HONG KONG • Mr Li Ka Shing, a wartime refugee who used to sweep factory floors in Hong Kong for a living, is retiring after a career spanning more than half-a-century amassing one of Asia's biggest fortunes from building skyscrapers to selling soap bars.
The 89-year-old chairman of CK Hutchison Holdings and CK Asset Holdings will stay an adviser to the group after stepping down in May.
Elder son Victor, 53, will take over a conglomerate that touches the lives of practically everyone in Hong Kong - the family's Power Assets Holdings generates their electricity and ParknShop supermarkets sell their groceries.
The group also operates mobile-phone stores and Superdrug and Savers in Britain, owns ports around the world and a controlling stake in Husky Energy in Canada.
"Looking back all these years, it's my honour to have founded Cheung Kong and to have served society," Mr Li told a packed room of journalists yesterday. He said he was "happy and honoured" for the opportunities he has had. "Today's young people also have many opportunities," he added. "Knowledge changes fate - you must invest and strengthen yourself."
His retirement remarks came on a high note as his four biggest firms - CK Hutchison, CK Asset, CK Infrastructure Holdings and Power Assets Holdings - reported higher 2017 profits. With a fortune of about US$34 billion (S$45 billion), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Mr Li has been a fixture as the city's richest man for an entire generation of Hong Kongers and spearheaded an era defined by a handful of swashbuckling Chinese immigrants who built large empires across Asia. For many, he is the face of the changing fortunes of Hong Kong as the former colony's British elite gave way to Chinese dynasties.
"Li's retirement symbolises the end of an era," said Chinese University of Hong Kong professor Joseph Fan, who has researched family-run businesses for two decades. "No one can replace Li Ka Shing as the legendary founder of the largest conglomerate in Hong Kong."
Dubbed "Superman" by local media for his business acumen, Mr Li symbolises inequality in a city with one of the most lopsided wealth demographics on the planet. He is a property developer who has won admiration for his entrepreneurial skills and a manager with companies so dominant that they often stifle smaller competition.
A major figure in China's emergence as an economic superpower, his investments there span across industries ranging from energy to retail and infrastructure.
BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE