Source: Agencies | 2012-10-17 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
Victor Li (left), the elder son of Li Ka-shing, a rags-to-riches property tycoon, 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.
Photo by 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 elder 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 elder son took up a two-thirds stake in the family trust, giving Victor control of a business empire valued by Forbes magazine at US$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, 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.
Focused on the bottom line
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.
For others, he is too focused on the bottom line, lacking some of the people skills of his more outgoing and charismatic father, raising doubts over whether the next leader of the Li empire will be as adept at the wheeling and dealing that characterized his father's reign.
And for a few, he is a more complex character altogether, someone who, according to people who have worked with him, struggles to trust those around him - a trait not surprising for a man whose status as heir has made him a target for envy and greed from a very early age.
"He is a chip off the block - his father has passed to him everything that he knows about the business," said Simon Murray, chairman of commodities trading powerhouse Glencore International Plc, who has worked with the man he calls "K.S." as well as both sons.
"However, there is something else that his father has that Victor has to develop, the character of his father, which includes characteristics like humility, the ability to trust," adds Murray, who was formerly managing director of Li's ports-to-telecoms conglomerate, Hutchison Whampoa, and still sits on Cheung Kong's board.
Li Ka-shing and Victor both declined interview requests for this article, which is based on conversations with more than 20 people who have dealt with them.
A reserved and devoted family man who enjoys wind surfing, Victor Li has taken his children on hiking trips in Bavaria, Germany and peppers his conversation with comments about their progress, according to sources who know him.
"Victor is a very intelligent man," said Aron Harilela, son of the founder of Hong Kong's best-known Indian-owned business, Hotel Holdings. "He delegates a lot more than his father would, and the depth of information is a lot greater."