Hundreds turn up to say goodbye to Hong Kong tycoon ‘Superman Li’ on his last working day
His eldest son, Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, takes over as chairman of CK Hutchison Holdings and CK Asset Holdings
More than 3,000 shareholders turned up for two annual general meetings of the CK Group, the group of companies owned by Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong’s richest man, on Thursday. They wanted to say good bye to “Superman Li”, a nickname he earned because of his deal making savvy, on his last day as chairman of some of the world’s largest conglomerates.
In a new chapter for his business empire, built by Li over about seven decades, his eldest son, Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, takes over as the chairman of its two most prominent companies, CK Hutchison Holdings and CK Asset Holdings. The group includes at least 12 companies listed in Hong Kong, Singapore, the UK, Canada and Australia.
Li, who turns 90 in July, steps down and retires from the position of chairman and executive director upon the conclusion of the two companies’ AGMs on Thursday. He will, however, continue to serve as a senior adviser to the group.
He was doing his usual round of morning exercises at 6.45am on Thursday.
“It is my last working day and I’m happy as usual. I started working at the age of 12. Victor [his eldest son] has been working for the group for more than 30 years,” he told reporters waiting outside his home in Deep Water Bay.
“Nothing will change in the company [after Victor takes over as chairman],” he said, adding that he will continue to report for work at his office.
When asked about his views on the government’s proposal for closer cooperation between the government and private developers for the development of farmland to speed up new apartment construction, as part of solving Hong Kong’s chronic home affordability problem, Li said he supported the idea.
“It is good as long as it helps to provide decent homes for the majority of Hong Kong’s salary earners,” he said.
A day earlier, Victor Li told reporters he saw political considerations as a major barrier to realising the government’s proposal.
Later in the day, shareholders in their 70s and 80s braved the rain and wind to attend the AGMs in the grand ballroom of the Harbour Grand Kowloon hotel in Hung Hom, which is owned by the group. Long queues formed in the lobby of the hotel – one of the group’s flagship properties – an hour before the meetings were due to start at noon.
Some of these elderly shareholders are diehard fans of Superman Li.
“I have been holding these shares for more than 10 years, and have received good dividends all these years. I trust Mr Li. I will not sell the shares,” said an 80-year-old with stock in both companies, who only gave her surname as Lee.
Ms Leung, 60, said her CK Group shares were the first stock she ever bought. “I am very practical. I just bought shares that would make me a profit. Li’s succession plan is good. I believe the group will continue to do well. It will not go wrong, unless there is a bomb dropping in Mr Li’s office,” she said.
The two companies have interests in telecoms, container ports and real estate, and had a combined market capitalisation of HK$602 billion (US$76.69 billion) at Thursday’s market close.
At the AGM, when Li was asked about his last working day, he said: “I’m quite touched. All the shareholders have been good to me. No one has complained in the past 46 years.”
In response to a request by shareholders that CK Asset lower the prices of the apartments it sells, he said: “If we are the only firm offering flats at cheaper prices, I will be kicked out by my shareholders.”
When asked about his opinion on all the different voices and disputes in Hong Kong, Li added: “It is impossible for one person to make the changes. All people should work together. I hope we can all work together.”
Victor Li, his successor, has worked at the CK Group for 33 years. He has completed a number of major overseas deals, including the acquisition of British rolling stock leasing company Eversholt Rail Group for £1.2 billion (US$1.63 billion) in 2015. Two years later, he led the purchase of Australian energy company Duet Group for A$7.4 billion (US$5.53 billion).
The expansion of its overseas portfolio, and major asset disposals in Hong Kong and mainland China by the group has led to accusations that the family was bailing out on the motherland, something Li has categorically denied doing. He said the group was invested heavily in China’s energy sector.
Li will be entitled to an annual advisory fee of HK$5,000 in his new role with CK Hutchison Holdings and CK Asset Holdings, the same as his annual salary when he was chairman. He was the chairman of CK Group for 46 years.
Shares in CK Hutchison closed 0.2 per cent lower at HK$91.65, while shares in CK Asset shed 0.2 per cent to close at HK$67. The Hang Seng Index gained 0.9 per cent on Thursday.