Chairman, Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings Limited
Born: 1964, in Hong Kong, China.
Education: Stanford University, BS; MS, 1985.
Family: Son of Li Ka-shing; married; children: three.
Career: Husky Energy Incorporated, 1987–2001, director; 2001–, cochairman; Hopewell Holdings, 1991–2002, director; Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings, Limited, 1996–, chairman; Cheung Kong Life Sciences International, 1996– chairman; Hutchison Whampoa Limited, 1995–, executive director; 1999–, deputy chairman and director.
Address: Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings Limited, 12/F Cheung Kong Centre, 2 Queen's Road Central, Hong Kong; http://www.cki.com.hk.
■ As the eldest son of the Li family, Victor Tzar Kuoi Li—also known simply as Victor Li—was perhaps destined to run Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings (CKI). Li's father, Li Ka-Shing, was one of the wealthiest men in the world. Displaying true business acumen, Li Ka-Shing started with a company that made plastic flowers and built it from a small firm into a huge conglomerate worth billions of dollars. Victor Li began his career by working on smaller projects with his father. He eventually become the chair of one of CKI's most profitable divisions, Cheung Kong Life Sciences International, and then became chairman of CKI.
Li attended college in the United States, earning both his bachelor's and master's degrees at Stanford University in California. Throughout the 1980s he worked in Canada, assisting his father with various real estate projects in Vancouver. In 1990 Li returned to Hong Kong to work for his father at Cheung Kong's central office. On May 23, 1996, Li was kidnapped
on his way home from work by a notorious Chinese thug named Cheung Tze-keung, who was nicknamed "Big Spender" because of his flamboyant lifestyle. Li's father reportedly paid a ransom of over $100 million to free his son. Li Ka-Shing, however, never publicly acknowledged that the kidnapping even took place, although the press published reports of his face-to-face meetings with Cheung Tze-keung. It was never known how the money was given to the criminal. Not happy that his country would look like a dangerous place for wealthy people or businessmen, the President of China, Jiang Zemin, ensured that "Big Spender" was found, tried, and executed. After the kidnapping, however, Victor Li was always accompanied by bodyguards.
Li began his career with a Canadian subsidiary of Cheung Kong, Husky Energy Incorporated. He started as a director on the board in 1987. The company performed poorly for several years in the early 1990s. After the mid-1990s, however, its performance improved. In 2001 Li was promoted to cochairman of Husky Energy. The company made a profit of $804 million in 2003. Husky Energy's economic success also helped Li with Husky Energy's main investor, Hutchison Whampoa, another Li family business. Starting in 1995, Li was an executive director at Hutchison Whampoa, then was named deputy chairman in 1999. As profits increased at Husky, so did the returns to Hutchison Whampoa.
Li also served as the director of Hopewell Holdings from 1991 to 2002. Hopewell was a Hong Kong-based company in which Cheung Kong held a minority interest, although its interest was reduced as the years went by. Following a public squabble between the chairman of Hopewell Holdings and Li's father over a proposed project, however, Li resigned as Hopewell's director.
Resigning from Hopewell was hardly a setback, however, as Li had been groomed from the beginning to succeed his father in running CKI's various divisions. In 1996 Li was made chairman of Cheung Kong Life Sciences, the pharmaceutical arm of CKI. The life sciences company enjoyed modest growth, releasing such products as VitaGain, a drink designed to strengthen the body's immune system. VitaGain's successful launch was assisted by the SARS outbreak in Asia in the spring of 2003. Cheung Kong Life Sciences had a large research and development capacity with a production capacity to match.
In 1996 Li was named chairman of CKI, the family's core business. CKI is a huge infrastructure conglomerate with holdings in Canada, Australia, Philippines, and the United Kingdom as well as in China and Hong Kong. In the early 2000s the company owned quarries, tunnels, bridges, highways, electric utilities, water utilities, and cement companies. It also owned large quantities of real estate. In addition to these investments, CKI had moved into acquiring wireless network infrastructure in the third-generation wireless networks of Europe.
Because Li held Canadian as well as Chinese citizenship, he made a move in 2003 to save the bankrupt airline, Air Canada—an event that gained the attention of the North American business press. Li offered the airline $495 million in return for a 31-percent stake in the company. When he discovered that the company was entertaining an offer from another group, Cerberus Capital Management, Li almost withdrew his offer through his group, which was called Trinity Time Investments. He referred to Cerberus's competing offer as "improper interference." Li's company won the bid, however, and a Canadian judge approved it in January 2004. Many observers regarded Li as the bankrupt airline's savior.
The deal began to unravel, however, over a pensions disagreement. The various unions representing Air Canada's employees wanted a defined benefit plan while Li desired a defined contributions plan. The defined contributions plan would have been cheaper and easier for the company to administer. Already having agreed to several reductions in pay and benefits, the unions would have nothing to do with the proposed change. Analysts noted that Li could not give in to the union demands without looking weak. Li had won the bid but decided to change the rules. Trinity Time Investments and Air Canada had to complete the deal by April 30, 2004, but had not reached an agreement by the time the deadline expired. Li then walked away from the deal.
In terms of Li's management style, one reporter wrote that Li "… has gained a reputation as a solid manager with an eye for detail" ( Asia Inc. , May 2004). Li lived with his wife and three children on one floor of his house with his father living on another. Li's younger brother Richard was also an acute businessman, having made a number of shrewd business investments that paid off handsomely over time.
See also entries on Air Canada, Cheung Kong (Holdings) Limited, Husky Energy Inc., and Hutchison Whampoa Limited in International Directory of Company Histories .
Gray, John, "Air Canada Stand-Off Tests Victor Li," Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, March 24, 2004.
Ng, Isabella, and Maureen Tkacik, "The Son also Rises," Time International , March 13, 2000, p. 16.
Schuman, Michael, "Can He Follow the $7.8 Billion Man?" Time , December 1, 2003, p. 79.
Wai-Sum, Agnes Cheung, "Exit Big Spender," AsiaWeek , August 14, 1998.
"Who's Hot in Asia," Asia Inc. , May 2004.