Dr Lee Shau-Kee is a Hong Kong business magnate, investor, and philanthropist. He is a real estate tycoon and majority owner of Henderson Land Development, a property conglomerate with interests in property, hotels, restaurants, and internet services. A dedicated philanthropist, he has donated more than $400 million toward education over the years. In 2019, he stepped down as chairman of Henderson Land and appointed his sons, Martin and Peter, as co-chairmen.
Dr Lee Shau-Kee was born into a small merchant family in Shunde in Guangdong Province. Despite financial struggles and limited access to education, he persevered and ultimately became one of the rare fourth-born children in the world to attain multi-billionaire status. Upon the communist victory in China, he emigrated to Hong Kong, where he secured employment as a clerk at a currency and gold trading company. He adds, “The Chinese immigrants who left their homeland were compelled to endure hardship, which has become a distinct culture passed down through successive generations. Given the absence of social security, the overseas Chinese community has developed a practice of frugality and cultivating a wide network of relationships.” Through this experience, he acquired fundamental business management knowledge while self-learning the English language to form meaningful connections in the region.
In 1958, Dr Lee wanted to start something of his own and founded a small real estate company. Five years later, following the end of World War II, he engaged in initial discussions with renowned billionaire Kwok Tak-Seng, which ultimately led to the formation of Sun Hung Kai Properties Limited, one of the most prominent companies in Hong Kong. As Hong Kong’s status as a trading center flourished, real estate prices skyrocketed, resulting in substantial wealth for landlords, including Dr Lee, who became a billionaire.
In 1973, Dr Lee founded Henderson Land after departing from Sun Hung Kai. His exceptional business acumen and entrepreneurial talents led to its substantial expansion throughout Hong Kong and mainland China.
Notably, Dr. Lee’s investments in mainland China in the 1980s were ahead of many of his contemporaries, solidifying his status as one of the leading real estate tycoons in the Greater China Region. Henderson Land Group, which employs approximately 8,000 full-time staff, currently holds the most significant agricultural land reserve among Hong Kong property developers and is widely recognized as one of the territory’s premier enterprises.
In 2007, talking about the opportunities in Hong Kong and being a pioneer in the region, he said, “Hong Kong has remained a strong financial center. It has a solid business environment, and geographically, it is well located, being next to China. During this time, there is no city that can match it.”
In addition to property development, Dr Lee’s diversified business portfolio encompasses a range of industries, including hotels, tourism, public utilities, and health care. He is widely renowned for his ability to transform any venture into a success, earning him the reputation of having ‘the Midas touch.’ Due to his exceptional entrepreneurial skills, he has been referred to by various nicknames, including ‘Hong Kong’s Warren Buffett’ and the ‘Asian God of Stocks.’
In 2019, at the age of 91, Dr Lee relinquished his position as Chairman and Managing Director of the company in favor of his sons, Peter and Martin Lee while he continues to serve as an Executive Director.
His personal wealth is estimated to be US$33.0 billion as of July 2021, making him the second wealthiest man in Hong Kong and the 43rd richest in the world.
However, as a responsible and conscientious individual, Dr Lee recognizes the importance of using his wealth for the greater good. He is widely respected as a visionary philanthropist and generous benefactor, particularly in the areas of education, which he regards as an investment with limitless potential for positive impact.
In 1977, Dr Lee extended his support to The Chinese University of Hong Kong by helping to establish the territory’s first MBA program, which aimed to cultivate future business leaders. He also established the annual Lee Shau Kee Scholarship in 1979, which sponsors top Hong Kong students to pursue undergraduate studies at Oxford University. For many years, the Lee Shau Kee Foundation has provided scholarships and direct donations to schools and universities in Hong Kong, mainland China, and other countries. Dr Lee has made substantial donations to all nine universities in Hong Kong alone. To date, Dr. Lee’s philanthropic contributions to educational institutions worldwide have amounted to billions of dollars.
“I have always believed that quality education is essential for the development of society. The returns on investment can be significant and even immeasurable,” Dr Lee said about his views on education as an investment for not only the individual but also for the larger community. Furthermore, he continues, “Money can become a controlling factor in life and make you a slave to it. One way to avoid that is philanthropy. Giving away money to the right cause, with a leveraged effect and your involvement in how it is spent, will ‘give you peace of mind.'”
In 2005, Dr Lee established the Warmth Project, a program with a budget of RMB 330 million, which aims to train one million farmers and 10,000 village doctors in mainland China. He explains, “I want to help people to help themselves, which is much more valuable for both sides than just donating. By training the child of a farmer, you compound the value of that dollar spent on training since that child will now help their parents. This is the multiplier effect. There’s no point in just feeding them or just giving them money.”
In 2007, Dr Lee was awarded Hong Kong’s highest honor, the Grand Bauhinia Medal. The medal, featuring the city’s emblem of the Bauhinia orchid flower, recognizes individuals from all walks of life for their dedication to public service or significant contributions to the city.
Dr Lee’s exceptional intellect and philanthropic nature have made him one of the leading and most respected business leaders worldwide. Despite his age, he continues to demonstrate a keen interest in learning, making his story widely known in Hong Kong and around the world.
In conclusion, he says, “Use your money to make money. Save your ‘first bucket of gold.’ or a small fortune but then use it for investments. Don’t just park money in the bank.”