Li Ka-Shing gasped. His finger traced the outline of the sentence he had just read in the heavy medical book in front of him.
With horror, he slammed the book shut and jumped up from where he had been sitting.
If what he had just read was true, his life would soon be over. He was dying. And there was nothing he could do about it.
Li Ka-Shing was born on a rainy Wednesday in 1928. It was June 13th, in Guangdong Province, China. He was just another poor child born to a poor family in a poor region of the Eastern World.
They fought each day just to stay alive.
And then war made their miserable existence even more unbearable.
He was just starting high school when Japanese war planes bombed Chaozhou. His home was now dust and ash.
Devastated by World War II, his family made the difficult choice to move to Hong Kong.
To add to their suffering, his father became sick. Doctors informed him that he was infected with a deadly strain of tuberculosis and he quickly was sent to a public hospital to live out the rest of his days.
Ravaged with fear, Li started buying medicalbooks about tuberculosis. He learned ways to treat the disease and how to take care of patients who had contracted the disease.
But that would come back to bite him.
He was just 13 years old when in reading another medical book he realized that he himself had all the symptoms of tuberculosis. It made him regret buying those medical books. More importantly, he realized that soon he would be experiencing the painful struggle he witnessed his father enduring.
He was lonely with his secret. He had no one to confide to and didn’t want to burden his mother with his troubles.
But his father, in his painful passing, left him an inspiring memory that he would carry with him for the rest of his life.
It was the day before he died. Instead of telling his son his last wishes, his father simply listened to the dreams of a young, scared Li.
He didn’t judge or disuade or criticize.
He just listened and nodded and reassured Li that anything was possible.
Full of enthusiasm and encouragement, Li reassured his father: “I will give our family a comfortable life.”
“The most terrible experience during my childhood was witnessing my father’s horrible suffering and ultimately dying of tuberculosis. See, I too was infected,” Li would later share in an interview with Forbes Magazine.
After his father’s death, he honored his promise to his father, working long hours for his family’s future.
Recognizing the importance of education, he was obsessed by self-study. Since he did not have enough money to buy new books, he bought old used books and a dictionary. When he was done with the books, he would exchange them for more old books.
He didn’t know what he wanted to do, but he was completely focused on his dreams for a better life.
At 14, he want to work, taking jobs — no matter how low the pay was. He worked hard and gained experience in the process. He worked at a plastic factory 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. He made sure to send 90% of his earnings to his mother and never complained.
Due to his hard work and dedication, he was promoted to manager at age 18.
Soon it was 1950, and Li ka-Shing was 22. He finally decided that now was the time to start his own company. He called it Cheung Kong — after the powerful Yangtse River in China. Using his experience in manufacturing, he opened a factory that manufactured plastics. He was absolutely certain that plastic would be a booming industry.
But, it didn’t seem to anyone else that plastic was a winning formula. It was six years of struggle before he found success. Li started manufacturing plastic flowers that looked real. They were quickly being sold everywhere around the world.
Over the next 15 years, Li would continue to work hard and provide for his family.
But his growing success was about to be completely undone by grave circumstances outside his control.
China wanted Hong Kong back. And they were willing to go to war to make it happen.
Li, like the rest of the rest of the up-and-coming business owners in Hong Kong, was troubled. He was set to lose everything. All over again.
For days he was unable to sleep. Pacing the floor and imagining all the horrific things that would happen to his family if China declared war on them.
One night, he came up a simple solution. It was a bold move. Despite the panic and fear in Hong Kong, Li decided to use the moment to his advantage. Using all of his saved up money and the working funds from his factory, Li began to buy property. A lot of it.
It was risky. But the move worked, making him fantastically wealthy.
After the war, Hong Kong’s population soared. Land became scarce and property development prospered. Soon, Li shifted his focus from industry to being a property developer.
Li Ka-Shing was a man of vision and focus. And now he had a clear target. His goal was to be the number one developer in all of Hong Kong. At a meeting with his senior leadership, Li quietly told his employees that they would soon be the foremost Chinese developer of the country.
His aim was to exceed Hongkong Land, a British developing company that was on top of every developing country. Most of his employees thought that it was an impossible goal. But it would only take seven years before they would defeat Hongkong Land — realizing his goal.
His employees never thought the day would come.
Li had turned the impossible into a reality.
The world economy was booming and Li saw this as the right time to expand his investments all over the world, as he’d always envisioned. From the very start, he had the dream of running an international company and creating a name for himself all across the globe.
Li soon announced that he had acquired Hutchison Whampoa, a venerable British trading house — putting a twist to the conventional wisdom of the day. Usually, British companies were buying Hong Kong companies. Not the other way around. But Li was on to something.
During the 1980’s Hong Kong was praised as an economic miracle in Asia and Li Ka-Shing was considered the prime architect of that success.
Soon, Li Ka-Shing had expanded his investment portfolio to include ports, hotels, telecommunication, oil production, and operation of the largest health and beauty retailer in Asia and Europe.
From the time Li Ka-Shing started his first business as a young 22 year old, he never depended on luck.
He put his trust in hard work and the ability to earn a profit.
“ONLY COMPLETE COMMITMENT GETS GOOD RESULTS.”
He devoted himself to work.
Li Ka-Shing instilled into his children this principle from an early age. When his two sons, Victor and Richard, were still students, he took them to meetings to learn how to run a business. Teaching them that it takes hard work and persistence to be successful. He would not let them turn out to be spoiled, rich brats. He was determined that they respect work and see it as their secret weapon.
It would make them unstoppable.
As Li would say on so many interviews “I’m like a small tree that’s grown in a storm among rocks. When times get tough, you have to ask yourself if you are up to it?”
He is retired now. He’ll never stop working. But his focus now is on charity and supporting his eldest son, Victor Li, as he leads the 232,000 employees they impact on a daily basis.
He has pledged to give away at least one-third of his $35.4 billion fortune to his charitable foundation.
“Your dedication should not be confined for your own gain, but unleash your passion for your beloved country as well as for the integrity and humanity of mankind.”
Smart advice from the richest man in all of Asia. The man they call “Superman”.
The man who lives to this day with a deadly strain of tuberculosis running through his veins.
He outworked death, pain, war, and the endless scourge of other people’s opinions.
And that’s a formula that will work for you as well.
Progress takes hustle. Momentum requires sweat. You can’t get from where you are now to where you want to be without massive amounts of hard work. That’s the truth.
You can’t delegate being awesome. You can’t hire it out. Or reap the healthy consequences of someone else’s effort. It’s on you.
The harder you work the more experience you gain.
Sweat is a multiplier. Your effort and experience and talent become better the harder you work. Which is why no one can do your work for you.
Because you’re not just going through the motions. You’re not just following steps.
You’re rewiring your mind with new experiences and updated strategies for successfully negotiating the world around you.
Failure teaches you. Loss teaches you. Winning teaches you. Every step. Every thought. Every experience. They teach and mold you.
Which is why you have to do the work.
You have to be the person who cares. You have to be the one who obsesses about the details. The one who finds a way when there isn’t a way.
“YOU’RE THE ONE WHO WANTS THE RESULTS. SO YOU’RE THE ONE WHO HAS TO DO THE WORK.”
Progress isn’t easy. Success isn’t free. Winning demands you pay a price.
Get back up. Dust yourself off. Get busy being awesome.
In the words of Li Ka-Shing: “The future may be made up of many factors but where it truly lies is in the hearts and minds of men.”