HONG KONG -- Hong Kong's third-richest man Cheng Yu-tung, founder of conglomerate New World Development, died peacefully on Thursday night at the age of 91, according to a company announcement issued on behalf of his family.
The property tycoon, who had a net worth of $16.7 billion, worked at the Chow Tai Fook gold shop in Macau during World War II. In 1943, he married shop owner Chow Chi-yuen's daughter, Chow Tsui-ying, with whom he had four children. After inheriting the jewelry business in 1956, Cheng invested in properties in Hong Kong and in 1970 founded New World Development, now a company worth $94.67 billion and a blue-chip stock on Hong Kong's equity benchmark Hang Seng Index.
After Cheng's retirement in March 2012 due to an unspecified illness, his son Henry Cheng Kar-shun took the helm of both New World Development and Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, which have expanded into a wide array of industries beyond property development. His grandson Adrian Cheng Chi-kong, 36, has also taken a more important role in the group as an executive vice chairman.
Through NWS Holdings Limited, also listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, the Cheng family builds infrastructure projects across greater China, including Macau, while running malls, hotels, buses and ferries in its home town.
Its separately-listed Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group, the major shareholder of New World Development, is one of the largest jewelry retailers in the world with a market capitalization of $56.4 billion. Its business has boomed in line with the emerging middle class in mainland China, with sales outlets growing to 2,319 as of March 2016.
Cheng had a continuing interest in casinos, initially as a shareholder in Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau, previously Macau's monopoly casino operator. Cheng served as a director of SJM Holdings, STDM's Hong Kong-listed unit, and built his own casino hotel, L'Arc Macau. Through listed company International Entertainment, Cheng opened a casino hotel in Manila and via privately-held Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, he took a leading role in casino resort developments in cities including Incheon in South Korea, Brisbane in Australia and Hoi An in Vietnam.
New World Development now has a total of 18 hotels in Hong Kong, mainland China and Southeast Asia. It sold its Renaissance hotel chain to Marriott in 1997, and sold down its stake in three upscale Hong Kong hotels, including the Grand Hyatt, where high-level Chinese government officials usually stay, for 18.5 billion Hong Kong dollars ($2.39 billion) to Abu Dhabi's sovereign wealth fund last year.
Notable architecture built by the Cheng family includes the harbor-front Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, as well as the adjacent Golden Bauhinia Square, where the flags of China and the Hong Kong special administrative region are raised every morning.
The Cheng family has close ties with both the mainland and Hong Kong governments, as well as with prominent business leaders including the Li family who run the Bank of East Asia, and Xu Jiayin, founder of leading mainland property developer China Evergrande.
While being mired in a housing development dispute in the New Territories of Hong Kong, the family became a cornerstone investor in the more than $1 billion initial public offering of the investment banking arm of state-owned conglomerate China Merchants Group in Hong Kong early this week.