Family behind Lee Kum Kee oyster sauce flies up Forbes rich list – but it still can’t touch Li Ka-shing’s fortune

The Lee family’s wealth gained US$8.6 billion to reach US$17.1 billion, lifting them out of 11th place a year ago. Chairman Lee Man-tat is pictured centre.

Oyster sauce tycoon Lee Man-tat, chairman of the famous Lee Kum Kee Group, saw his family’s wealth double over the last year, springboarding them into third place in the 2019 Forbes Asia list of Hong Kong’s 50 richest families.

While most of the city’s top magnates saw their fortunes decline, the Lee family’s wealth gained US$8.6 billion to reach US$17.1 billion, lifting them out of 11th place a year ago.

Li Ka-shing was once again Hong Kong’s wealthiest man, though his net worth dropped by US$4 billion to US$32 billion. Property tycoon Lee Shau-kee of Henderson Land lost US$2.9 billion but remained in second place with a fortune of US$30 billion.

The rich list revealed that Hong Kong’s elite business class took a financial beating in 2018, with several prominent members losing a big chunk of their fortunes.

Their combined wealth fell US$20 billion to US$286.75 billion, mainly thanks to economic headwinds from the US-China trade war and the slowdown in China. The previous year their collective fortunes had climbed by US$60 billion to US$307 billion.

The biggest loser in the last 12 months was Pollyanna Chu, whose firm Kingston Financial Group suffered an enormous share price drop after the market watchdog issued a warning about the high concentration of shareholding in the firm in January last year. Chu’s wealth dropped 73 per cent, from US$12 billion last year to US$3.3 billion this year.

Pollyanna Chu Yuet-wah, boss of Kingston Financial Group, saw her wealth drop by three quarters to US$3.3 billion this year.

Others who faired badly included Yeung Kin-man and Lam Wai-ying, the husband-and-wife owners of Biel Crystal, who saw their fortune collapse by US$6.4 billion to US$4.7 billion. Biel Crystal, which makes glass screens for Apple’s iPhones, was the most obvious victim of US-China trade tensions. It has postponed plans to launch an IPO.

Li and Fung owners William and Victor Fung have fallen off the rich list altogether this year, reflecting the struggle the merchandising company has faced to compete in the era of e-commerce. They were estimated to have US$3.3 billion on last year’s list.

Lee Man-tat’s meteoric rise up the rankings could signal a renewal for retailing as a source of wealth in Hong Kong.

The Lee family have famously adopted a constitution to manage the business. Lee’s son Charlie runs the 130-year old oyster sauce business while his other son, Sammy, heads the highly successful LKK Health, which markets traditional Chinese medicine products in mainland China.

Charlie Lee Wai-chung

In 2016, the health business earned US$3.5 billion in revenue and it is now bigger than the sauce business. In 2017, the family ventured into overseas property, buying London’s “walkie-talkie” office building for US$1.7 billion.

The last year saw the death of property magnate Walter Kwok, whose estrangement from his family highlighted the deep divisions that often occur between family members of Hong Kong’s wealthiest clans. Kwok’s mother, Kwong Siu-hing, 89, was added to the list with an estimated fortune of US$15 billion.

Her remaining sons, Thomas and Raymond, had been listed together in 2018, but Forbes Asia has decided to list them and their respective children separately. Walter Kwok’s sons, Geoffrey and Jonathan, were listed together after inheriting their father’s fortune.

The shake up highlighted the prospect of wealth transfer among Hong Kong’s richest families and the potential for splitting up family fortunes that have been held together by respective patriarchs.


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