Lee Man-tat, head of Lee Kum Kee sauce empire, dies at 91
- Lee Man-tat was ranked third on the Forbes list of Hong Kong’s richest tycoons in 2019
- Tycoon was honoured with DHL-SCMP Hong Kong Business Awards’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018
Oyster sauce tycoon Lee Man-tat, chairman of Lee Kum Kee Group, has died. He was 91.
“Mr. Lee was an inspirational leader with a unique and forward-looking vision. He constantly brought new insight and momentum to the group and successfully transformed Lee Kum Kee into a world-renowned sauce and condiment brand,” the statement added.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor expressed deep sorrow over the demise of Lee Man-tat and extended her condolences to his family. Lee was awarded the Silver Bauhinia Star by the Hong Kong government in 2018 for his charitable services and voluntary work.
“Mr Lee was a successful businessman and outstanding industrialist with distinguished achievements,” Lam said. “He developed the business inherited from his family into a Chinese sauce empire that has become a household name, with products being sold around the world.”
He joined Lee Kum Kee in 1954 to assist his father Lee Shiu-nan run the family business. The company was started by his grandfather Lee Kum-sheung in 1888, who developed his signature oyster sauce in Zhuhai.
Lee Kum Kee’s oyster sauce is the company’s best known product, which propelled the group’s growth and made it into one of Hong Kong’s best known brands. The company later diversified into health products, property investments, plantations and trading.
Lee was the third generation of the family to run the business, and it is at this point that he should have lost everything, as according to the Chinese adage “wealth does not go beyond the third generation”.
Lee took over the business in the early 1970s, buying out his uncles with his father’s support, to take control of the business ahead of a planned expansion into the US market.
In 2002, Lee’s children presented their father with a plan to create a family council and a family constitution to govern the way the family ran the business and interacted.
Perhaps stung by the public family disputes of earlier years, Lee voluntarily agreed to the arrangement, which weakened his control over the family and the business. It was a rare move for a Hong Kong tycoon.
His children and now grandchildren have all joined the company, working in a more democratic style of corporate governance, which seems to have borne fruit.