Young Asian heiresses being groomed for family business empires

HONG KONG • Asia's billionaire family boardrooms are making way for heiresses.

Ms Michelle Li, the 23-year-old granddaughter of Mr Li Ka Shing, Hong Kong's richest person, has joined him, her father and uncle on the board of Chesterfield Realty, a family-controlled unit of CK Hutchinson Holdings, according to the Hong Kong Company Registry.

She is among third-generation women being groomed for leadership at conglomerates created by some of Hong Kong's wealthiest patriarchs. While her father, Mr Victor Li, took the reins last year from Mr Li Ka Shing, 90, as chairman of the group's flagship companies, her appointment shows that succession planning is already under way for a generation from now.

Harvard University graduate Sonia Cheng runs the Rosewood Hotels arm of New World Development, founded by her grandfather, Mr Cheng Yu Tung.

Ms Kristine Li, the eldest granddaughter of property tycoon Lee Shau Kee, studied at Stanford University and is a deputy general manager at Henderson Land Development.

"These women have a lot to contribute and could become good role models if they take up leadership," said University of Hong Kong Professor Petula Ho. "But this is very class-biased and they come from really rich families. For others, the glass ceiling is very true. Hong Kong is still a man's world."

In China, where fortunes were created more recently, control is only now starting to be handed to the second generation, many of them women.

Ms Yang Huiyan, co-chairman of Country Garden Holdings, was only 23 in 2005 when she inherited her father's stake in the real estate developer. The Ohio State University graduate is now worth US$19.2 billion (S$26 billion) and is China's richest woman, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a ranking of the world's 500 wealthiest people.

Ms Theresa Tse, a University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business graduate, was 22 in 2015 when she became chairman of her father's Sino Biopharmaceuticals. Her stake is worth US$1.1 billion.

Ms Perenna Kei, 28, joined the board of Logan Property Holdings, the company founded by her father, Mr Kei Hoi Pang, in 2010.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2019, with the headline 'Young Asian heiresses being groomed for family business empires'. Print Edition | Subscribe