How Li Ka Shing Became The Richest Man in Asia, A Rags To Riches Story

Published on April 5 2014

A picture of how people want to remember their “superman” Li Ka Shing

Image:  Ben Dalton / CC-BY-SA

Li Ka Shing was only 14 years old when he became the breadwinner of his family. Just a few months after they took refuge in Hong Kong from Guangdong, China, to avoid being bombed by the Japanese forces, his father, who was a school principal then, died of tuberculosis. 

Shortly after Li's father's passing, he discovered that he, too, contracted the deadly disease. He made his way to recovery slowly, feeling depressed and isolated.  They were left with nothing, absolutely nothing. And because of that, they had to sell his dead father's clothes just so the whole family could eat. When he was strong enough, he started working at a plastic-producing factory.

He worked 16 hours a day to make plastic watchbands, and had no more time for school. At only 15 years old, Li became an apprentice in the factory he was working on, and at 17, was selling watches full time at his uncle's store. He also started selling artificial flowers and became the best sales agent by the time he was 19. 

Li's Climb to Success: Plastic toys and flowers

In 1947, when Li was only 22 years old, he had enough money saved to start his own toy-manufacturing company. But no sooner did they start manufacturing plastic toys when he heard plastic flowers were very popular in European countries, particularly Italy, so the business shifted to producing plastic flowers instead. The company was named Cheung Kong, and in only a few years, it would grow into the largest, most popular manufacturer of artificial flowers in Italy and Asia. This quadrupled Li's earnings to millions, making him one of the richest men in Hong Kong.

Venture into Real Estate

But that simply wasn't enough for the hardworking Li. In the sixties, when a lot of people were leaving Hong Kong because of the Cultural Revolution, it was then that he decided to buy lands all over the city as the price in real estate went down. He knew that one day, the price of land would go up again, and proceeded to dedicating his time scouting the city for strategically placed lands. In 1971, Cheung Kong became a real estate company.

Port Investment

It was also in the seventies that Li decided to invest in ports and by the year 1979, he owns 22% shares of the Hutchison Whampoa Limited. The HWL group expanded to Panama and Rotterdam making it the world's first global port operator.

The 80s to Present: Billions Worth

By the late 80s, Li, together with his partners, acquired Canadian oil company Husky Oil for $500 million. To this day, it yields $25 billion in revenue.

Because of Li's know-how and business sense, he is now one of the most powerful men in Hong Kong, and the whole of Asia. He also has the knack for investing in technology. For instance, in 2005, he invested in Skype. A year later, it was bought for $2.5 billion. It only took Li less than ten minutes to decide whether he should invest in Facebook or not—and he did, for $120 million. 

By 2009, the Cheung Kong Group is valued at HK $647 billion (around US $82.9 billion). And now, at the age of 83, he isn't showing any signs of slowing down. He is 83 years old, plays golf every morning, walks on a treadmill for an hour at noon, is still at the peak of his health, and is worth $30 billion. What more could a man ask for? 

Lessons From Li Ka Shing

  • Never let personal disabilities affect you
  • Work hard and long hours when you are young
  • Have the foresight to change course when a more fruitful venture comes a long
  • Invest when everybody is afraid to do so
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle in old age

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"If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants." Isaac Newton

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