Lessons from Li Ka-Shing – Bloomberg Interview

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3 minute read.

Some lessons and takeaways from Li Ka-Shing’s interview with Bloomberg. Pretty rare to find in-depth interviews from him. So thought it would be worthwhile to list what I took away from it.

Who is Li Ka-Shing?

One of Hong Kong’s richest.
Li, then aged 12, fled to Hong Kong with his family as refugees during World War II in 1940. His father only three years later would become ill with tuberculosis and die.
Li subsequently dropped out of school and took up a job as a salesman in a plastic factory. By 18 he was factory manager.
Just four years later at the age of 22, he started his own business, a plastics company named Cheung Kong in 1950, and would eventually become a global conglomerate.

His foundation has given over $3 billion to date!

Lessons on Business

Li understands the world changes a lot. So what works today, may not tomorrow. And just because you’re doing well now, doesn’t guarantee it in the future. You shouldn’t be set in your ways.

There are old investors. There are bold investors. But there are no old bold investors.

Howard Marks

Cashflow is the most important thing. Li is extremely careful with his cashflow so that he can have enough capital to enter other industries should he want to.

In the development phase, don’t forget about stability. And when there’s stability, don’t forget about development. Such a balance is very important.

Early on in his career when he had his own factory, he only spent 20-30% of his time there. The rest of the time planning and figuring out what he should do in the future.

Li thinks to succeed you must use a western management model. But in terms of internal philosophy, he’s adopted the most useful parts of Confucian school of thought. 

Turnover of their senior management is extremely low (similar to Berkshire Hathaway). 

Education and Improvement?

Even though he started working at a young age, he enjoyed studying. So by choice, he continued to study, read, and improve his knowledge. There’s a constant desire to learn and improve. Even at his current age. It’s pretty inspiring.

Before entering any new industry, he buys a book about it. When manufacturing plastics he bought the US magazine Modern Plastics and made sure to read it every month. 

Li just seems to have this insatiable curiorisity.

Even when he was young and wealthy, he wasn’t happy. Says having money won’t make you happy, but in reality, you can’t do anything without money. So he decided to set up a foundation. Gave a third of his total assets.
Once they are in the fund, it’s no longer the family’s assets.
But he does see the foundation as a third son. And encourages others to donate and see it as a child too.

On Religion?

Li thinks Buddhism can solve many peoples problems.
For poor people, it provides answers to their questions about birth, death illness and old age. For the wealthy, it can help keep the weight of stress off. 

Li says his philosophy is “always be industrious” and “the virtuous welcome onerous duties”. That’s his life summed up.
He seeks improvement ceaselessly and he doesn’t stop even at his age now.

On Wealth Disparity?

Tax companies more. They can handle it.

You can’t tax some people more and some people less otherwise it’d be chaos. Tax companies and extra one or two per cent and then a lot of poor people would benefit. But it’s crucial that it’s not about free lunches. Education is the key. Education is the primary focus of his foundation. Chaoshan region has 17 million population but never had any universities until he built Shantou university.

Thoughts on Retirement?

Even when he retires, he won’t sit on his hands.
He’ll be more involved with his foundation.

It doesn’t matter when he retires. His two sons are very experienced in his business and his team of executives have plenty of experience. He could retire today no problem. In the next five minutes! The existing management is extremely capable. 
So he doesn’t feel pressured to continue working.

So why is Li Ka-Shing still working?

He loves it. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be doing it. He’s a happy person by nature. Optimistic and driven.

So there’s plenty of things to learn and takeaway from Li.

“Always be industrious, and the virtuous bear onerous duties”