Macau casino heiress Pansy Ho’s wild past firmly behind her as she presides over multibillion empire from The Peak
Pansy Ho Chiu-king must be feeling confident these days.
Her main business, Shun Tak Holdings, posted a 66 per cent year on year increase in revenue to nearly HK$6.4 billion (US$815.4 million) and reversed a net loss of nearly HK$600 million in 2016 to net profit of HK$1.4 billion, thanks to property sales and an improving business environment in Macau. And her company is part of the consortium that has won exclusive rights to a bus service operating on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge. And she has promoted herself from managing director to group executive chairman of Shun Tak Holdings.
And to put the cherry on top, Ho, with a net worth estimated at US$4.8 billion, just dropped US$114.6 million for a house on The Peak – one of the most prestigious districts in Hong Kong.
It’s a remarkable turn for a woman who, in the 1990s, was considered a party-going socialite rather than a businesswoman. She could be spotted on beaches in Thailand, most notoriously with her bad-boy lover Gilbert Yeung, or captured by the paparazzi at nightclubs in Hong Kong.
Nowadays, she is more likely to be seen at high-minded cultural events, or spending time secluded aboard her yacht in the Mediterranean.
Ho is one of 17 children by Stanley Ho, one of the world’s best-known casino moguls. Uniquely among Stanley Ho’s children, Pansy has publicly emerged as heir-apparent. She has shareholdings in SJM Holdings and MGM China.
She famously keeps a retinue with her, always looking after her personal affairs and jumping to her orders.
In a 2015 interview, Ho said that as a child, she wanted to be an anthropologist or archaeologist. Her mother dissuaded her by reminding her how afraid she was of dirty places. Ho went on to study art history and religious studies, and later considered becoming an art historian or curator. At her father’s urging, she studied business.
She also developed a pretty clear sense of what she liked and what she did not. In 1991, Ho married Julian Hui, the scion of a low-key property family and five years her junior. For the wedding, the couple apparently stipulated not just the crystal and silverware to bring as presents, but also the expected brand name for each item, according to an SCMP report.
Ho’s business and personal life have always been intertwined. She first started work at Shun Tak, under her father, in 1994. In 1996, her father become a partner on a casino project in North Korea with Albert Yeung, chairman of Emperor Group. By the late 1990s, Ho and Gilbert Yeung, Albert’s hard-partying son, were an item. After a year and a half, it was broken off when Stanley Ho publicly declared that Pansy would lose her inheritance if she married Gilbert. The affair was widely thought to be the reason for her divorce from Hui in 2000.
In a 2009 interview, Ho described how as a child, she often accompanied her father on trips into the mountains to hunt partridges and wild ducks. “I was the brave one of the family who would go with him, and we would climb mountains and trek through the wilderness for hours together,” she said at the time. Despite this, she said she only ever referred to her father as “Dr Ho”.
In early 2011, Pansy was famously involved in a dispute with her father, who accused her, her siblings and his third wife Ina, of having tricked him out of almost all his assets. The feud put the Ho family into the spotlight like no other Asian dynasty. While staying tight-lipped about the affair, Pansy and her family came to a settlement on the distribution of the ageing tycoon’s assets and wealth, and the family has outwardly been at peace ever since.
Appearances have always mattered to Pansy, who has seemingly mastered the art of public theatre, even having a brief turn as a TV actress in her youth. For a photo shoot in 2015, she came prepared with several outfits – flattering and youthful, but not fancy. During investigations before the Nevada Gaming Commission into her father’s ties to the criminal underworld, she could appear before the cameras looking like a Chinese middle class housewife. In the spring of 2018, newly slimmed down, she looked like a 21st century version of the Dowager Empress Cixi.
Certainly, building up a business based on Macau’s gaming attractions is not always smooth sailing. In 2012, along with China Eastern Airlines and Qantas Airways, Shun Tak invested in a proposed new budget airline, Jetstar Hong Kong. But its application for an operating licence was ultimately rejected by Hong Kong’s Air Transport Licensing Authority this year, on the basis that ownership and decision-making was not sufficiently Hong Kong-based, thanks in part to a challenge by Cathay Pacific.
But she has also shown persistence in building up her businesses, and shrewdness in negotiating her position within MGM China, while tightening her grip on Shun Tak over the years. Certainly, she will be engaging in many more negotiations on the distribution of the Ho family business interests in the years to come, but now she will be doing it with a rather spectacular view from The Peak as the backdrop to her lofty stage.