Li Ka Shing
Superman, as the press dubs Li Ka-shing, has stunned even his biggest fans: He sold off his British telecom operator, Orange PLC, in a two-step transaction late last year and parlayed the investment into a $22 billion profit for shareholders. Then, before the dust settled, Li's Hutchison Whampoa bought a next-generation mobile phone license in Britain for a modest fee. The moves follow a pattern of savvy business practices that has served the 71-year-old tycoon well over the years and allowed him to become one of the few Asian businessmen with the ability to play on the global stage. Li's empire started with manufacturing plastic flowers back in 1950 and could have ended with Li simply retiring rich as one of Hong Kong's top property developers. But Li, a master networker, has parlayed his local success into a global empire. His telecom networks range from Australia to the U.S. to the Middle East. And he owns the world's largest independent port operator, with handling facilities from Jakarta to the Panama Canal to Britain.
Reflecting his roots as an immigrant from China, Li lives modestly--though he's stepped up security since his eldest son was kidnapped four years ago. Bodyguards now shadow him. A believer in feng shui, Li redrew the plans for his 70-story Cheung Kong Center so that it wouldn't be affected by the angular Bank of China building, which stands menacingly next door. Li's corner office commands one of Hong Kong's most stunning views. "The money flows in, and it's captured here," he told another tenant in the building. Indeed.