HONG KONG • Mr Cheng Yu Tung, a gold-shop apprentice who married his boss' daughter and helped develop the world's largest jewellery retailer, has died. He was 91.
Mr Cheng died peacefully with his family by his side on Thursday.
Like his fellow Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka Shing, Mr Cheng was among Chinese refugees who fled Japanese invaders and made it big outside of the mainland.
Mr Cheng, the third-richest tycoon in Hong Kong according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, had an estimated net worth of US$12.7 billion (S$17 billion) through his holdings in Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group and property conglomerate New World Development.
He was "a born entrepreneur", Mr Raymond Or, a friend and former vice-chairman and chief executive officer of Hang Seng Bank, said in a September 2012 interview. His business and investment decisions were "aggressive yet they hit the spot even in tough times", Mr Or said.
Chow Tai Fook Jewellery operates more than 2,000 outlets in China and Hong Kong. Its revenue was more than 70 per cent larger than that of New York-based Tiffany and Co in the latest fiscal year.
New World Development's businesses include property, energy, transport and department stores.
Mr Cheng was born in 1925 in Shunde, a city in Guangdong. In 1940, he fled to Macau to escape China's war with Japan. At the age of 15, he got his first job as an apprentice at the gold shop of family friend Chow Chi Yeun, who founded Chow Tai Fook in 1929. Three years later, he married Mr Chow's daughter, Tsui Ying, in a marriage arranged by their fathers.
In 1946, Mr Cheng moved to Hong Kong from Macau to open a store. The jewellery chain expanded as Hong Kong's population doubled to almost 1.5 million with mostly displaced refugees. By 1950, the city's population had swelled to more than two million as Chinese fled Communist China, and Mr Cheng used the profits from selling gold to fund his property purchases.
He was a major philanthropist. In April 2012, he spoke at a groundbreaking event for a building named after him at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. In 2008, he pledged millions of dollars to the University of Hong Kong. "Because I lost my chance to go to school, I want to help the future generations of our nation to be educated," the Standard reported him saying at the time.
Mr Cheng and his wife had two sons and two daughters.