Li Ka-shing's exit plan marks end of era for Asia's tycoons

Li Ka-shing's exit plan marks end of era for Asia's tycoons
Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, for decades one of the world's richest people, has told associates that he plans to step down as chairman of his flagship conglomerate, CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd., by next year, when he turns 90, according to people briefed by Mr. Li.
PHOTO: Reuters

The curtain is falling on a generation of Asia's tycoons who forged vast fortunes in the fires of the region's political and economic upheaval of the past half-century.

Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, for decades one of the world's richest people, has told associates that he plans to step down as chairman of his flagship conglomerate, CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd., by next year, when he turns 90, according to people briefed by Mr. Li.

A Chinese-born, Hong Kong-made billionaire, Mr. Li built a plastic-flower manufacturer into a global empire spanning property, energy, ports, telecoms and retail.

Passing the baton to his previously anointed successor, his eldest son, Victor Li, would represent the most significant corporate abdication yet among an elite of aging billionaires in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia.

These tycoons combined business savvy and carefully cultivated political connections-often with authoritarian governments-to prosper in Asia's postcolonial economies and, more recently, from China's economic opening.

With an average age of 80, the current 10 wealthiest tycoons in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia are collectively the world's oldest, according to an analysis of data from Forbes' 2017 billionaires list.

They include sugar-to-palm-oil and hotel baron Robert Kuok, 93, of Malaysia; Thailand's chicken-and-pork king, Dhanin Chearavanont, 78; and Philippines shoe seller-turned mall developer Henry Sy, 92.

All are from Chinese emigrant families and became the richest men in their countries.

Mr. Kuok hasn't announced succession plans, but his eldest son is now chairman of the family's main private company.

Mr. Chearavanont handed the reins earlier this year to his sons, appointing his eldest as chairman. Mr. Sy has made his six children heirs to his company.

As these men face succession, some investors question whether their privileged, mostly Western-educated heirs can steer their corporate juggernauts as effectively as their self-made fathers did.

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