Lui Che-woo, Asia's richest man, according to both the Bloomberg Billionaire Index and Forbes, is chairman of the incredibly successful K. Wah Group, a top Chinese real estate firm. His placement on these lists is a plaudit that has been a long time in the making; Lui, now 84 years old, has built up his fortune over a lifetime.
Having had his introduction to the workforce in the early 1950s in the car parts industry, Lui then decided to launch his own company – which would go on to become K. Wah – in 1955. Now, almost 60 years later, that company has grown into a multinational with over 10,000 employees and more than 200 subsidiaries across the US, mainland China, Macau, Hong Kong, and SE Asia.
Lui attributes his success to, among other things, his penchant for progressing business matters “step by step”. He doesn’t believe in rushing things, but in making timely, prudent decisions that will prove their worth in the long term. The K. Wah Group deals in properties, entertainment and leisure, hospitality, and construction materials. Its subsidiaries include K. Wah International Holdings Ltd, Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd (GEG), K. Wah Construction Materials Ltd (KWCM), Cresleigh Homes, and Stanford Hotels International Ltd.
The company’s most recent coup is its investment in the boom of the past decade in Macau’s casino industry. Lui, who had been eyeing the region’s hospitality scene in terms of a GEG investment, was struck in 2002 by the opportunity presented by gambling:
"With our strong experience in hotel operations, we originally just planned to invest in the hotel business in Macau. But when the opportunity came, we studied how to combine the gaming and hotel business together."
This decision has led to a major increase in Lui’s net worth. With a 51 percent stake in GEG, Lui increased his wealth this year to US$23.7 billion, up US$2.9 billion from last year, according to Bloomberg. Forbes places the figure at a slightly lower US$21 billion, but either way, Lui stands as Asia’s richest man. He was, until recently, trailing just behind Li Ka-shing, the Hong Kong mogul with a fortune Bloomberg estimates at $29.5 billion.
Speaking about the Bloomberg list, Lui recently told the South China Morning Post:
"I am happy to receive the recognition for our achievement. It [has] proven that our decision to invest in Macau is correct."
There was a time, however, when it appeared Lui had missed his big chance, having chosen not to invest overly intensely in Hong Kong’s property boom of the 80s while the likes of Li dove in deep and made a killing. "It seemed that I had missed the opportunity to ride the property boom in the mid-’80s,” says the magnate. “At the time, if we had invested in Hong Kong property massively, the size of my company could have expanded four or five times bigger than it was."
Lui explains his actions at the time, saying, "I am not keen on excessive money. I like to progress step by step." So he developed the Holiday Inn Harbour View in Tsim Sha Tsui East, but chose to leave it at that. In the end Lui's judicious investment strategy actually protected his company, because it avoided overexposure when the Hong Kong hospitality industry peaked in 1997. "When the market corrected in late 1997, we were not hit."
Reflecting on the journey by which K. Wah has reached its present-day success, Lui says, "Looking back … what I value is prudence. It establishes a sound foundation for the company and builds up a big platform for future business."
"Opportunity Knocks Twice" by P. Sito and Y. Liu was originally published in the South China Morning Post.