HONG KONG • Billionaire Li Ka Shing told associates that he plans to retire by next year as chairman of his flagship CK Hutchison Holdings, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter.
Mr Li has not specified a date but is likely to step down by his 90th birthday in July next year, the newspaper reported. The tycoon plans to remain as senior adviser and keep his office atop CK Hutchison's headquarters building in downtown Hong Kong.
In a statement, CK Hutchison said: "There is no concrete timetable at this stage and Mr Li will make his official announcement when he decides to retire." Mr Li, who is in "very good" health, has discussed retirement periodically and continues to be confident in his son Victor Li to take over, it said.
Though the 88-year-old tycoon has flagged he will pass on control of his group to his elder son, the retirement of Hong Kong's richest man would mark the end of an era.
Mr Li, who is known locally as "Superman" for his business acumen, is the city's richest resident and his US$32.6 billion (S$45.21 billion) fortune ranks second in Asia, after that of Alibaba Group Holding's Mr Jack Ma, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
"On the whole, it would be a bit of a shock," said Mr Richard Harris, Hong Kong-based chief executive officer of Port Shelter Investment Management. "Not only is he a local entrepreneur who built things up in terms of Hong Kong, but he really got it in terms of turning his empire into a global empire rather than just a big company based in Hong Kong."
Shares of CK Hutchison traded at HK$98.70, unchanged from Monday.
A refugee to Hong Kong who swept factory floors as a teenager, Mr Li rose to head a global business empire that built skyscrapers, provided mobile-phone services and controlled ports across the globe.
He made his first fortune through a plastic-flower manufacturer that later became Asia's biggest maker of the ornaments. After some well-timed property investments cemented his wealth, he began expanding his empire into retail, energy, telecommunications, media and biotechnology.
By last year, he employed 270,000 people in more than 50 countries. Despite his success, Mr Li also symbolised the wealth inequality in a city known for having the most unaffordable private housing in the world and where business is dominated by a handful of families.
In an interview last year, he called for higher corporate taxes to help tackle wealth inequality.
On retirement, Mr Li said: "I could retire today if I wanted to, in the next five minutes or whenever."