GBA Brief

Hopewell’s Wu, the Pearl River pioneer, goes back to his roots

Gordon Wu dreamed of a bridge across the Pearl River long before today’s policymakers put it into practice. His flagship Hopewell has been building roads in the GBA for years, but he now seems set on returning to his Hong Kong roots.   

Gordon Wu has always liked to dream big, coming up with idea of a Pearl River bridge long before it was ever thought possible. He built big, too, surpassing Jardine House as Hong Kong’s tallest building with the construction of Hopewell Centre in 1980. 

His tower is lost in the shadows of higher skyscrapers today but Wu’s horizons had already widened through Hopewell Infrastructure Investment (HII), which operated expressways in the GBA, including the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Superhighway and the Western Delta Route. 

Hopewell had a reputation for trailblazing infrastructure deals, first heading into China in the 1980s when the economy was opening to foreign investment. His company built the Humen Bridge further up the Pearl River in 1997, bringing the two banks of the estuary together.

Hopewell had also moved onto projects in locales like Pakistan and Indonesia, but it came under pressure from delays and cost overruns, and its finances forced it into retreat.

It stayed in China for longer, however, until announcing plans to sell a majority stake in HII to an investment holding firm under the Shenzhen municipal government for HK$9.9 billion ($1.26 billion) last December. 

It described the divestment as a bid to boost the Greater Bay Area, the multi-year effort to weave Hong Kong, Macau and nine key cities in Guangdong into a global megalopolis. “The most important thing is that we can offer help to the local government,” Wu told reporters, adding that the cash return was recognition for many years of hard work.

According to HK01, a news portal, Wu wanted to offload his stake because the concession period for the infrastructure projects will expire in ten years time. It helped that the Shenzhen government paid up generously at more than 20 times earnings (Zhejiang Expressway, a Hong Kong-listed counterpart, trades at 7.5 times earnings).

When a Hong Kong tycoon sells a mainland-based asset it sometimes stirs accusations in the Chinese media of ‘unpatriotic’ conduct. That was less of a concern with Wu who said that a portion of the sale would be reinvested in new businesses in the region. 

However, Hopewell’s biggest ongoing project is the construction of a companion tower to the original Hopewell Centre in Hong Kong and some of the proceeds of the expressway sales seem to have been earmarked for the $2.9 billion building, which was blocked for decades by opposition from local residents. 

A plan to privatise Hopewell Holdings has also been approved by its shareholders this month as one of the Hong Kong’s longest listed companies gets back to its roots.