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Tuesday, May 28, 2019, 12:12
Hong Kong's second-richest man joins aging tycoons in retirement
By Bloomberg
Tuesday, May 28, 2019, 12:12 By Bloomberg

Lee Shau-kee (JEROME FAVRE / BLOOMBERG)

Hong Kong’s second-richest man, Lee Shau-kee, is stepping down as chairman of Henderson Land Development Co, joining the ranks of the city’s aging tycoons handing the reins to the next generation.

The 91-year-old billionaire announced his retirement from the top post before the developer’s annual meeting Tuesday. While he remains as an executive director at the firm he founded 46 years ago, his sons Peter Lee Ka-kit and Martin Lee Ka-shing will take over as co-chairmen and oversee its Chinese mainland and Hong Kong businesses respectively.

His imminent retirement, which he flagged in March because of his advanced age, comes as other tycoons hand the baton to the younger generation. Li Ka-shing, the city’s richest man, last year put his son Victor in charge of the family businesses, while David Li of the Bank of East Asia last week stepped down after a 38-year tenure as CEO, the longest for a major Hong Kong-listed company.

ALSO READ: HK sees massive wealth transfer from tycoons to heirs

In a farewell interview, Lee said he was positive about the outlook for the property market in Hong Kong.

“The current market still enjoys substantial housing demand, mainly because interest rates are quite low, and also because Chinese people like to have their own properties,” said the nonagenarian, who is worth an estimated US$25 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. “Therefore, investments tend to gear toward properties.”

Home prices in the real-estate obsessed city are near record highs, having risen for the past three months. The rebound — fueled by low interest rates and the perennial shortage of housing — makes a sudden slide late last year look like a temporary blip in the relentless increase in property values.

Lee also cited close ties with the Chinese mainland as a favorable factor for the property market. UBS Group AG earlier this month forecast house prices will rise for another decade, helped by an influx of residents to the Greater Bay Area — a project that integrates a group of Chinese mainland cities with Hong Kong.

Known as ‘Uncle Four’ due to being the fourth child in his family, Lee is part of a generation of Chinese tycoons who immigrated to Hong Kong in the mid-20th century, a period of turmoil on the mainland, and built companies that have grown to dominate the local business scene.

He has left his mark on Hong Kong. Henderson Land was one of the developers of the International Finance Centre, the city’s second-tallest skyscraper. Among more than 100 residential projects, the firm built the luxury 39 Conduit Rd apartments, where in 2009 a unit sold for HK$439 million (US$56 million), a then-record price per square foot in the city, according to the New York Times.

ALSO READ: Henderson snaps up Kai Tak land parcels in HNA fire-sale

In 2017, the company paid a record US$3 billion for a car park in Central, which is being developed into an office building.

Lee started his career in currency and gold trading before moving into property. In 1958, along with seven partners including prominent Chinese businessmen Kwok Tak-seng and Fung King-hey, Lee created a real estate business. Five years later, he founded Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd — now the city’s biggest developer — with Kwok and Fung but left in 1973 to start Henderson Land.

Lee Shau-kee, center, with sons Martin Lee Ka-shing, left, and Peter Lee Ka-kit. (PAUL YEUNG / BLOOMBERG)

Paradise city

The city he helped build is in good shape, Lee said.

“Hong Kong still enjoys a good business environment. The tax system is simple and the tax rate is attractive,” he said. “The comprehensive legal system and the cluster of talents enable Hong Kong to maintain its status as an international financial center.

“When I was young, I experienced the period of war and turmoil. Life was very hard back then, but I survived through the adversity and continued to build my career. Comparatively speaking, Hong Kong is already a paradise. I really have no fear nor worry,” he said.

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