Victor Li finally emerges from the shadow of his Superman father Li Ka-shing
Victor, a Stanford University-educated engineer, takes over control of CK Hutchison Holdings and CK Asset Holdings after a decades-long apprenticeship under his illustrious father
It’s not easy being the son of a superhuman action hero.
Victor Li, 53, heir to Hong Kong’s biggest family fortune, has spent his career in the shadow of his father and billionaire property tycoon Li Ka-shing, known as “Superman” for his deal-making savvy.
On Friday, the elder Li, 89, announced his retirement as chairman of CK Hutchison Holdings and CK Asset Holdings – his two biggest companies – in a move that shifts control of the telecoms, retail and infrastructure business empire to Victor, a Stanford University-educated engineer who has preferred to stay out of the media glare.
Li is expected to focus on building profitability by cutting costs and finding synergies inside the global conglomerate that also owns utility companies and mobile-phone networks. His father will remain as a senior adviser and will continue to work closely together.
“When I return to work tomorrow, it will be the same,” Victor said at the Friday press conference announcing the change of the guard, responding to a question posed by Bloomberg. “Yesterday, we were a team. It will stay like that whether he is chairman or adviser. We are neighbours at home, so how can we not talk to each other?”
Victor takes the reins after a decades-long apprenticeship that has had its share of dramas. Here are the highlights:
- 1988: Canadian Deal
The government of British Columbia sold the site of the 1986 Vancouver Expo to a company controlled by the Li family, according to reports in Canadian newspaper The Globe & Mail and other media, and Victor Li spent several years overseeing the development of a mixed commercial-and-residential building complex that is the largest of its kind in Canada.
- May 1996: Kidnapped
Kidnappers, led by the notorious organised crime figure Cheung Tze-keung, abducted Li in Hong Kong on his way home from the office, according to reports in the South China Morning Post and other media, and Li Ka-shing secured his son’s release by paying a ransom of HK$1 billion (US$127 million). In 1998, after kidnapping another Hong Kong tycoon, Cheung was arrested, convicted and executed in China.
- June 1996: IPO
Just weeks after his kidnapping ordeal, Victor Li went ahead with an initial public offering of Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings, a spin-off of the group’s China infrastructure business, with Victor as chairman. Assets include a road-and-bridge company and a cement producer.
- 2000: Sibling Rivalry
In the 1990s, Victor’s younger brother, Richard Li, seemed destined to compete for the top job at the family business. Richard founded satellite broadcaster Star TV, which emerged as a major media player. By the turn of the millennium, the Lis had sold Star and Richard formed his own internet investment company, PCCW, that acquired Hong Kong’s main telecom operator. Richard then stepped down as deputy chairman of the family’s flagship company, eliminating any doubt that Victor would be Li Ka-shing’s heir.
- 2004: Deal Flops
Air Canada agreed to sell a 31 per cent stake in the airline, then emerging from bankruptcy, to Victor’s Trinity Time Investments. The C$650 million (US$497 million) deal unravelled after Victor concluded that the airline’s unions were not willing to accept cost concessions.
- 2012: Heir to the Throne
Li Ka-shing anointed Victor as his successor. The younger Li started putting his stamp on the group by focusing on deals in the infrastructure and utilities sectors. Under Victor’s leadership, the group completed a number of landmark deals, including the 2015 acquisition of the UK’s Eversholt Rail Group. Two years later, he spearheaded the purchase of Australian energy firm Duet Group for A$7.4 billion (US$5.7 billion).