Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong’s Richest Man, Retires After 50 Years

Li Ka-shing, a wartime refugee who used to sweep factory floors in Hong Kong for a living, retired after a career spanning more than half a century amassing one of Asia’s biggest fortunes from building skyscrapers to selling soap bars.

The 89-year-old chairman of CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd. and CK Asset Holdings Ltd. will stay an adviser to the group after stepping down in May. Elder son Victor, 53, will take over a conglomerate that touches the lives of practically everyone in Hong Kong — the family’s Power Assets Holdings Ltd. generates their electricity and ParknShop supermarkets sell their groceries. The group also operates mobile-phone stores and Superdrug and Savers in the U.K., owns ports around the world and a controlling stake in Husky Energy Inc. in Canada.

Li Ka-shing started off as a teenager sweeping floors.

“Looking back all these years, it’s my honor to have founded Cheung Kong and to have served society,” Li told a packed room of journalists in Hong Kong on Friday. It’s been “my greatest honor,” he said.

The retirement came on a high note as Li’s four biggest companies — CK Hutchison, CK Asset, CK Infrastructure Holdings Ltd. and Power Assets Holdings Ltd. — reported higher 2017 profits. All four stocks rose, though announcement — including two of the earnings — came after the end of trading in Hong Kong.

With a fortune of about $34 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Li has been a fixture as the city’s richest man for an entire generation of Hong Kongers and spearheaded an era defined by a handful of swashbuckling Chinese immigrants who built large empires across Asia. For many, he is the face of the changing fortunes of Hong Kong as the former colony’s British elite gave way to Chinese dynasties.

“Li’s retirement symbolizes the end of an era,” said Joseph P.H. Fan, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who has researched family-run businesses for two decades. “No one can replace Li Ka-shing as the legendary founder of the largest conglomerate in Hong Kong.”

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SOURCE: Bloomberg, Bruce Einhorn and Prudence Ho