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H.K. Billionaire Rebounds From Blunders With Win From Goto IPO

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li is back in the spotlight.

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The younger son of Li Ka-shing -- the 93-year-old known in the city as “Superman” for his deal-making prowess -- is gaining ground as an accomplished investor of his own. His latest win: GoTo Group, the Indonesian tech giant that will start trading on Monday.

Tokopedia, the online-shopping startup that merged with ride-hailing company Gojek to create GoTo, is one of the junior Li’s first major bets in Southeast Asia, a region he’s been targeting to diversify his empire.

Li, 55, started backing the firm in 2017 and sat on its board until 2020. He unsuccessfully tried to combine Tokopedia with one of his blank-check companies before the deal with Gojek came along, giving rise to Indonesia’s biggest tech firm.

Now GoTo has raised $1.1 billion in one of the world’s largest initial public offerings this year. Based on its pricing, Li’s stake -- owned via three vehicles -- is worth $900 million. That would take his net worth to about $5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Li, whose fortune is mostly based on Hong Kong assets, has been increasing his investments in Southeast Asia in recent years.

In 2019, his Hong Kong insurer, FWD Group Holdings Ltd., bought a Thai peer for $3 billion and set up a 15-year life insurance distribution agreement with Vietnam’s largest lender. The following year, he agreed to acquire a 30% minority stake in PT Bank Rakyat Indonesia’s life insurer.

He then teamed up with PayPal Holdings Inc. co-founder Peter Thiel to establish a special-purpose acquisition company scouring opportunities in Southeast Asia. The Hong Kong billionaire has since backed three SPACs focusing on the region, two of which have listed. One of them merged with Singaporean online real estate platform PropertyGuru Pte and started trading last month.

Li also owns Southeast Asia’s second-largest streaming service. Viu had more paid subscribers than Netflix Inc. in the region last year, trailing only Disney Plus.

By backing GoTo, the Hongkonger joined investors including Softbank Group Corp.’s Vision Fund, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Taobao China and Sequoia Capital India. He’s getting one of the biggest individual windfalls from the listing: His stake will be worth more than those of the company’s chief executive officer or its co-founders, according to Bloomberg calculations based on the IPO prospectus.

Representatives for Li and GoTo declined to comment.

The son of the man who for years was Hong Kong’s richest person, Li has had his share of blunders.

After a brief stunt at his father’s ports-to-retail conglomerate, the Stanford University dropout broke away to build his own empire. Things started out well: He sold a controlling stake of his first endeavor, media company Star TV, to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. in 1993 and founded Pacific Century Group, an investment firm with interests in areas from tech to media and financial services.

But with the dot-com bubble burst, shares of PCCW Ltd., now its telecom and media business, began to slump. By 2009, the company had lost 99% of its market value, and when Li tried to buy it out a court ruled the plan had been manipulated. In 2005, he sold 20% of it to a state-owned firm now part of the China Unicom Group to cut down on debt after borrowing $12 billion to fund PCCW’s purchase of Hong Kong’s then dominant phone company, Cable & Wireless HKT Ltd.

The billionaire’s comeback started when he decided to get into the insurance business. He bought some of ING Groep NV’s Asian insurance units in 2012, later creating FWD. The firm is now vying for one of the most anticipated Hong Kong listings this year.

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