Interview with Asia's richest person Li Ka-Shing with Kate Linebaugh and Jane Spencer from

Li Ka-shing
Chairman: Hutchison, Whampoa
Age 84
Source of Wealth: Diversified, Self Made
Country of citizenship: Hong Kong
Net Worth: $31 Billion (March-2013)

Born in China in 1928, Mr. Li fled to Hong Kong with his family in 1940 after Japanese troops began bombing his village. In his teens, he lost his father to tuberculosis and had to drop out of school, which he never formally finished. From then, Mr. Li saved his paychecks from a Hong Kong watch factory and, in his early 20s, bought a plastics factory that became the largest supplier of plastic flowers in Asia. The father of two says he had enough money at 30 to last his entire life.
Now, as chairman of Hutchison Whampoa and Cheung Kong, he sits on top of a business empire that operates in 55 countries and employs 220,000 people working in retail, telecommunications and ports. His personal stake is valued at over $30 billion.
The university's main entrance
In Hong Kong, his rags-to-riches story has bred as much resentment as admiration. Many locals refer to the 5-foot 6-inch Mr. Li as "Superman" for his ability to time markets. His detractors resent the control his businesses have over the economy of the capitalist enclave, and at times have attacked his philanthropy.
In 2005, Mr. Li's foundation gave one billion Hong Kong dollars (about US$128 million) to the medical school of Hong Kong University, which renamed the school the Li Ka-shing Faculty of Medicine. That prompted street protests by some university graduates who said it amounted to Mr. Li buying the name of a storied institution. Mr. Li dismisses the accusations as "jealousy," and says his donations don't have any correlation to his business interests.
While Western philanthropists face increasing pressure to bring accountability and transparency to their work, Mr. Li's charitable deeds remain opaque. He won't provide any estimate of his net worth, or the exact amount he plans to give away. He says he is "70% of the way" toward donating a third of his fortune to the foundation, though he won't disclose how much that is.
Mr. Li is spry, sharp and very engaged in his work. He says he wakes around 5 a.m. and plays golf about four times a week. He wears an inexpensive Seiko wristwatch, which he sets 20 minutes fast.
His project at Shantou has grown from an empty field 20 years ago into a compact campus with a man-made lake, nine schools -- including one of China's best medical schools -- and a $20 million library that is under construction. For nearly two decades, Mr. Li passively funded the school, and left the curriculum in the hands of government bureaucrats. But several years ago, when the school's mission seemed adrift, Mr. Li assigned Solina Chau, his personal companion and the director of the Li Ka-shing Foundation, to take a more active role in the school's affairs.
Since then, Ms. Chau, who provides much of the strategic vision that drives Mr. Li's foundation, brought in a new cast of academics, administrators and scientists largely educated outside of China as part of an effort to turn a second-rate college in a depressed coastal town into one of China's top universities.
The changes haven't been easy. Even the smallest have involved negotiations with local officials, the local Communist Party and the university's state employees. The university, for example, was reluctant to keep the cafeteria open most of the day, as many Western universities do, to allow students more flexible schedules. At Chinese universities, cafeterias are open for only a brief window at lunch and dinner.
China's educational system has traditionally stressed rote memorization over critical thinking. But the educators at Shantou are trying to create a new educational paradigm for China that is more open to debate, discussion, creativity and freedom. "If you can't do it in a university, how can you do it in society?" says Gu Peihua, the university's vice president, who moved to Shantou from Calgary, Canada. "You're changing people's behavior."
 —Sue Feng contributed to this article

[Five Questions for Li Ka-shing]
Mr. Li spoke with the Wall Street Journal about his philanthropy work in China.
How did your childhood influence your philanthropic work?
Mr. Li: When I was a young boy, before I turned 10, I had already seen the war in my hometown. The air force bombed the city. Many people were poor.
After we moved to Hong Kong in 1940, many people from the mainland were in Hong Kong. It was very difficult to get an education. My father wasn't earning enough money to support me to go to school. I tried to find time to study by myself, but I went to full-time work when I was 12 years old.
Later on, my father got tuberculosis. I realized that when you are less fortunate how much support you need. So when I started my own business in 1950, I tried to spend money to help the poor.
What are differences between philanthropy in China and in the West?
Mr. Li: Assets are passed from one generation to one generation in Asia, not only in China. So the culture is [very] different compared with the West. ... In China, the culture for a thousand years is generation to generation. I hope today, what I am doing...can be some influence to our Chinese [culture] that is very meaningful.
On the responsibility entrepreneurs have to society: In the U.S., philanthropic support from entrepreneurs is tightly integrated into the fabric of society, whether it's health care, medical research or education. Now, slowly, China will know this.
What are your plans for when you retire?
Mr. Li: One day if I were to slowly step down -- but not completely retire from the business -- I would not spend my time playing golf or going fishing. One hundred percent will go to this foundation. The foundation, day by day, is stronger and stronger.
What is your stance on funding controversial projects such as stem-cell research?
Mr. Li: If it is something that is right for human beings, then I don't care if other people [criticize]. You cannot please everyone in the world.
How do you respond to critism for putting your name on the Hong Kong University medical school?
Mr. Li: At one stage I was attacked by some media that I am in Hong Kong making profit but [my] donations all [go] to China.
Solina Chau, director of the Li Ka-shing Foundation: In this case, we were requested by Hong Kong University. They want to create more funding opportunities. And they wanted to use Mr. Li's name to kick-start a fund-raising program.

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