Hong Kong's longest-serving CEO David Li steps down after 38 years, hands over to sons

HONG KONG (AFP) - David Li, the longest-serving chief executive officer of a major Hong Kong-listed company, is stepping down from the top position at Bank of East Asia after a 38-year run.

Mr Li, 80, will withdraw from his day-to-day role as CEO from July 1 and will become executive chairman, according to a statement on Thursday (May 23). His sons Adrian Li and Brian Li will assume the roles of co-CEOs.

Mr David Li, who joined Bank of East Asia in 1969, was appointed CEO in 1981 and named chairman in 1997. His 38-year tenure marks him as the longest-serving CEO among all companies listed on the Hong Kong Composite Index, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Among other long-serving current CEOs of companies in the Hang Sang Composite Index, Hengan International Group Co's Hui Lin Chit has had a 34-year run and Want Want China Holdings' Tsai Eng-Meng has been head of his firm since 1987. Benjamin Pan's tenure as CEO of AAC Technologies Holdings Inc is so far 26 years, the data show.

Paul Singer's Elliott Management Corp, which owns about 8 per cent of Bank of East Asia, has previously alleged that the lender acted improperly when issuing stock that diluted minority shareholders and cited the bank's "chronically poor performance" and "the inability of an entrenched executive management team to deliver proper value." The New York-based hedge fund started legal proceedings against the firm in 2016. That case continues.

Bank of East Asia was cut from the Hang Seng Index last year after a 34-year stay in the benchmark. Shares of the lender, which was incorporated in Hong Kong in 1918, have fallen 25 per cent over the past year, while the gauge has dropped about 10 per cent.

None of the 11 analysts tracked by Bloomberg who follow Bank of East Asia have buy ratings on the stock. Six recommend investors sell and the rest rate it a hold, giving the bank a consensus rating of 1.91 out of 5, the lowest among the Bloomberg Asia Pacific Banks Index's 63 members.

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