Wing On Cheong (永安祥): From Fabric and Cameras to Securities and Real Estate

York Lo: Wing On Cheong (永安祥): From Fabric and Cameras to Securities and Real Estate

The Wing On Cheong group has ties to both the Kar Cheung Chong Bank and Holga Cameras covered earlier in the group as its founder Li Ting-chung (李定中) was a senior executive at Kar Cheung Chong and his brother Lee Ting-mo (李定武) is the founder of Holga. Wing On Cheong itself was a major player in the camera business in HK as the sole agent for Yashica cameras in the 1960s to 1980s and with its profits from trading expanded into real estate and stock brokerage.

From Bank Accountant to Proprietor of Emporium

Wing On Cheong Image 1 York Lo

Li Ting-chung and his wife, director Lee Suk-yue (李淑瑜) and actress Ka Ling at the opening of the Kose cosmetics department at Wing On Cheong in 1962. (WKYP, 1962-12-3)

A native of Panyu, Li Ting-chung was born in 1925 and was months away from graduation at Queen’s College when the Japanese occupied Hong Kong in December 1941 and disrupted his education. (similar experience to Pentax camera distributor Yuen Kang-chuen) After the War, he joined Kar Cheung Chong as a bookkeeper and took accounting classes at night. Within a few years, he was promoted to head of the accounting department at Kar Cheung Chong at the age of 24 and was introduced to senior executives of other major banks such as HSBC and Mercantile by his boss H.Y. Chan at the Jockey Club. (Next Magazine, 2002-3-28)

In 1953, Li left Kar Cheung Chong (2 years before its collapse) and established Wing On Cheong Emporium (永安祥百貨) at 15 Kwong Yuen East Street in Sheung Wan. The products the firm distributed in its early years ranged from Sunkist oranges to Japanese toys and cosmetics to silk stockings from the US. Thanks to strong ties with banks which he had built up in his prior job and direct access to Japanese manufacturers established by his elder brother Li Ting-tai (李定大, who was chairman of the firm) in Japan, Wing On Cheong emerged as a major importer of Japanese products into Hong Kong, especially piece goods in its earlier years which were used by tailors to make suits for visiting US soldiers and tourists. As electronics became more popular in the 1950s, Wing On Cheong imported a wide range of electronic products from Japan including transistor radios and the “Va-An” brand of electric shavers by Taisei Denyuco in Japan in 1959 which was quickly sold out. (WKYP, 1959-3-22)

In September 1960, Wing On Cheong Emporium opened its Central store at 168 Des Voeux Road Central. At the time, the firm’s main office was located at Room 121-125 at the Man Yee Building in Central while its electronics department was located at the Kwong Yuen East Street location.  The firm also had branches in Tokyo, Osaka and Singapore. (WKYP, 1960-9-17)

Distributor of Yashica Cameras

Wing On Cheong Image 2 York Lo

The Li brothers welcoming Yashica president Yoshimasa Ushiyama in HK in 1963. Right to left: Li Ting-tai, Chan Hing-ling (camera department manager of Wing On Cheong), Ushiyama, Yashica’s export department manager, Li Ting-chung (WKYP, 1963-10-19)

The product Wing On Cheong was most identified with was cameras, specifically the Japanese brand Yashica (影攝佳) which it represented from the 1960s to the 1980s. Yashica traced its origin to Yashima Seiki which was founded in 1949 by Yoshimasa Ushiyama (牛山善政)in Nagano, Japan to make components for electric clocks. Four years later, Yashima launched its first complete camera – Yashimaflex and in 1958, it acquired Nicca Camera and renamed itself Yashica. The brand was originally represented by Wang Kee (see article) but since Wang Kee primarily focused on logistics, Wing On Cheong whose camera department was run by Chan Hing-ling (陳慶玲) managed to take over the agency. (Exact date is unclear but the earliest article which ties Wing On Cheong with Yashica is from its Central store opening in 1960). This proved to be the right move as Yashica quickly emerged as one of the leading brands of cameras in the 1960s and coupled with a strong network of distributors and aggressive marketing campaign featuring ads with the actress Lydia Shum propelled Yashica to one of the top brands in HK, selling over 10000 cameras per year in the 1970s and 1980s. The success of Yashica in HK prompted Yashica to set up Yashica HK Ltd in 1968.

In the mid-1970s, Wing On Cheong sponsored a series of trips for its top Yashica distributors. In February 1974, the firm sponsored a seven-day trip to the Philippines for 40 distributors. (WKYP, 1974-2-22) This was followed by a seven-day Thailand tour for its distributors led by sales manager Chung Yiu-hin and organized by Seven Seas Tour. (KSEN, 1974-7-5) In February 1975, Wing On Cheong organized a trip for Japan for 70 of its distributors to visit Yashica’s plant in Okaya and its new head office building in Tokyo followed by sightseeing.

Wing On Cheong Image 3 York Lo

Yashica distributors in HK before their trip to Japan sponsored by Wing On Cheong in 1975 (KSEN, 1975-2-26)

In late 1976, Wing On Cheong participated in the first major photographic equipment exhibition held at the City Hall with two booths showcasing Yashica, Zeiss and Contax products and offering 10% discount at the booth and its retail outlets to all visitors to the booth. (KSEN, 1976-11-30)

In 1977, Wing On Cheong was appointed HK and Macau sole agent for Contax cameras and Carl Zeiss lenses after  Yashica entered into strategic partnership with the German brands in the mid-1970s. To highlight the exclusivity of the high-end camera, Wing On Cheong initially restricted its distribution to 20 high end camera shops in HK. (KSEN, 1977-2-15) The Wing On Cheong group was also involved in camera production through Universal Electronics Industries (宇宙電子廠, incorporated in 1969) and Universal Optical Industries (環球光學製品廠, incorporated in 1967, renamed Kyocera Logistics HK in 2008)managed by T.M. Lee which produced the WOC (as in Wing On Cheong) brand of camera flashlight and Yashica cameras in the 1970s and later the Holga brand of cameras in the 1980s. (see articles) Both T.M. and his son Joseph had worked for Yashica. Yashica was acquired in 1983 by Kyocera and over time declined due to strong competition and completely halted production of cameras in 2005. In 2008, Jebsen Group of Hong Kong acquired the Yashica and released digital cameras and other products under the brand. Outside of cameras, Wing On Cheong also entered into the motors and watch business through the establishment of Wing On Cheong Motors (永安祥汽車) in 1980 and Wing On Cheung Watch Industries (永安祥錶業) in 1984 and had tried its hands in a wide array of businesses such as supermarket, barbecue meat store and even imported lie detectors and bulletproof vests. As the group shifted its focus to property development and the securities business, Wing On Cheong Emporium was dissolved in 2019.

Properties and Financial Services

Wing On Cheong had been involved in property development since the late 1950s when it incorporated Great World Investment Co (大世界置業) in 1957 which was later renamed Wing On Cheong Investment Co (永安祥置業) in 1963.

Wing On Cheung Investment has been the group’s property development arm and in the late 1970s it developed Siu Yip House (兆業大廈) at 183-189 Fa Yuen Street in Kowloon and Siu Yee Building (兆宜大廈) at 590-596 Queen’s Road West. The firm was particularly active in the real estate market in the early 1980s having developed Wing Fat Mansion (永發大廈) at 19-23 Austin Road in Tsim Sha Tsui and Wing Fu Mansion (永富大廈) at 10-24 Parkes Street in Jordan in 1980, the 20-story Shun Pont Commercial Building (信邦商業大廈) at 5-11 Thomson Road in Wanchai, the 22-story Goa Building (高雅大廈) at 20-24 Hill Road in Shek Tong Tsuiand the 21 story Kam Wa Building (錦華大廈) at 382-388 Des Voeux Road West in 1981 and Universal Towers (宇宙閣) at 18-26 Kin Wah Street in North Point in 1984. In 1982, Wing On Cheong acquired the 800 sq ft site of 5 Wing Lok Street for $10 million and built a temporary 3-story office building. The plan was after the lease for the tenants at 7 and 9 Wing Lok Street ran out to combine all three sites for a new office building. (KSDN, 1982-4-1) This became the 24-story Wing On Cheong Building which has served as the head office for the group since its completion in 1991.

Wing On Cheong Image 4 York Lo

Left: Wing On Cheong ad for Universal Towers in 1984 (WKYP, 1984-2-28); Right: Ad for Wing On Cheong in 1982 listing seven buildings it had available for rent (WKYP, 1982-1-8)

Having started his career with a bank, Li Ting-chung was drawn back to financial services. In 1973, Wing On Cheong entered the lending business by forming WOC Finance (永安祥財務), initially providing credit facility to small businesses and later participated in mortgage loans for the first three Home Ownership Schemes sponsored by the government. In June 1984, WOC Finance cancelled its registration as a deposit taking company to focus on lending. (WKYP, 1984-6-23)

In 1986, Li Ting-chung acquired a stock brokerage license for HK$200,000 to capitalize on the bull market at the time and formed Wing On Cheong Securities. When the stock market crashed the next year, the firm lost millions so the 63-year-old Li jumped in himself and took the licensing exams to become responsible officer for the brokerage. He successfully turned it around and became one of the leading local brokerages in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Despite of the substantial wealth he has accumulated (estimated net worth by Next Magazine in 2002 at HK$400 million through the ownership of three buildings and over 50 shops and residential units), Li Ting-chung maintained a very frugal lifestyle, often preferring to take public transportation such as tram and buses and lived in an old building on King Lung Street in Causeway Bay while leasing out luxury apartments he owned in Repulse Bay and Cloud View Road for rental income. He also refused to join any fraternities or trade associations as he saw them as distractions from business and maintained a disciplined schedule everyday which involved swimming in Repulse Bay around noon.

As he approached his 80s, Li Ting-chung stepped down as responsible officer of Wing On Cheong Securities in 2004. Most of his 7 children work for the family business with Stephen Li Ding-sing responsible for properties, Charles Li Ding-ching (李鼎正) taking care of securities supported by David Li Ding-kay (李鼎基), Lawrence Li Ding-lap (李鼎立) handling WOC Finance and Li Ding-yiu (李鼎耀) responsible for watches.

Although Li Ting-chung had not served on the board of any charitable organizations, he was generous with his staff and philanthropic. Starting in 1997, Wing On Cheong Securities began to donate 10% of its commission income to the Community Chest, aggregating to over $10 million by 2013 but the securities business had since been wind down.

Sources (other than those cited above):

https://articles.zkiz.com/?rbid=25029

http://m.h1.hk/dailynews/content_hk/2013/08/30/252436.asp

This article was first posted on 31st May 2021.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Kar Cheung Chong Bank (嘉彰莊銀行)
  2. Holga Cameras – Universal Optical Industry / Universal Electronics Industries – production information needed
  3. Q&A36 TM Lee – creator of the HK made Holga camera
  4. Holga Cameras – interview with TM Lee their creator
  5. Wang Kee (宏記) – A Century of Service in the Port of Hong Kong
  6. Camera shops/agents in Hong Kong, 1930s to 1950s
  7. William S.T. Lee & Co (曉莊貿易) – the firm which brought Montblanc pens, Rodenstock glasses, Seiko watches, Ricoh cameras and Kenwood stereos to HK
  8. Behind the Shades: David Miao (繆德維 1912-2006) – the low-profile partner of George Ho behind many high-profile products (Minolta cameras and copiers, Philips radios …) and services (Commercial Radio, ABC Paging) in HK
  9. Diana Cameras – Great Wall Plastics Factory 1955 – production information needed
  10. Woo Ping (胡炳) – Weaving and Real Estate Pioneer
  11. Cho Shiu-chung (曹紹松, 1922-2011) – Real Estate Developer and Philanthropist
  12. Kin Yick Liong (建益隆) – Real Estate Developer from the 1960s

 

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