Known simply as Sir Y.K., Pao Yue-kong was richer and more politically engaged than almost any businessmen in his time. Acclaimed as “the king of the sea” and the “Onassis of the East,” he helped Hong Kong sail into its golden age of trade with his global shipping business. At its peak, his fleet, at 500 ships, was only slightly smaller than the Soviet Union’s navy.
Pao’s influence was felt beyond shipping too. He cofounded Hong Kong’s second airline, Dragonair. He quietly left his mark on politics through friendships forged with Hong Kong’s global political titans of the era, from Ronald Reagan to Margaret Thatcher.
Upon his death at 73 in 1994, he left behind a great fortune, and today two members of Hong Kong’s richest owe the foundation of their wealth to that fortune. Pao’s excellent succession planning was done far in advance of his passing, allowing for a smooth transition of ownership.
Pao passed his empire on to his daughters, with each share managed by their husbands. “Father was a good organizer, and his succession was very well planned, way before he died,” says daughter Anna, now 68. “He told everybody what they were going to get. They were all equal parts. Otherwise, someone would have been unhappy.”
Pao left World-Wide Shipping to his eldest daughter, Anna, and her husband, Helmut Sohmen, an Austrian lawyer-turned-businessman. In 2010, Sohmen, now 74, quietly ceded day-to-day management to their elder son, Andreas, 42. For investors the changing of the helmsman was hardly discernible.
The Wharf business went to the second daughter, Bessie, her banker husband, Peter Woo, taking charge. To cater to the rising demand from affluent mainland tourists, he has expanded its stable of commercial properties and is now the city’s biggest landlord of retail space.
Overall, Pao’s legacy goes beyond his character. Having planned his succession so far in advance and so thoroughly, he created a foundation that his children and grandchildren are still building upon. Their success is owed to his decisive action and careful business planning.
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