Tycoon successions challenge Hong Kong’s investment banks
The corporate titans that have dominated Hong Kong’s economy for decades are slowly handing over the reins of power to the next generation, but will they prove as loyal to international investment banks as their parents have been?
Hong Kong is the outstanding emblem of change. Over the last quarter century, this tiny pocket of land on China’s southern coastline has been transformed beyond all recognition.
Once rough and tumble, it matured and shed its seamy image. Soaring rental prices transformed a cheap city into one affordable only to expats and rich mainlanders. Financial services, once a by-product of trading, moved to centre stage. In 2017, according to government data, it accounted for 18% of GDP, double the share of 1997, the year the city passed back into Chinese control.
But for most of that period, one thing barely changed at all: the narrow elite of super-wealthy tycoons who have dominated Hong Kong commercially since the 1970s. They are still in situ, in charge of a handful of family-run firms that control everything from power to ports and property. Just 15 local families controlled assets worth 84% of local GDP, according to a 2016 survey by PwC.
Most of these tycoons, having made their first fortunes buying up precious pockets of land when prices were dirt-cheap, “remained loyal to a core real estate strategy” that generated huge and recurring income streams, says Christopher Laskowski, head of corporate and investment banking at Citi in Hong Kong.