Lee Kum Kee Co Ltd, producer of LKK oyster sauce and a range of food and health products, reached its 130th year in 2018. The fifth generation comprised cousins mostly in young adulthood who were beginning to assume leadership roles as owner-governers. Senior executives were non-family specialists.
At the time of writing, the fourth generation were the company’s leaders, with some oversight still by their father, Lee Man Tat, but had begun the succession. Generation 4, which was a group of five siblings, as their father had bought out other family owners, had overseen huge international growth and diversification. By 2019, the group’s net worth had reached $17 billion. In the early 2000s the company’s owners had reformed governance, and begun initiatives established to create a humanitarian legacy, and plan for long-term resilience on a ‘1,000-year’ concept.
Some 15 years on, this case asks whether these reforms were starting to bear fruit, what challenges await the fifth generation, and what future reforms may be needed. Tough decisions lay in wait; the inheritance of Generation 5 was substantial, but they faced difficult choices on investment and renewed entrepreneurialism.
This case aids an understanding of ownership as a professional discipline, and succession of as a family-owned firm grows significantly in size and complexity. There are insights into how values help long-term business resilience.