How a Fatherless Teen Factory Worker Became The Richest Man in Asia
This is the story of Li Kai-Shing.
Born in Guangdong province, China, Li Kai-Shing lost his father at age 14 to Tuberculosis. Being the man of the house now, he was forced to leave school to work at a plastics factory to support his family.
The family was so poor that he had to sell his dead father’s clothes in order to get cash to pay for food.
Working at the factory was tough, while most of his peers played games and went to school like normal children, he had to work 16-hour days making plastic watch bands.
The combination of suffering through illness, poverty, loss, and grueling work at such a young age had a profound impact on Li. It gave him the drive to do whatever it took to succeed in life. At age 22, Li had enough money to quit his job and started his own company that made plastic toys.
“I needed to save every penny…I needed to be strong, and needed to find some way to secure a future. That’s why I am always conservative. I never forget to maintain stability while advancing, and I never forget to advance while maintaining stability.”
Li has always been an avid reader of trade publications and business news. Through his research, he found out that there was a huge demand for plastic flowers in Italy. Realizing the opportunity, he shifted his companies focus on producing plastic flowers instead. A few years later, Li’s company became the largest supplier of plastic flowers in Asia and made a fortune selling them.
In 1958, Li was hit with a setback, he was unable to renew the lease for the company and was forced to buy land instead. This however, proved to be a blessing in disguise, as about a decade later, Hong Kong real estate plummeted due to political riots.
Li saw an opportunity here, believing that the riots were only temporary, and that prices of real estate would rise eventually. With that, he bought parcels of land at cheap prices. He called his real estate company Cheung Kong.
Once the market recovered, real estate prices soared and Li started making a ton of money. Cheung Kong Holdings was publicly listed in Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 1972. By 1987, Li had worked his way to becoming a billionaire.
Li was not just a master entrepreneur, because of his constant thirst for information, he became a great investor as well. He invested in Skype in 2005 when it was losing money, only for it to be sold for 2.5 billion a year later. He also put money into Siri, which we know Apple purchased in 2010. His investment decisions have been so great that people have dubbed him “Superman.”
Even though he’s now in his 80’s, Li shows no signs of slowing down.
“I wake up every day just before 6:00 am and exercise and play golf for an hour and a half. I insist on reading before I go to bed at night. I am still energetic during the day. Your energy comes from being interested in your work.”
Today, Li is worth over $30 billion, making him the richest person in Asia and the 15th richest person in the world. But he always remembers his roots and where he started from.
“Despite my achievements, I can still remember poverty. I told my children and grandchildren that ‘The fruit that you eat will never taste as beautiful as the fruit that I ate during the turmoil of war. You will never cherish it as much as I do.”
Perhaps the biggest takeaway for young entrepreneurs is the following:
“Starting a business is not easy. I started my business in 1950 with only $8,700. It wasn’t a lot. You could buy a Cadillac or a Lincoln with it. For a young entrepreneur today, hard work is more important than opportunities. If you dont work hard, opportunities will slip away.”