Lui Che Woo won’t forget last Friday in a hurry. Why so? He was named Asia’s richest man – albeit for just one day. Bloomberg first decreed that the 84 year-old Hong Kong tycoon was $100 million richer than Li Ka-shing, and therefore the region’s wealthiest person. A few hours later it made a correction, having adjusted its calculations on Lui’s net worth to $23.7 billion (not to be sniffed at, but still trailing Li’s $29.5 billion.)
Lui was born in 1929 in Guangdong’s Jiangmen city. The Sino-Japanese War of the late 1930s then forced him to flee to Hong Kong without finishing high school. But during Hong Kong’s own occupation by the Japanese Lui got rich, selling snacks made of cassava powder.
But the currency in the city – Japanese military notes – was worthless after Japan lost the war. Unfazed by this setback, Lui moved on to his next business in Okinawa, where he bought military equipment which he then sold as machinery parts in Hong Kong. Lui became a millionaire once again.
First big break
Lui’s new venture opened his eyes to the potential of Hong Kong’s mining industry. He reserved the best heavy machinery for himself and acquired the territory’s biggest quarry in the 1960s.
Brisk demand for construction materials spawned Lui’s next diversification: into real estate. In the late 1970s he was among the early movers into hotel properties in Tsim Sha Tsui (one of Hong Kong’s busiest shopping areas). In 1987 Lui he listed his property flagship K Wah Group.
Second big break
Lui’s real estate business didn’t grow at anything like the pace of leading Hong Kong property tycoons like Li Ka-shing. In fact, his net worth didn’t rank among Hong Kong’s top five at the time the territory was handed back to China in 1997. Instead what has taken Lui up the rich lists is his bet on Macau’s casino boom. In 2002, he managed to get one of the three licences made available when Macau broke up casino mogul Stanley Ho’s gaming monopoly. The resulting casino franchise became today’s Galaxy Entertainment.
Galaxy’s rise has been a bumpy one. Its early investments were constrained by the global credit crunch six years ago. At the time Galaxy’s stock plunged to a low of HK$0.66 ($0.085) per share. But he rode out the turmoil and opened a second casino, the massive Galaxy Mega Resort, in 2011. This brought in an influx of Chinese gamblers, ready to spend big. As of this week, Galaxy’s share price stands at HK$80, a price that has spiked more than 120 times from its lowest point.
Need to know
Lui’s two trademarks are a flat cap and a large grin. He’s also unflappable. When tussling for a casino licence in 2001, someone put a coffin outside one of his hotels. But Lui laughed off the death threat, claiming it was just a “sick joke”, reports Singtao Daily.
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