International Distinguished Entrepreneur Award University of Manitoba, Canada
I am Li Ka-shing. I would like to thank you all for sharing this happy occasion with me. It was ten years ago when Mr. Albert Cohen first invited me to receive this award. At that very sad moment in my life, it was difficult for me to think of anything other than the routine pressure of work. But here I am tonight, amongst friends; I am most honoured to be here to receive this International Distinguished Entrepreneur Award. I would like to thank Mr. Albert Cohen for nominating me for this award. I would also like to thank Mr. John Fraser, Chairman of the Nominating Committee and the members of the Committee; Dr. Emoke Szathmary, President of the University of Manitoba; Dr. Jerry Gray of the Faculty of Management; Mr. William Watchorn, Chairman of the Associates; and everyone who helped organize this wonderful dinner and award ceremony.
A month ago, on the first of May, I quietly celebrated the 50th anniversary of the company I first built. On that day, I reflected on those past years, the sadness of lost childhood in the turmoil of war, the helplessness of watching my father’s suffering, the loneliness of poverty, the desperation of seeking employment as a 12-year-old, the joy of receiving my first paycheck, the enthusiasm in getting the first deal, the setting up of my own company, the comfort of my first home, and the ever eventful participation in global changes and development, the sheer magnificent feeling of accomplishments and recognition. It has not been an easy journey. My life has been filled with challenges and competition. The constant demand for one to be wise, to be far-seeing and to be creative is certainly tiring, yet all in all I am glad that I can say I am a happy man, for I have tried to serve society to the best of my ability as a human being, as a citizen and as a businessman.
We all know that this new century heralds an era of immense and destabilising changes. We all share in different degrees, the success in the scientific and information revolution that creates more efficiency and gives us more in life. But we also face together the wide-ranging and threatening destruction of both our own natural environment and the fabric of the society we live in. More than ever before, in this information society, education demarcates those who have the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and know-how, and those who have not; those who are highly valued and those who are deemed as unnecessary and unemployable. We all deplore the injustices and the inequality that exist in our world today, but each of us has only a limited power to change it. However, I believe that there is no substitute for loyalty, integrity, fair-mindedness and compassion. It is not surprising that sometimes people say that such an attitude is inappropriate and not in step with the times. For some, success in business is said to come at the price of sacrificing these values. Of course, commercial reality requires constant paradigm shifts. But it is my belief that the increasing pressures to maximise profit and efficiency should not compromise our respect for equality and our determination to minimise misery. All our progress would hardly be meaningful if we choose to sacrifice human spirit in pursuit of money and power.
I do not claim to be a beacon of moral light, nor am I a guide for anyone save, maybe my own sons. The loss and helplessness I went through made me determined, at an early stage, that I would not value myself for what I own or what power I can wield, but to make my life worth living. 50 years ago, I named my company Cheung Kong Holdings after the Yangtze River that flows through China, a great river that aggregates countless streams and tributaries. These days I think about where this “river” should flow. Throughout the years, a charitable foundation I set up has sponsored more than C$700 million to many causes, and in particular education and medical development. I will continue to do the same and more, not out of a sense of duty but because it is a maxim by which I choose to live my life.
In this world, increased speed of information and travel has made us live together and become more aware of our diversity. We have also created immense global environmental and economic disparity issues for us to solve. Together we must develop a new fraternity to ease suffering, ignorance and poverty. Together, let us all contribute our energy, skills and funds, to participate in building a more equitable and compassionate society, in economy, education and health. Ladies and gentlemen, success and freedom are fundamental aspirations that can neither be narrowly characterized nor broadly defined, yet if one’s success should be measured by whether we have achieved the goals we set for ourselves, and our freedom is gauged by whether we could be responsible legislators of our own conduct, then we all have what it takes to be successful, we all have what it takes to be free.