Insight: HK's Victor Li, son of "Superman", has hard act to follow

Sun Oct 14, 2012 7:32pm EDT
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By Alex Frew McMillan

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Back in the days before e-mail, Victor Li, the heir to Asia's largest family fortune, used to sleep with a fax machine by his bed, ready for his famously restless father, Li Ka-shing, to send through instructions at any time of night.

And on several occasions at meetings, before the elder Li walked into the room, young Victor asked - only half in jest - for the gathered executives to beg his dad to go easy on him, say sources who have worked with the Li family over many years.

The eldest son of Li Ka-shing, a rags-to-riches property tycoon known as "Superman" in his adoptive Hong Kong, has always had big shoes to fill - and some members of the city's business and political elite now wonder if they will ever really fit.

Li Ka-shing, 84, anointed Victor, 48, as his successor at a shareholder meeting in May. Then in July, the eldest son took up a two-thirds stake in the family trust, giving Victor control of a business empire valued by Forbes magazine at $25.5 billion.

The group's assets span property, ports, power, water, supermarkets, drug stores and telecoms, and it has such a pervasive presence in Hong Kong that most of the city's 7 million people do business with it virtually every day. The group, led by flagship property developer Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd (0001.HK: Quote), spans 52 nations and employs 270,000 people.

Though an octogenarian, the elder Li is an active man outside of work, known to still play golf several times a week. He is active inside the Cheung Kong office tower as well. He is still the name and face of the company and continues to make the key business decisions, according to sources familiar with the group's inner workings.

But the day will come when Victor Li will be in charge.

For some, Victor is a numbers-focused manager, a master of detail who has a track record of running assets well - and a man who has had to deal with some immense personal challenges, including being kidnapped for ransom in his early 30s.   Continued...

Hutchison Whampoa Ltd Chairman Li Ka-shing (C), his elder son Victor Li (L), Deputy Chairman of Cheung Kong Holdings, and his younger son Richard Li, Chairman of PCCW Ltd, are seen during news conferences on their 2002 company results in Hong Kong in this March 20, 2003 file combination photo. REUTERS/Kin Cheung/Files