It was not exactly a happy Mother’s Day for one wealthy family, it was more like a scene from a TV soap opera. The key characters are an elderly matriarch, who wants to get rid of the family trust, and three of her sons in a power struggle to take control of one of the richest real estate and hotel groups in Hong Kong.
In 1963, the late father Lo Ying-shek, who died in 2006, and wife Lo To Lee-kwan co-founded Great Eagle Holdings. The Chinese name of Great Eagle (Ying Kwan) was derived from part of the name of each of the founders. Ying literally means eagle.
With such a large brood of six sons and three daughters, it would be difficult to choose a successor to the family’s flagship business, so many of them have long left the nest to start their own enterprises. There is also a family trust in place to ensure few arguments on managing and dividing the family’s wealth.
On Sunday, third son Lo Ka-shui, chairman of Great Eagle Holdings, and fifth son Lo Ying-sui – both of whom are cardiologists who graduated from university in the United States – were barred from entering the Regal Hongkong Hotel.
The sons, who live and have practices in Hong Kong, were trying to visit their elderly mother who has been living at the hotel in Causeway Bay for nearly two weeks since moving out of her luxury home on The Peak.
Second son Lo Yuk-sui owns the hotel located in the busy retail district on Hong Kong Island.
After a heated argument, security guards finally led Lo Ka-shui and Lo Ying-sui to meet their mother for half an hour.
Media reports said the 98-year-old matriarch, Lo To Lee-kwan, did not want to see Lo Ka-shui because he was against dismissing the family trust, which she wanted to do.
Last December, Lo To Lee-kwan filed a High Court writ to dismiss the family trust, HSBC International Trustee. Her move struck a note of discord within the family, who has mostly in public had few clashes in three decades.
At Great Eagle Holdings’ annual general meeting on May 10, chairman Lo Ka-shui said he did not know about the court action taken by his mother, who is also a non-executive member.
He said that his mother was old so she would listen blindly to other people’s ideas. He also said he was not able to meet his mother, who reportedly had moved out of her Peak residence to the hotel, for nearly two weeks.
On the same day, Great Eagle ousted deputy managing director Lo Kai-shui, the sixth son, from the board with a commanding 86% of the shareholders in favor of the move at the meeting.
Now, four days later on Mother’s Day, Lo Ka-shui and Lo Ying-sui also did not join the family’s evening get-together to avoid further embarrassment. The rest of the Lo family released a Mother’s Day photo.
Regal Hotel owner Lo Yuk-sui, together with the eldest brother Anthony Lo Hong-sui and the youngest brother Lo Kai-shui were in the photo with their mother. Their three sisters – Law Wai-duen, Gwen Lo Wai-ki and Annie Lo Hong-suen, had attended the dinner.
Fourth brother Vincent Lo Hong-sui, chairman of both Shui On Land and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, was absent from the dinner because he was at the the Belt and Road forum in Beijing. But his wife Loletta Chu attended the family dinner.
It appears the battle for power over one of the oldest property giants in Hong Kong is between the three sons. Great Eagle Holdings has US$4 billion worth of assets in Hong Kong, mainland China, North America, Europe and Asia.
But this is not the first time there has been a major family split.
In 1983, second son Lo Yuk-sui, along with corporate doctor Bill Wyllie attempted to take over the controlling arm of Great Eagle, Paliburg Holdings. It was during the Hong Kong dollar crisis and they succeeded.
The takeover damaged the family harmony, with Ka-shui, the third son and practicing cardiologist, summoned back to Hong Kong to take over the family flagship.
This split encourage the siblings to make their own fortunes. Vincent Lo, for example, set up Shui On Construction and Shui On Land, Lo Kai-shui set up Sun Fook Kong Group and Lo Yuk-sui retained control of Regal Hotels International Holdings and Century City International Holdings.
What happens next in this family feud is anybody’s guess, but it will be closely watched just like a TV soap opera.