No tycoon in Hong Kong is more qualified to talk about resurrection than Joseph Lau Luen-hung, the flamboyant playboy famed for his appetite for Picassos, private jets and pretty women.
The 65-year-old, who recovered from a kidney transplant last year, came out the other side with a completely different outlook on life and decided to give away a significant portion of his wealth to his new wife Kimbie Chan Ho-wan, making her one of the Asia’s richest women.
Last month, he passed a controlling stake in his listed flagship Chinese Estates to Chan because of his unstable health condition. His health seemed to be much improved, however, as he gave a long interview to Apple Daily, where his wife used to work as a paparazzo, and talked about a wide range of topics from money and love to his childhood.
What interested me was that days before his kidney transplant, he received a donation request from a certain Buddhist organization thinking that he might be about to pass away very soon. The request was for C$78 million (US$59 million),
“Do you think that is funny?” Lau asked. “They probably think I won’t last long and I would give away my wealth this way with just a signature. So I began to learn how to stop people from taking advantage of me because there are no shortage of such people.”
Lau, like other notable Hong Kong tycoons, accumulated wealth from property investments and and the stock market to a level that he could no longer find enough things to spend it on, despite being known as the largest client of Hermes, where he has spent a reported HK$300 million on handbags for his girlfriends and a specially designed set of T-shirts and pajamas for himself.
He also recalled being approached by people seeking to work for him outside Fook Lam Moon, one of Hong Kong’s most expensive Chinese restaurants and his regular dining haunt. A mother even brought her daughter to ask if he could take care of her. But he turned them down.
When Lau wanted to dump his girlfriend, Yvonne Lui Lai-kwan – on whom he had lavished money, jewellery and other gifts totalling over HK$3 billion in value – last November, he took out a print advertisement to do so.
Lui, who has two children by Lau, set up an innovators’ fellowship program with Melani and Rob Walton of Walmart.
Instead of high-profile philanthropic deeds of his own, Lau has other ideas about giving back. Before undergoing surgery, he wired at least US$2 million to a New York friend whom he has not seen for 20 years and US$1.5 million to another friend in Los. Both had taken care of Lau before he was a billionaire.
“I am not sure if they are living well. A few millions can mean a lot in the United States,” said Lau. “They treated me so well before and I have to take care of them.”
Lau said he gave his wife a list of people whom he would open his wallet to if they needed help. “If I find our people around me who need help, and need to be taken care, I would do so,” said Lau.
One supposes that is an Easter message of sorts.