Li Ka-shing Retires, Ending Career of Hong Kong's Top Tycoon

(Bloomberg) -- Billionaire Li Ka-shing formally stepped down Thursday as head of a business empire he built during a span of nearly seven decades, pacing the rise of Hong Kong from a U.K.-run enclave to today’s bastion of capitalism.

The 89-year-old tycoon, who announced his retirement plans in March, resigned as chairman of CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd. and CK Asset Holdings Ltd. at the companies’ annual general meetings Thursday. His eldest son, 53-year-old Victor Li, will take over.

“I think I’ve done the best of what I can,” Li told reporters after the shareholder meetings Thursday in Hong Kong. “I feel very grateful.”

At a press gathering, Li handed out the first gift to a journalist, then left. The bags distributed to all in attendance contained a box of chocolates and a thermos bottle, both bearing the name “Cheung Kong.” The Chinese characters are the same as those for the Yangtze river, a metaphor for the company’s embrace of diversification as the welcoming of small streams.

For decades, Li was the richest man in Hong Kong -- and often Asia.

His career began in 1950 as plastic-flowers manufacturer, an enterprise he transformed into a global conglomerate spanning real estate, infrastructure, retail, ports and telecommunications.

The outgoing mogul, who’s often referred to as “Superman” in Hong Kong for his business acumen, was born July 29, 1928 in Chaozhou, a city in southern China’s Guangdong Province. His father was a school principal, but the younger Li’s formal education stopped at high school, as invading Japanese troops reached Guangdong. Fleeing war-torn China for Hong Kong in 1940, Li found factory work while also caring for his ailing father, who soon died from tuberculosis.

Decades-Long Apprenticeship of Li Ka-shing’s Son Is Finally Over

Technically, Li won’t step aside entirely. When he announced his retirement in March, the multibillionaire said he intended to keep offering his services as a senior adviser for the princely sum of HK$5,000 ($637) a year.

“Li Ka-shing has been telling a successful Hong Kong business story for decades,” said Malina Lee, a CK Hutchison shareholder, after the company’s annual shareholder meeting. “I don’t think his retirement will change the company’s operations a lot.”

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