Victor Li is the presumed heir to the business empire of his father, billionaire Li Ka-shing, but he hasn't lost his taste for construction sites. The Stanford-trained engineer occasionally slips away from his deputy chairman's office at Cheung Kong Holdings to schmooze with fellow engineers at half-built apartment blocks. He brings that hands-on spirit to Cheung Kong and sister company Hutchison Whampoa. In addition to property, Hong Kong's biggest conglomerate controls third-generation mobile-phone networks in Europe as well as the world's largest port operation. In Hong Kong, the Lis run telecom networks, supermarkets and pharmacies. Victor also won control of bankrupt Air Canada last month with a $490 million investment.
Li, 39, runs the day-to-day business from his ninth-floor office at the Cheung Kong Center, while his father, on the 70th floor, guides strategy. Some investors wonder if the relatively unknown Li can effectively succeed his father, 75, whose net worth Forbes estimates at $7.8 billion. Still, it is widely assumed that Li--and not his younger brother, telecom tycoon Richard Li--is next in line. Victor avoids the issue but notes how much he's like Dad. "We almost always arrive at similar conclusions," he says. That may be a result of close tutoring. Father and son share a house--Victor, his wife and three daughters on one floor, Dad on the other. --By Michael Schuman/Hong Kong