Li Ka-Shing is the richest man in Asia. The extensiveness of his business empire is very similar to that of Richard Branson, while his rag to riches story is comparable with that of Andrew Carnegie. Li was born in Chaozhou in China’s Guangdong province on 29 July 1928. His father was a primary school head. In 1940, while Li was just 12, his family had to flee China to Hong Kong because of the Sino-Japanese war. Not long after their arrival his father falls ill and died from Tuberculosis. This unfortunate incident forced Li to quit schooling and to take up selling plastic waistbands and belts to help support the family.
By 1950, ten years after, he had learnt enough, saved and borrowed enough money from family and friends to start his own small plastic company, he named it Cheung Kong, after the Yangtze River. Cheung Kong initially focused on producing plastic toys and other everyday plastic items, but after much research Li discovered that plastic flowers were very popular in Italy and this could present a viable business prospect for him, therefore he abandoned toys and started producing plastic flowers. But he added touch to his flowers; he learnt the technique of mixing colors with plastic thereby making his own flowers appear as real flowers. He was producing high-quality flowers at very affordable prices.
A foreign buyer who visited his factory was very impressed by the quality of his products and the mode of operations at the factory, the buyer later placed a very large order for Li’s flowers. This was to be the start of big business deals and large orders for Li’s flowers. Li would later go on to become the largest supplier of plastic flowers in Asia.
In 1958, Li’s landlord increased his lease rates, by this time Li already had enough money to purchase land and build a factory for himself. The opportunity to acquire more lands arose in 1967, during the Hong Kong’s 1967 Leftist riots which were marked with strikes, assassinations, and planting of bombs. Many people were forced to flee Hong Kong, as a result, property prices fell. The astute Li knew that the riots would be temporary and that property prices would later go back up, therefore he bought several parcels of land at low prices. It was a gamble that paid off. By the time the political unrest was over Li was among the biggest land owners in Hong Kong. Therefore his company, Cheung Kong, diversified into property development and management.
In 1971 Li renamed his company into Cheung Kong Holdings and took it public in 1972. He became Hong Kong’s largest private landlord in 1979. In that same year, Li made another move to broaden the horizon of his business through the acquisition of Hutchinson Whampoa; a company created in 1977 from the merger of Hutchinson International and Hong Kong and Whampoa Dock. Li bought 23% of the company’s shares giving him controlling power. That number would increase over the years giving him even greater ownership.
Li then used the Hutchinson Whampoa to enter into several other businesses in different industries in different countries. One of such business is the Investment in port facilities in Hong Kong, Canada, China, and several other countries. Currently, Li’s business controls an overwhelming 13% of all container port capacity in the world.
Others are; Retailing, the A.S Watson Group is a retailer under Hutchinson Whampoa with over 7,800 stores.
Electricity; In 1985 Li, through Hutchinson Whampoa, bought 33% of HongKong Electric Holdings.
Banking; Li, through Hutchinson Whampoa, invested hugely in Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.
Telecommunication: Hutchinson Telecommunication, a Hong Kong mobile phone service, is also owned by Li’s Hutchinson Whampoa.
Asset trading: Hutchinson Whampoa is reputed for building new companies and then selling them off making huge profits in return.
Li also has investment in Technology through his firm Horizon Ventures. He has investments in Facebook, doubleTwist, Spotify, Siri Inc., Summly, Wibbitz and BitPay.
Li’s two primary corporations are intertwined; Cheung Kong Holdings owns 49.9% of Hutchinson Whampoa while Hutchinson Whampoa owns 85% of Cheung Kong Holdings infrastructure.
Li is regarded as one of Asia’s most generous philanthropists, having donated over $1.41 billion to date to charity and other philanthropic causes. His net worth is $34.6 billion (2013) and his companies have operations in over fifty countries with more than 220,000 staff.
Three Lessons from Li Ka Shing
Your foundation should not determine your future:
Are you a school drop? Do you have little or no education as compared to most of your peers out there? Then you should take comfort and motivation from the business stories of the likes of Li Ka Shing, Andrew Carnegie, Michael Dell, Richard Branson and so many other world renowned successful businessmen. These men were just like you, at a disadvantageous position, but they never considered their bad situations neither did they allow it draw them back, they looked for that one thing they knew how to do well, and did it like crazy.
Li was a school drop, he had every reason to consider himself a failure and act the part, but he didn’t. He could have chosen to sit all day and complain about how bad life was but he didn’t. He made concrete effort to change his circumstances despite his foundation. Your little education, or complete lack of it, is not a determinant of your future. The country that you were born in or the town that you reside is equally not a determinant of your future. It is about the determination and courage within you to change your story and live a life of significance.
Choose your business name wisely:
This point may sound sentimental or ridiculous but it is every bit as genuine as any business advice out there. The name of your business has a metaphysical or psychological impact that it plays in your business. Most businesses mould into or take characteristics associated with its name.
Li named his business Cheung Kong, an allusion to the Yangtzee River; a river whose power comes from the confluence of countless smaller streams. Li’s business empire assumed the major characteristic of this river; his two major corporations are being fed by countless smaller businesses and numerous alliances.
Continuously study and learn new things about your business:
One thing I love so much about Andrew Carnegie is that, despite his lack of formal education, he worked fastidiously at self-education. Self-education is much more important than any classroom education; classroom knowledge can only take you so far, self-education is what gives you the needed edge; it is what sets you apart from the rest. The reason a lot of big businesses fade away with time is their reluctance or refusal to learn new ways of doing things and change with the tides of time. Time simply passes them.
A good example is what happened during the computer revolution when large mainframe computers were still in vogue, and people thought it was impossible to make computers smaller. They considered Steve Jobs a joker. Many of such businesses went into obscurity.
Never stop learning; never stop devising new ways to improve your business. The moment you stop, the world passes you and you begin to lose relevance. Despite his little education, Li was known for his avid business researches, it was during one of such studies that he discovered how popular plastic flowers were in Italy and saw the promises that it held. Never stop learning.