Lee Man Tat, the chairman of Lee Kam Kee. Photo: corporate.lkk.com

A common saying is that Hong Kong has been run by men named Li or Lee – the same Chinese character – because many powerful property tycoons carried that popular surname.

“Superman” Li Ka-shing of Cheung Kong Holdings was the richest man in the city for two decades, followed by his friend Lee Shau-kee, who owns Henderson Land.

Now, for a change, the third-richest man also has the same surname. Enter Lee Man-tat, chairman of the Lee Kum Kee Group. Lee saw his wealth double to US$17.1 billion, edging out No.4 Joseph Lau, the majority owner of Chinese Estates, according to the Forbes Asia Rich List this month.

For the first time, Lee has broken into the top 10 of the list dominated by Li Ka-shing ($31.7 billion) and Lee Shau-kee ($30 billion). Little was known about Lee Kum Kee, whose group was founded back in 1888 in Nanshui town, Zhuhai, in Guangdong province.

His trademark Lee Kum Kee oyster sauce can be found in almost every household in Hong Kong, as well as in many Chinese restaurants all over the world. The privately-owned Lee Kum Kee Group never discloses any financial data to the public, but it is believed it sells more than 100 million bottles of soy sauce per year.

His family also runs direct marketing firm Infinitus, which tops Amway in distributing health products in China.

With the huge revenue generated from Infinitus, Lee Kum Kee Group made global headlines by buying No.2 Fenchurch Street in London for 1.3 billion pounds ($1.67 billion), the highest price ever paid for a single commercial building in the city. The group also invested at least HK$30 billion in the Hong Kong and overseas property market.

However, it has not all been smooth sailing. Last month, a dozen people filed complaints to the company, saying their family members had died or their health had worsened after consuming the healthcare products of Infinitus.

Infinitus was slammed by the People’s Daily, a party mouthpiece, on Weibo due to the complaints. The company said in several statements that it has been following all the alleged cases and will remain transparent to the public.

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