Hong Kong business and philanthropist Tin Ka-ping Photo: Tin Ka Ping Foundation

Tin Ka-ping made lots of money in his lifetime, but was never listed among the group of leading Hong Kong tycoons. For good reason: he gave most of it away so that children could get a better education.

The industrialist and philanthropist, who died Monday at the age of 99, donated money to more than 200 schools in Hong Kong and China, ranging from kindergartens to top universities. He is survived by nine children, none of whom will benefit from his large estate.

In the last interview he gave to his own foundation last year, Tin said humbly that he had not achieved much in his life except running a small business and accumulating a modest amount of wealth.

A self-made businessman, he made his fortune trading polyvinyl chloride — better known as PVC — in Hong Kong. In 2001 he sold the Kowloon Tong house where he had lived for 37 years for HK$56 million (US$7.13 million) and donated all the proceeds to more than 20 secondary schools in Hong Kong and the mainland.

Tin and his wife rented a 1,300-square-feet apartment nearby and they were often seen taking public transport until his final days, when his struggle with chronic pharyngitis became insurmountable.

It wasn’t all plain sailing

Born in Dabu County, Guangdong, Tin started a porcelain business in Vietnam, then launched an Indonesian rubber venture in 1935. He relocated to Hong Kong in 1958 and started all over again.

He had a successful business, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. The 1997 regional financial crisis delivered a massive blow and he was unable to complete some of his promised donations. But as soon as he had recovered they resumed, and even increased.

Last year he said his properties generated HK$80 million of rental income and he would continue to use the money for good causes. These included 80 universities in Hong Kong and China, 170 secondary schools, 48 primary schools and kindergartens and 1,450 libraries in remote villages in China. Some 20 secondary and primary schools in Hong Kong carry his name.

Eight years ago, Tin said: “After these several decades, I’m very satisfied … I myself feel my greatest success is to be able to gain respect from people from all walks of life.”

There is little doubt he has achieved that legacy.