Hong Kong Property Tycoon Gave Away Son's $400m Inheritance

By Shawna Kwan & Venus Feng / Bloomberg | April 23, 2019 3:35 PM SGT
Alex Shih Photographer: Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg
The heir to the biggest real estate agency in property-mad Hong Kong doesn’t own a house.
Not only that, he won’t inherit his father’s stake in Centaline Group, estimated to be worth about $400 million according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, because it was donated to charity more than a decade ago.
But Alex Shih isn’t perturbed, even though he’s missing out on the wealth that the offspring of some Hong Kong tycoons are taking control of along with the family business. Li Ka-shing, the city’s richest man, last year handed the reins to son Victor, while billionaire Lee Shau Kee last month said he was considering retiring from Henderson Land Development Co. and putting his two sons in charge.
“I personally accept it,’’ the 30-year-old Shih said of his father’s decision not to pass on the family fortune to his three children. “He told us when we were very young and we didn’t have a choice. He would say that it’s better not to lead a life that’s too comfortable in one go. You’ll treasure more if you gain things step by step.”
Shih took over running Centaline, which handles two out of every five property transactions in Hong Kong, at the start of this year when he was named vice-chairman. He is set to become chairman when his 70-year-old father Wing-Ching Shih retires, which he expects to happen sometime soon.
He ascended to the top job after a difficult year for Centaline, which was founded in 1978. Commission revenue rose a bare 1 percent to about HK$19 billion ($2.4 billion) last year, and net income slumped 52 percent to HK$501 million, as a downturn in Hong Kong’s property market and growing competition in mainland China took its toll.
Hong Kong’s property market has since rebounded, and Shih is looking to modernize the agency. He oversaw the introduction of virtual-reality house viewing in 2017, and more recently a blockchain platform to streamline sales and rental agreements.
“The company is like a big ship,” Shih said. “I am trying to provide new technology tools to make it move faster.”
While...