Asia’s ultra-rich get ready to pass on more than $125b of wealth to heirs

Li Ka-shing, former chairman and senior adviser of CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd. and CK Asset Holdings Ltd., waves from his car as he leaves the companies' annual general meetings in Hong Kong, China, on Thursday, May 10, 2018. The 89-year-old tycoon, who announced his retirement plans in March, resigned as chairman of the two companies today. His eldest son, 53-year-old Victor Li, will take over. Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

It’s been a mournful start to 2019 for two of Asia’s richest families.

Eka Tjipta Widjaja, who began as a coconut and palm-oil trader at age 15 before building a multibillion-dollar empire in Indonesia, died Saturday at 98. A week earlier, Henry Sy, a shoe salesman who became the wealthiest man in the Philippines, died at 94. Their combined fortunes exceeded $16.5 billion.

It’s no coincidence that the world’s richest people are also some of the oldest as it can take a long time to amass extraordinary wealth. About a fifth of the 500 people on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index are at least 80 years old, and 21 are nonagenarians, including eight from Asia with a combined net worth of $125 billion. That’s setting the stage for one of the most concentrated transfers of wealth in history.

“More and more families are thinking of succession,” said Peng Qian, associate director of the Tanoto Center for Asian Family Business and Entrepreneurship Studies of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “We expect huge demand from Asia’s richest for private wealth-management services in the next few years.”

When a billionaire dies, it can go at least two ways. An orderly split of assets or a battle royal among infighting heirs.

Sy attempted to adopt the first approach. He was worth $7.2 billion when he died after giving stakes in his SM Investments Corp. to his six children more than a decade ago, making all of them billionaires.

Li Ka-shing retired from CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd. and CK Asset Holdings Ltd. last year, with his son Victor taking over the conglomerate. He recently brought in his 23-year-old granddaughter Michelle Li to the board of Chesterfield Realty Inc., a family-controlled unit of CK Hutchison Holdings.

For other scions of ultra-wealthy families, it can mean intense struggles for who will take control. Stanley Ho, 97, split most of his fortune among his wives and children in 2011 to settle a family dispute, but members of Ho’s family, including his eldest daughter Pansy, are still embroiled in a decade-long battle for his Macau casino empire.

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Bloomberg

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Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.