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Asia's billionaire grandpas give way to next generation of women

[HONG KONG] Asia's billionaire family boardrooms are making way for heiresses.

Michelle Li, the 23-year-old granddaughter of Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong's richest person, has joined him, her father and uncle on the board of Chesterfield Realty Inc., a family-controlled unit of CK Hutchinson Holdings, according to the Hong Kong Company Registry.

She's among third-generation women being groomed for leadership at conglomerates created by some of Hong Kong's wealthiest patriarchs. While her father, Victor Li, took the reins last year from Li Ka-shing, 90, as chairman of the group's flagship companies, her appointment shows that succession planning is already under way for a generation from now.

Harvard University graduate Sonia Cheng runs the Rosewood Hotels arm of New World Development Co., founded by her grandfather Cheng Yu-tung. Kristine Li, the eldest granddaughter of property tycoon Lee Shau Kee, studied at Stanford University and is a deputy general manager at Henderson Land Development Co.

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Glass Ceiling

"These women have a lot to contribute and could become good role models if they take up leadership," said Petula Ho, a professor in the department of Social Work and Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong, where 2 of 10 professors are women. "But this is very class-biased and they come from really rich families. For others, the glass ceiling is very true. Hong Kong is still a man's world."

In China, where fortunes were created more recently, control is only now starting to be handed to the second generation, many of them women.

Yang Huiyan, co-chairman of Country Garden Holdings Co., was only 23 in 2005 when she inherited her father's stake in the real estate developer. The Ohio State University graduate is now worth US$19.2 billion and China's richest woman, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a ranking of the world's 500 wealthiest people.

Theresa Tse, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, was 22 in 2015 when she became chairwoman of her father's Sino Biopharmaceuticals Corp. Her stake is worth US$1.1 billion.

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