on at the lower levels of their enterprise.

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“Sometimes we think we know everything because we are at the management grade, but in fact that is not the case,” he said in a 2015 interview with China Daily. “Hard work is a must, no matter how large or how small your business is.”

Meanwhile Chinese billionaire Wang Wei, ranked as the fourth richest man in China by Forbes in 2016, also began his career as a deliveryman when he first founded his courier company SF Express – known as the ‘Fed Ex of China’ – at the age of 22.

The Shanghai born entrepreneur, now 46 years old, started the business at a shop in Mong Kok, reportedly with a US$20,000 loan from his father.

He has said he tried to make his Hong Kong-based courier company a success by personally carrying suitcases across China’s southern border.

The company now employs about 117,000 people, 80,000 of them couriers. This year it announced plans to build its own airport in the mainland city of Ezhou, as a base for its 31 courier aircrafts.

One of Hong Kong’s most notable natives, business magnate Stanley Ho started as a clerical worker for a Japanese-owned import-export firm in Macau before becoming a casino owner. During the second world war, he made money by smuggling luxury goods from Macau across the Chinese border. He established kerosene and construction businesses, before going on to collaborate with other wealthy businessmen in Macau on various franchises, most notably in the gambling industry. Now 95 years old, he is best known for his Macau casino business and boasts an empire worth an estimated US$3 billion.