Li Ka-shing’s rags-to-riches story, though lesser known, rivals that of John Rockefeller or Cornelius Vanderbilt. During childhood, Li fled his native home in China with his family to settle in Hong Kong during Japan’s invasion of China in the 1940s. Shortly after, Li’s father died of tuberculosis, causing Li to quit school and take a job in a watch strap factory.
He transitioned to work in a plastics trading company, and opened his own plastics company by age 15. When rising rents prevented him from renewing his lease, he developed a new factory himself, starting his real estate career. By 1972, Li’s real estate development company, Cheung Kong Holdings, which he started with about $50K, was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. In 1979, he acquired Hutchison Whampoa, which allowed him to become the world’s largest independent operator of ports, including investments in Hong Kong, China, the U.K., Panama, the Bahamas, Rotterdam and Canada. He was also one of the first major investors in Facebook.
In March 2015, Cheung Kong Holdings and Hutchison Whampoa merged, creating CK Hutchison Holdings Limited. The 88-year-old is still chairman of CK Hutchison, and Li Ka-shing’s businesses span real estate, ports, infrastructure, electricity, telecommunication, retail and the internet.
Li is one of the richest people in China, regularly slipping in and out of the top spot as deals close. His various companies have more than 310,000 employees across more than 50 countries.
Li has two sons, Victor Li and Richard Li. He refers to his charity, the Li Ka-shing Foundation, as his third son. He has pledged to donate one-third of his assets to philanthropic efforts to advance education and medical research. The foundation has donated millions to universities and research institutions, including the £115M Li Ka Shing Centre at Oxford University.
In 2000, he was knighted as Commander of the Order of the British Empire and Commandeur. A year later, he earned Hong Kong’s highest honor, the Grand Bauhinia Medal. Together, these awards make him The Honorable Sir Li Ka-shing.
Though CK Hutchison Holdings maintains that Li is in good health, the Wall Street Journal reported in June that he would retire by 2018 and leave his son Victor to lead the company. — Julia Bunch
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