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Li Ka-shing

‘Retirement is too busy,’ says Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing as he continues work with his foundation

Multibillionaire says a time will come when he will have to hand over the reins of the Li Ka Shing Foundation to his two sons

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 8:30am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 2:14pm

Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing says he has found his first two months of retirement to be “too busy” looking after projects at his family charity and he will eventually hand it over to his two sons.

Sitting alongside his younger son, Richard Li Tzar-kai, the multibillionaire said a time would come when he would have to hand over the reins of the Li Ka Shing Foundation.

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“I am 90 years old [this month] and I know when to take a step back – Richard cannot reject this,” Li joked during an interview last week – his first since he retired in May.

Richard Li would become vice-chairman of the foundation, while his elder son, Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, would take over as chairman.

Li Ka-shing handed control of his its two most prominent companies, CK Hutchison Holdings and CK Asset Holdings, to Victor Li in May.

And on Friday, Li Ka-shing announced he was stepping down as honorary chairman of Shantou University, saying he would pass his lifelong mission to support education to Richard Li.

The Li Ka Shing Foundation, which was established in 1980, has donated more than HK$20 billion (US$3 billion) to charities across the globe, including HK$10 billion to build Shantou University in Guangdong province, where Li was born.

“If Richard loses money [for the foundation], he will have to pay for it himself,” Li said with a laugh, before quickly praising his youngest son for his contributions to the foundation.

Richard Li, who was sat beside his father during the interview, gave a small smile. He said he was awestruck by what his father was able to achieve through the charity.

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“What I am most impressed by is how he devoted so much time and effort into helping society – even more than just donating the money,” he said. “Honestly, based on the workload of my job today, it will be hard for me to achieve what he has. My hope is I can gradually do more.”

Known in Hong Kong as “Superman Li” for his sharp business acumen, Li Ka-shing, who turns 90 on July 29, stressed how important it was for his sons to carry on his mission as a benefactor in education and medicine – two areas that are close to his heart.

He said studying was one of his passions when he was a boy, despite growing up poor and suffering from tuberculosis. He was forced to leave school at 12 and his father died when he was 14.

But he remained dedicated to self-learning, buying old textbooks that were set to be burned as fuel, he said.

“This is why it is my lifelong wish to support education and health care.”

Li, who according to Forbes is worth US$32.6 billion, has pledged to give a third of his assets to the foundation – a decision, he said, that did not come easy.

He remembered surprising his family with the news over dinner.

“I told Victor he had a little brother. I said he will get some benefits, but as long as you do not bully him, he will never bother you,” Li said, chuckling at the memory of his family left bewildered by the announcement.

He then let them know he meant the foundation.

As for the family’s role at Shantou University, which he helped build 37 years ago, Li said they would not “involve themselves too deeply” in how the institution was run.

The university has drawn the ire of the Communist Party for not toeing the ideological line and resisting illegal religious “infiltration”.

“Politics is a very sensitive issue, since we are from Hong Kong, we are not very familiar with the situation in mainland China. In the future, it comes down to the president of the university, who is appointed by the government,” Li said.

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He said he expected Richard Li to support the school in the usual way.

“But I will not guarantee it is forever. It depends on whether the projects are appropriate.”

He said at this point in his life he wants to preserve energy because charity was about more than just writing checks.

“When I came here [to build the university], I slept only four hours at most, and sometimes pull an all-nighter just to work. Money is only secondary, it was all the time and effort.”