Hong Kong’s Li Ka-Shing is a rags-to-riches story, a self made multi-billionaire extraordinaire, a towering icon in the global business scene as well as a legendary philanthropist. His rise to prominence over the decades is an inspiration to many young entrepreneurs or investors like myself and as such, I decided to read up about his life and share 4 main takeaways that I’ve got from studying the man himself.
Never Stop Improving Yourself!
Li Ka-Shing lost his father during the darkest days of WWII during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, and he had to leave school when he was still a teenager to work and support his sibilings and loved-ones so that they could have food on the table. Despite never having the opportunity to formally finish school like his peers, he used whatever leftover of his income to continue schooling via a private tutor. Biographer Anthony Chan, author of Li Ka-Shing, wrote:
“Even in his early days as a hawker of plastic watchbands and belts, Li continued his schooling, but at night, since his daytime work demanded too much of him. Twice a week, at ten-thirty in the evening, a private tutor met with the young Li. Eventually, this effort paid off in his receiving a high school diploma. Said Li: “I was tired but had to run home a minute before the teacher came to our small apartment at 10:30. [Eventually], I became too busy. I worked seven days a week. The only holiday I had was two days, during Chinese New Year. Very seldom did I even have the chance to see a movie.”
Li also taught himself the finer points of Chinese literature by reading and memorising passages from books borrowed from the local library.
At a later point of his life, Li learnt English while running his company as he sought to be a businessman on the global stage beyond just British-colonial Hong Kong, knowing that English as a language is indispensable for communication among influential people in business and political circles.
Build a Good Reputation: Be Honest & Credible
Li Ka-Shing says “a good reputation for yourself and your company is an invaluable asset not reflected in the balance sheets”.
Li is known for his credibility and his reputation among businessmen across the world is far reaching, and it started from the days when he was a factory worker. His colleagues and supervisors know him for his hardworking ethic and honesty, and many were impressed by the then-teenager. Li rose through the ranks, and by the young age of 22, was appointed general manager.
In his later years when running his own company, Cheung Kong Holdings, Li made a point to honour all his business deals and promises, and built a solid reputation for himself and his company in Hong Kong and China (and later, Asia and Europe). By virtue of word-of-mouth, many other businessmen came to know about Li, and sought to work with him for they find his honesty and credibility refreshing and pleasant to deal with.
Even politicians go to him – members of the Chinese Communist Party sought to gain Li’s approval and endorsement of Hong Kong’s elite business community when news of Britain ceding Hong Kong back to the Mainland came out in the 1980s.
Take the Time & Effort to Understand & Analyze Your Work/Business
Other than constantly improving himself and building a good reputation, Li devoted himself to understand as much as he can about his work. If he had to work long hours in order to understand the industry he is in, he gladly pursues the opportunity to do so.
Before Li started his own firm to manufacture plastic flowers, he shrewdly studied the dynamics of the entire industry – its key players, suppliers, competitors, industry trends etc. When he felt the time was right due to rising demand for plastic flowers in the 1950s and when he was ready, he took the plunge (he was barely 23) and used whatever savings he had for his firm’s starting capital, and invested a great deal of time to ensure high quality products and excellent service. As recorded in Anthony Chan’s book, Li imported the best materials in the world and devised a way to produce his goods in a cost-efficient way, enabling him to compete with other competitors in Hong Kong and in Asia.
Li also applied this same level of due diligence and shrewdness when he started to venture into real estate in the 1970s, and later into overseas deals that comprise of varying businesses like media and utilities in Canada and the UK.
Be Ambitious, & Accept Differences In Opinions & People
Li named his company ‘Cheung Kong’, which is the Anglicised spelling for the Cantonese pronunciation of the Yangtze River in China (Asia’s longest river and the world’s third longest). The Yangtze River is known in the Chinese language as the (长江) Changjiang, which literally means ‘long river’, and bears profound significance in Chinese history as the river flows through the entire country from west to east into the East China Sea.
As Anthony Chan wrote:
“According to Li Ka-shing’s biographers, the Long River personified Li’s great spirit, with the Changjiang resembling Li’s ambitions – both ceaseless and large. Li once explained his preference for the name as follows: “In Chinese, we have a saying: If you want to be successful, whatever your business or position, you need to accept different opinions and different people. Why did the Yangtze become a long river? It’s because it can accept smaller rivers and become big. Outside, I was polite to everybody, but inside I knew I was too powerful. So I told myself – when you start your own business, you need to be more polite, more acceptable to people. If you’re too powerful and reject the smaller waters, you cannot become a long river.””
So, become a Long River my friends.
*Image taken from Giant Comfort*
Additionally, Evan Carmichael has his own compilation of some pointers from billionaire Li himself – check it out!