Victor Li, heir apparent of Cheung Kong Holdings Ltd. and Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., adjusts his glasses during a news conference in Hong Kong, China (Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg)

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

(Bloomberg) -- It’s not easy being the son of a superhuman action hero.

Victor Li, 53, heir to Hong Kong’s biggest family fortune, has spent his career in the shadow of his father and billionaire property tycoon Li Ka-shing, known as "Superman" in the local press for his deal-making savvy.

On Friday, the elder Li, 89, announced his retirement as chairman of CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd. and CK Asset Holdings Ltd. -- his two biggest companies -- in a move that shifts control of the telecom, retail and infrastructure business empire to Victor, a Stanford University-educated engineer who’s preferred to stay out of the media glare.

Li is expected to focus on building profitability by cutting costs and finding synergies inside the global conglomerate that also owns utility companies and mobile-phone networks. His father will remain as a senior adviser and will continue to work closely together.

"When I return to work tomorrow, it will be the same," Victor said at the Friday press conference announcing the change of the guard, responding to a question posed by Bloomberg News. "Yesterday, we were a team. It will stay like that whether he is chairman or adviser. We are neighbors at home, so how can we not talk to each other?"

Victor takes the reins after a decades-long apprenticeship that’s had its share of dramas. Here are the highlights:

1988: Canadian Deal

The government of British Columbia sells the site of the 1986 Vancouver Expo to a company controlled by the Li family, according to reports in Canadian newspaper The Globe & Mail and other media, and Victor Li spends several years overseeing the development of a mixed commercial-and-residential building complex that’s the largest of its kind in Canada.

May 1996: Kidnapped

Kidnappers, led by the notorious organized crime figure Cheung Tze-keung, abduct Li in Hong Kong on his way home from the office, according to reports in the South China Morning Post and other media, and Li Ka-shing secures his son’s release by paying a ransom of HK$1 billion. In 1998, after kidnapping another Hong Kong tycoon, Cheung is arrested, convicted and executed in China.

June 1996: IPO

Just weeks after his kidnapping ordeal, Victor Li goes ahead with an initial public offering of Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings Ltd., a spinoff of the group’s China infrastructure business, with Victor Li as chairman. Assets include a road-and-bridge company and a cement producer.

2000: Sibling Rivalry

In the 1990s, Victor’s younger brother, Richard Li, seems destined to compete for the top job at the family business. Richard founds satellite broadcaster Star TV, which emerges as a major media player. By the turn of the millennium, the Lis have sold Star and Richard forms his own internet investment company, PCCW, that acquires Hong Kong’s main telecom operator. Richard then steps down as deputy chairman of the family’s flagship company, eliminating any doubt that Victor is Li Ka-shing’s heir.

2004: Deal Flops

Air Canada agrees to sell a 31 percent stake in the airline, then emerging from bankruptcy, to Victor’s Trinity Time Investments. The C$650 million ($497 million) deal unravels after Victor concludes the unions aren’t willing to accept cost concessions.

2012: Heir to Throne

Li Ka-shing anoints Victor as his successor. The younger Li starts putting his stamp on the group by focuses on deals in the infrastructure and utilities sectors. Under Victor’s leadership, the group completes a number of landmark deals, including the 2015 acquisition of the U.K.’s Eversholt Rail Group. Two years later, he spearheads the purchase of Australian energy firm Duet Group for A$7.4 billion ($5.7 billion).

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