The investment firm founded by Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, just bought the biggest pub and brewery chain group in the UK — here’s his incredible rags-to-riches life story

Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing waves goodbye to journalists after announcing his retirement as chairman of CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd at a news conference in Hong Kong, China March 16, 2018.

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Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing waves goodbye to journalists after announcing his retirement as chairman of CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd at a news conference in Hong Kong, China March 16, 2018.
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REUTERS/Bobby Yip

  • Often called “Superman,” Li Ka-shing has an incredible “rags-to-riches” story that saw him go from being impoverished in southern China to building a conglomerate that spans across 50 countries and 323,000 employees.
  • Li’s investment firm CK Asset Holdings, now run by his son Victor, will acquire British pub chain Greene King for $5.6 billion, Reuters reported on August 19.
  • Li is one of several ultra-wealthy Hong Kong residents who have spoken out against the protests that have engulfed the city since July.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Hong Kong’s “Superman” is joining the chorus of ultra-wealthy Hong Kong residents who have spoken out against the protests that have engulfed the city since July.

Li Ka-shing took out advertisements in local Hong Kong newspapers calling for an end to the protests on August 15, The South China Morning Post reported. The ads feature the Chinese word for “violence” covered in a general prohibition sign (a red circle with a slash through it), with “stop anger and violence in the name of love,” written below. The ads are signed “a Hong Kong resident Li Ka-shing.” Li alone has lost $3 billion since July, according to the Financial Times.

Read more: The richest man in Hong Kong has lost $3 billion since July, and now he’s joining the chorus of wealthy citizens calling for the 10-week protests to end

The losses have not stopped the Li family from making major acquisitions, however. CK Asset Holdings, now run by his son Victor, will acquire British pub chain Greene King – the biggest pubs and brewery group in the UK – for £4.6 billion ($5.6 billion), Reuters reported August 19.

While he is no longer the richest man in Asia, the 91-year-old still ranks as the 28th-richest person in the world and has a current estimated net worth of $27.8 billion.

Often called “Superman” and Asia’s answer to Warren Buffet by the media, Li has an incredible and inspiring life story. He went from dropping out of school as a child to support his family to becoming the first person of Chinese origin to buy one of the British-built Hong Kong companies that dominated the city since its colonial days.

Christi Danner contributed reporting to an earlier version of this story.


Li Ka-shing was saddled with financial responsibility from a young age. After his family fled to Hong Kong from southern China during WWII, his father died of tuberculosis. He had to leave school before the age of 16 to work in a plastics factory.

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YouTube/Indochink

Source: Business Insider


For almost four years during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, he sent 90% of his pay to his mother. Li worked hard from a young age, often working 16 hours a day, seven days a week, a pace that he says he continues to keep up even at 89 years old.

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YouTube/Indochink

Source: Forbes


Li eventually became the factory’s top salesman and was promoted to be the factory manager at 18.

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Bobby Yip/ Reuters

Source: Forbes


Li showed promise as a leader and visionary when he opened his first factory in 1950, at the age of 22. The factory, Cheung Kong Industries, manufactured all kinds of plastic, but was particularly popular for its plastic flowers. He anticipated that plastics would become a booming industry, and he was right.

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WikiMedia Commons

Source: Business Insider


Li attributes the success of Cheung Kong, which he started with only about $50,000, to a willingness to learn the latest industry trends. “The correlation between knowledge and business as the key to success is closer than ever,” he said.

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WikiMedia Commons

Source: The Telegraph, Evan Carmichael


Though Li dropped out of school at a young age and never received a university degree, he has always been a voracious reader and attributes much of his success to his ability to learn independently. For instance, he completed Cheung Kong’s accounting books in the company’s first year himself with no accounting experience — he simply taught himself from textbooks.

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YouTube/Indochink

Source: Forbes


Though he has many holdings, the thriftiness that was necessary during Li’s childhood has carried over into his current career. His no-debt policy means that his companies operate using as little debt as possible, and Li himself purchases all of his real estate using capital, in order to maintain zero personal debt.

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Siu Chiu/ Reuters

Source: Forbes


Along with knowledge and industry insight, Li considers loyalty and reputation to be keys to success. In a 2006 interview with Forbes, he said, “Anytime I say ‘yes’ to someone, it is a contract.”

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Reuters

Source: Forbes


In 1956, he once turned down an offer that would have given him an extra 30% profit on a sale (and allowed him to expand his factory) because he had already made a verbal agreement with another buyer. He still carries this principle of loyalty today, even when it means losing money.

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Bobby Yip/ Reuters

Source: Forbes


Like many famous investors, Li often bought when others sold. When riots inspired by Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution broke out in Hong Kong in 1967, Li invested in the city’s property as prices tanked.

Source: Bloomberg


In 1969, Hasbro commissioned Li Ka-shing’s Hong Kong plastics factory to make G.I. Joe dolls for export to the United States.

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Flickr / Cerebral Pizza

Source: Forbes


Li scored a major victory in 1979 when he bought control of Hutchison Whampoa from the bank HSBC Holdings. Li negotiated to buy Hutchison shares for less than half of their value and, in doing so, became the first person of Chinese origin to own one of the British-controlled companies that dominated Hong Kong since the 1800s.

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The Hutchison Whampoa headquarters.
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Zhongwanhang, Wikipedia

Source: Bloomberg News


Though he is known mainly as a property developer, Li’s companies control 70% of port traffic and most electric utilities and telecommunications in Hong Kong. He also owns a majority stake in Husky Energy, a Canadian company. Li distributes his wealth and power across different industries and geographic areas, showing that he is unafraid to learn and experiment in new arenas.

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Bobby Yip/ Reuters

Source: Business Insider


Li enjoys spending his “mad money” on these investments rather than on material things. He consciously makes an effort to be perceived as materially modest. He wore a $50 Citizen electric wristwatch for years before moving to an equally cheap Seiko. In recent years, he upgraded to a $400 Citizen Eco Watch due to its battery life and durability.

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Tyrone Siu/ Reuters

Source: Business Insider


Li suffered a personal tragedy when his wife, Chong Yuet-ming, died of an aneurysm at the age of 55 on January 1, 1990. Her grave was later vandalized by tomb raiders.

Source: Forbes


In 1996, his eldest son Victor was kidnapped by infamous Chinese mobster “Big Spender” Cheung Tze-keung. Li reportedly paid a $127.5 million ransom. Chinese authorities eventually caught and executed Cheung.

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NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images

Source: Bloomberg


One of Li’s biggest successes came in 1999 when he sold mobile phone company Orange to German conglomerate Mannesmann AG for a $15 billion profit.

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Chris Gent (left), Chief Executive of Vodafone Airtouch Plc shakes hands with his Mannesmann AG counterpart Klaus Esser in Duesseldorf February 3, 2000.
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Reuters

Li arranges his holdings strategically to ensure his security despite the state of the economy. He anticipates economic highs and lows. “I do not get overly optimistic when the market is good, nor overly pessimistic when the market is down,” he said.

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Tyrone Siu/ Reuters

Source: Forbes


Li’s good financial habits have given him the freedom to treat investment in technology as a “high-stakes hobby,” through Horizons Ventures Ltd. His longtime friend, Solina Chau, runs the tech fund.

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LKS Foundation H.K./ YouTube

Source: Forbes


But Li isn’t entirely frugal. He owns a palatial residence in Hong Kong’s Deep Water Bay — where even a four-bedroom family house can set you back £13 million (more than $16 million).

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Google Maps, Business Insider

Source: South China Morning Post


Li was one of the first big investors in Facebook and Spotify and also invested in a startup that aims to replace eggs with a plant substitute. Li only invests in technology that he sees as “disruptive” and will make his holdings more cutting-edge. This is consistent with his constant innovation in his businesses.

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Dario Cantatore/ Getty Images

Source: Business Insider, Forbes


Perhaps one of the most important factors that has contributed to Li’s success is the passion he feels for his work. In 2010, he told Forbes, “The most important enjoyment for me is to work hard and make more profit.”

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Li poses with a young fan at one of his foundation’s events.
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Love Ideas Love HK/ Facebook

Source: Business Insider, Forbes


In 2012, Li announced that he would hand off Cheung Kong to his eldest son Victor Li, while providing cash to help his second son Richard develop his own businesses. He did not announce when he would retire at the time.

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Tyrone Siu/ Reuters

Source: Reuters


It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Li’s company. It was embroiled in a dock strike in 2013 and has been vilified by unions. In this picture, the characters on this protester’s mask mean “monster” or “evil.”

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REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Source: Reuters


But in 2018, Li announced that he would be retiring to focus on his charitable foundation, which he has called his “third son.” He has said that he hopes that as Asia becomes more wealthy, others will follow his lead in philanthropy. He has pledged to give away one-third of his $27.8 billion fortune.

Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing waves goodbye to journalists after announcing his retirement as chairman of CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd at a news conference in Hong Kong, China March 16, 2018.

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REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Source: Business Insider, Forbes


In June 2019, The Li Ka Shing Foundation announced that it will cover the tuition of Shantou University’s incoming class for up to five years as a part of an ongoing initiative to make higher education more accessible in China.

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VCG / Contributor

Source: The Li Ka Shing Foundation


As of mid-August, protests have disrupted life in Hong Kong for 10 weeks, closing streets, disrupting flights at its airport, and causing volatility in the stock market. Li alone lost $3 billion between July and August.

Source: Business Insider


On August 15, Li took out advertisements in local Hong Kong newspapers calling for an end to the protests that read “stop anger and violence in the name of love.”

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Li Ka-shing
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Reuters

Source: Business Insider


The losses have not stopped the Li family from making major acquisitions, however. CK Asset Holdings, now run by his son Victor, will British pub chain Greene King for £4.6 billion ($5.6 billion) on August 19. Greene King owns 2,700 pubs and restaurants, and hotels.

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Dukas/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Source: Reuters, The Guardian