Leading taipan steps down at 93

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HONG KONG (Reuter) - Lord Kadoorie, a pillar of Hong Kong's business establishment and one of its most famous taipans (foreign magnates), is to retire at the age of 93.

Lord Kadoorie first became chairman of China Light & Power, the colony's leading power utility, 57 years ago. Surviving internment in the Second World War and the confiscation of his assets in China by the Communist government, he has built up a huge business empire including the prestigious Peninsula hotel group.

His family fortune is conservatively estimated at around pounds 1.75bn, with private holdings that include a stake in Schroders, the British merchant bank. The family's dividend income from China Light alone is more than pounds 8m a year. He became Hong Kong's first peer in 1987.

A prominent member of Hong Kong's Jewish community, Lord Kadoorie was born in Hong Kong in 1899, only a few months after Britain signed a 99-year lease on the New Territories, the largest part of the colony. He was educated in Shanghai and Britain. His father arrived in Hong Kong in 1880 but the family originated in Baghdad.

Lord Kadoorie will become honorary chairman for life and remain a board member of China Light, a highly profitable company supplying power to Kowloon, the New Territories and southern China.

He played a key role in the construction of the controversial Daya Bay nuclear power station in south China. China Light has taken a 25 per cent stake in the plant, which is due to open next year after several delays.

The 1986 Chernobyl disaster, when a nuclear power station exploded in Ukraine, triggered mass protests in Hong Kong against Daya Bay, which is only about 40 miles away, but China Light pushed ahead with the project, which will supply China and Hong Kong.

A leading conservative, Lord Kadoorie has opposed pushing China for democratic reforms in the colony, saying that cordial relations with Peking were vital for the territory's future.

He was credited with steeling the business community of Hong Kong to carry on in 1967 when Communist-inspired riots shattered confidence in the colony. 'If you don't have an optimistic attitude you have no business being here,' he once said.

Despite the widespread assumption that he would be followed into the company chair by his son Michael, China Light announced yesterday that Lord Kadoorie had nominated his deputy, Sir Sidney Gordon, for the position.

In a wholesale management change, China Light's managing director, Sir Wiliam Stones, will also retire at the end of the year and be replaced by Ross Sayers, who currently runs the State Rail Authority of New South Wales in Australia.

Mr Sayers, a 51-year-old New Zealander, has cut Adollars 430m ( pounds 187m) from operating costs during his four-year tenure in Sydney as chairman of the railway company.