Lee Chow Kee (李就記): Three Generations of Builders and Philanthropists
York Lo: Lee Chow Kee (李就記): Three Generations of Builders and Philanthropists
The family of building contractor Lee Pak-sheung, the founder of Lee Chow Kee Construction has been involved in the HK construction and real estate industry for three generations and at least seven decades since the 1950s. Although the family is relatively low key, members of the second generation became close friends and business partners of three leading tycoons in town – Stanley Ho, Lee Shau-kee and Cheng Yu-tung. The family is also known for its involvement in various charitable organizations such as Tung Wah Group of Hospitals and Po Leung Kuk.
First Generation – Founder Lee Pak-sheung (李伯常)
Left: picture of Lee Pak-sheung and article about his business trip to Australia in 1962 (KSDN, 1962-2-24); Right: sketching of Pak Cheung tenement building in Mongkok in 1959 (WKYP, 1959-2-22)
A native of Shunde in Guangdong province, Lee Pak-sheung was the founder of Lee Chow Kee Construction which was founded in 1925. For whatever reason, Lee Chow Kee was not a member of the HKBCA and in 1951, its office address was listed at 416 Main Street West in Shaukiwan. (HK Chinese Business Yearbook) As a firm, Lee Chow Kee Construction & Investment Ltd (李就記建築置業) was not incorporated until 1970.
With the changing of the building codes and the real estate boom in the late 1950s, Lee Pak-sheung like his many contractor peers also entered the field of property development. In August 1957, Lee Pak-sheung, whose residential address was listed as 373B Prince Edward Road at the time, incorporated Pak Cheung Investment (百祥置業) with $1 million in capital and the next month, the firm held its opening reception at its newly completed 8-story Pak Cheung House (百祥大廈) at 2 Tak Shing Street in Jordan which was attended by fellow contractor Chow Yau (see article), developer Cheung Yuk-kai, Leung Kwai-yee and Leung Chik-fun (to be covered) of Kwong On Bank, architect Tam Heung-shing and others. His whole family moved into the building where they lived in the 1960s. (WKYP, 1957-9-22)
The same year, Lee also developed the 71 room Hotel Mabuhay (馬寶禧大酒店) on Tak Shing Street opposite the Shamrock Hotel. The air-conditioned hotel, which catered to Filipino visitors, was managed by Carlos A. Gaan, who was manager of the Manila branch of Flying Cargo (see article on Rosalind Henwood) and worked in Shanghai. Other investors in the hotel included Mok Tsze-fung (partner of Kwan Fan-fat in the development of Central Building and in Sang Lee Land, see article on Kwan), Tong Man-leong and Yuen Siu-lau of Fook Woo Construction. (FEER)
In 1959, Pak Cheung developed the 8-story Pak Cheung Building (百祥唐樓) on a 10000 sq ft site at 59-65 Shantung Street in Mongkok with residential flats with three rooms and one living room each selling for $8000 and up and storefronts on the ground floor each selling for $20000 and up. (WKYP, 1959-2-22)
In 1961, Lee Pak-sheung established Pak On Investment (百安置業, although as a firm it was not incorporated until 1962) and developed the 11-story Pak On Building (百安大廈) at 105 Austin Road in Tsim Sha Tsui. The building was designed by the US born and educated architect Lee Young-on (1902-1979) and press reports also mentioned that Lee Pak-sheung incorporated ideas he picked up in his overseas trips to countries such as Australia. The same year, Pak On also developed the 12-story Sheung On Mansion (常安大廈) at the intersection of Nathan Road and Nanking Street. (WKYP, 1961-7-23)
Ad for Pak On Building in Tsim Sha Tsui in 1961 (WKYP, 1961-5-5)
For whatever reason, Lee Pak-sheung’s businesses outside of Lee Chow Kee were all dissolved – Hotel Mabuhay in 1968, Pak Cheung Investment in 1970 and Pak On Investment in 1987. Outside of business, Lee was active in philanthropy and served as director of Po Leung Kuk and Pok Oi Hospital (WKYP, 1961-4-5)
Second Generation – Lee Sing-man, Lee Sing-kwok, Lee Shing-fat and Charles Ming
According to the obituary of his wife Wong Hing-cheung (黃慶祥) in 1986, Lee Pak-sheung had 7 sons and 10 daughters.
Article about Lee Sing-man and his wife’s return to HK from the US in 1960 with their graduation picture (WKYP, 1960-3-2)
His eldest son Lee Sing-man (李醒民, 1925-) married Florence Wong Fun-chong (黃訓莊) and together they went to the University of Michigan in 1955 and both received their M.S in engineering in 1958. After graduation, they worked for Palmer & Baker Engineers in Mobile, Alabama where Florence was involved in the construction of the longest bridge in the state before the couple returned to HK in 1960. In HK, Sing-man struck out on his own and established Essman Construction (常安工程) in the 1960s although as a firm it was not incorporated until 1971 while Florence has been registered with the HK Buildings Department as an engineer since 1974. The firm specialized in piling and completed piling work for the HK Housing Society in the 1960s. Sing-man became a close friend and business partner of Stanley Ho, jointly investing in ventures such as Bailey Development (比利發展, incorporated in 1980), Luhu Golf Club, iSinolaw, i-Asia Technology (more in next section) and even a large retail development project in Qindao which never materialized. Sing-man also served as managing director of Ho’s private company Hung Fat Cheung Investors (鴻發祥企業, incorporated in 1973) which developed Acacia Villa in Lantau Island and represented Ho at land auctions such as one involving 16-18 Conduit Road (developed into Conduit 18 in 2010) in 2003. Sing-man is not the family’s only connection to Stanley Ho as his younger sister, Pak-sheung’s eighth daughter Lee Yau-ling (李幼齡) married Victor Tsui (崔其灝), who had his own accounting firm Victor Tsui & Co operating out of Shun Tak Centre also worked as an accountant for Stanley Ho and jointly appeared with Ho in press interviews during his dispute with his younger sister Winnie Ho in the early 2000s.
Lee Sing-man (holding up the red 1 sign) next to Stanley Ho at a government land auction in 2003. Lee successfully bid for 16-18 Conduit Road at the auction on behalf of Ho for $99 million which was almost double the starting bid of $50 million. (Apple Daily)
Pak-cheung’s second son Lee Sing-kwok (李醒國) ran Lee Chow Kee and later moved to Canada where the family established L & L Developments. While he was in HK, Sing-kwok was relatively low profile and served as chairman of the HK Amateur Fishing Association in the early 1980s. He was a friend of Henderson Land founder Lee Shau-kee and was mentioned several times in Lee Shau-kee’s memoir, including vacationing together in Hawaii in 1979 when his sons Eddie and Mark learned to scuba dive together with Shau-kee’s then 16 years old eldest son Peter Lee Ka-kit and another time when they traveled together to Singapore visiting an old friend Siu King-ngok (蕭經岳). In 2016, Lee Shau-kee’s Henderson Land successfully acquired all the units of Pak Cheung Building at Tak Shing Street originally developed by Sing-kwok’s family for $941 million.
Pak-sheung’s third son Lee Shing-fat (李醒發, rank #5 out of his siblings) graduated with a business degree from Overseas Chinese College and was managing director of Pak Cheung Investment at its launch in 1957. He married Tsang Chun-fong (曾春芳), an education graduate from Overseas Chinese College and daughter of a Cantonese general in 1958. In the 1970s and 1980s, Lee Shing-fat and his son Johnny Lee Jun-nam (李振南) owned at the least eight horses all with the Chinese words “心知” and English words “Tea for” in their names. In 1987, his horse “Tea for Two II” (新兩心知) won the HK Derby.
Left: Wedding picture of Lee Shing-fat and Tsang Chun-fong (WKYP, 1958-2-7); Right: Wedding picture of Lee Sing-wah in 1960. Seated left to right: Chan Yiu-kwan (father of the bride), Lee Wong Hing-cheung, Lee Pak-sheung (WKYP, 1960-11-10)
As for Pak-sheung’s other sons, the fourth, fifth and sixth sons all died at an early age while his seventh and youngest son Lee Shing-wah (李醒華, rank #11) graduated from a technical college in Sydney and married Chan Ching-han, a graduate of United College in HK in 1960, after which they went to New York to further their studies.
Of Pak-sheung’s ten daughters, the first, sixth, seventh and ninth daughters died early. His fourth daughter Jackie Lee Chuk-ling (李祝齡, rank #8) met her husband Charles Ming Ka-fook (明嘉福1934-2008) while studying in Australia.
Left: article about Lee Chuk-ling heading to Australia for further studies in 1960 (WKYP, 1960-1-22); Right: Charles Ming (HK Album, 1967)
Charles Ming was the younger brother of real estate developer J.F. Ming (明長福, also spelled as Ming Cheung-fook), who developed properties in North Point through Ming Hsing Development (明興發展有限公司, incorporated in 1972). After J.F. Ming died from brain cancer in 1992, his children fought over his estate which was valued at HK$280 million with his eldest son Ming Shiu-chung (明肇鍾), third son Ming Shiu-tong (明肇棠), fifth son Ronald Ming Siu-hung (明肇熊) and daughter Bertha Ming Shiu-kuen (明肇娟) suing his second son Lawrence Ming Shui-sum (明肇森), fourth son Ming Shiu-wah (明肇華) and youngest son Ming Shiu-kau (明肇球). Lawrence Ming, which has owned at least 5 horses over the years, remains active in the property market, acquiring On Yuen Building (安遠大廈) at 483-485 Nathan Road in Yaumatei in 2010 for $240 million and chaired Fook Ming Tong Chinese Medical Center (福明堂), which the TCM giant Beijing Tong Ren Tang acquired 50% of in 2014.
After graduation from the University of New South Wales, Charles Ming returned to HK where he worked as an architect of P.K. Ng (see article on Ng Wah) and lived at 2 Tak Shing Street. He then worked in Canada for 5 years before returning to HK where he worked for the Public Works department before starting his own architectural practice – Charles Ming & Associates. He became a close friend of Cheng Yu-tung, who was the godfather of his daughter Sonia Ming May-lin (明美蓮, there is now a famous picture of Sonia sitting between Donald Trump and Cheng taken in 1999 circulating on the Internet) and jointly owned horses together with Lee Shau-kee. Outside of real estate, Charles Ming was involved in many businesses across the globe, including Kam Hon Travel (金漢旅遊) in HK and had served as chairman of Gold Rush Gaming & Mining Corp, vice chairman of HK-listed Green Energy Group, and director of Canadian listed companies such as Great Canadian Casino Corp., Magnum d’Or Resources, Neo Alliance Minerals and Global Innovative Systems. He died in 2008 in Vancouver of leukemia and was survived by his four children.
The Third Generation
Left: Eddie Lee (second from the left) unveiling with the plaque of the TWGH Wong Lee Hing Cheung Memorial Kindergarten with guest of honor HK Housing Authority chairman Sir Akers-Jones (first from the left) and TWGH vice chairman Wong Sze-sum (of Hong Thai Travel) in 1990 (WKYP, 1990-12-15); Right: Mark Lee cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremony of the Po Leung Kuk Carnival at the Victoria Park in 1991. Left to right: Wong Po-chu of co-sponsor Commercial Radio, PLK chair Kathy Chiu, Secretary for Recreation and Culture James So Yiu-cho, Lee (WKYP, 1991-12-19)
The oldest member of the third generation of the Lee family is Lee Sing-man’s eldest son Dr. Lee Jun-sing (李振聲). After graduating from Indiana University with a Ph.D. in chemical physics, he did postdoctoral research at Johns Hopkins. In 1978, he became the general manager of Digitus Corporation in the US before returning to HK in the 1980s where he served as director of Globalwide Shipping and Vast Honor Development (鴻譽發展, incorporated in 1991), a company majority owned by the family of Stanley Ho which developed the 18-hole Guangzhou Luhu Golf & Country Club (廣州麓湖高爾夫球鄉村俱樂部) in 1995. During the dotcom bubble of the early 2000s, he co-founded the online legal database iSinolaw (中華法律網) with law professor and legislator Priscilla Leung Mei-fun (梁美芬) and online stock trading platform i-Asia Technology (亞洲網上交易科技) with Star Telecom executive Victor Ko (高振峰), both with the backing of family friend Stanley Ho. iSinolaw was absorbed by Thomson in 2011 and became Westlaw China while I-Asia went public on the HK GEM board in 2001 and became the offline investment bank Value Convergence Group (Lee stayed on the board until 2012).
The highest profile members of the third generation of the Lee family in the late 1980s and early 1990s were Eddie Lee Chung-keung (李振強) and Mark Lee Chung-hay (李振禧), sons of Lee Sing-kwok who served as chairman of Tung Wah Group of Hospitals and vice chairman of Po Leung Kuk respectively during that period.
Eddie became a director of Tung Wah in 1983 and rose to become its chairman in 1990, during which he donated $250,000 towards the building the Group’s 7th kindergarten and as a result, the TWGH Lee Wong Hing Cheung Memorial Kindergarten at the Shan King Estate in Tuen Mun was named in the memory of his grandmother. He is so passionate about Tung Wah that he even named his son Lee Tung-Wah. Aside from Tung Wah, Eddie was on the board of Ocean Park and the HKSAR Town Planning Appeal Board panel and the HKSAR Environmental Impact Assessment Appeal Board panel. For his community service, Eddie was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1991 and received the Bronze Bauhinia Star award from the HK SAR government in 2007
In 1985, Eddie Lee along with four others including Paul Yu of Kwan Lee Construction (who was chairman of Tung Wah the year before him) formed K.H. Foundations (劍虹地基). All five founders sold out by 2007 but the firm remains a leading provider of foundation piling services in HK and went public in 2016. Eddie was also director of Southern Harvester Finance (南就企業有限公司), which was incorporated in 1972. In 1988, Lee Chow Kee teamed up with Wong’s Industries, Kwan Lee Construction (see article on Keng Fong Sin Kee) and Pentam Ltd to develop Carado Garden (雲疊花園) in Tai Wai in Shatin. The HK Housing Authority project includes six blocks of 27 story residential towers with a total of 1988 residential units.
Mark graduated from the University of British Columbia with a B.S. in computer science and served as director and manager of Lee Chow Kee in addition to managing director of bag manufacturer Scima Manufactory Ltd (飾顯製造廠), which was incorporated in 1987 and dissolved in 2014.
Sources (other than those cited above):
This article was first posted on 27th July 2020.
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