Photo by António Mil-Homens

Forerunner of modern Macau

Post-World War II Macau would have surely been different without him. Stanley Ho shaped the city in many ways. As patriarch and forerunner of Macau’s modern gaming industry, as a philanthropist and as a contributor to nearly all major infrastructure projects in the city 

Photos by António Mil-Homens

Stanley Ho’s legacy

The gaming tycoon passed away at the age of 98, after almost single-handedly changing the business face, and even the geographic landscape, of the SAR both before and after the city, was handed over to Chinese administration in 1999. 

“Stanley Ho was an extraordinary businessman. He arrived in Macau in 1941 at age 19, to escape the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong, and became rich quickly. He was extremely good at seeing and seizing profitable business opportunities,” University of Macau gaming law expert researcher, Jorge Godinho, told Macau News Agency (MNA). 

“During the 1950s he was engaged in transhipment to China and tried unsuccessfully to obtain the gold trade concession, which was more lucrative than gaming at the time. This shows his ambition. So when the Fantan concession was reformed to cover all games of chance, and re-tendered in 1961 for the first time in 20 years, by Governor Silvério Marques, he did not miss the opportunity”. 

That year, Stanley Ho, together with businessman Henry Fok, Teddy Yip and Yip Hon founded Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau (STDM) and in 1962 managed to win the gaming exploration monopoly previously held for almost 25 years by Tai Heng, a company headed by the also legendary businessman Fu Tak Iam. 

The change in concessions was no easy feat, according to Godinho, with Stanley Ho managing to convince the Portuguese administration by offering to develop a ferry route between Macau and Hong Kong, promising to develop infrastructure for the city and provide subsidies for charitable actions. 

“He was extremely good at seeing and seizing profitable business opportunities”, said Jorge Godinho  

Lisboa and beyond  

 “In 1970 the Hotel-Casino Lisboa opened and, as they say, the rest is history. The Macau Government always had in Stanley Ho and STDM and SJM a concessionaire that responded to all the challenges it faced. Stanley Ho was at the center of the transformation of Macau into a modern and very developed city,” Godinho added. 

Meanwhile, Professor Ricardo Chi Sen Siu, Associate Professor at the University of Macau Faculty of Business Administration, told MNA that to him Ho is “unarguably a forerunner” not only of the modern development of the Macau gaming industry but also of Macau as a whole. 

“His long-vision and entrepreneurship from the development of the Hotel Lisboa and the incorporation of Shun Tak Shipping Co. in the 1970s to the numerous social and economic contributions for the modern development of Macau in the last few decades are definitely a priceless treasure to the Macau community. Without his efforts at the outset, we may not have seen the prosperity of Macau today,” the gaming expert added 

“Last but not least, I trust that his philosophy of life and business ‘from the people, for the people’ should be crowned and further diffused to the world community in this age full of uncertainty” 

“Stanley Ho is unarguably a forerunner not only of the modern development of the Macau gaming industry but also of Macau as a whole”, noted Ricardo Siu  

“Unwavering paternal care” 

Meanwhile, gaming consultant Niall Murray, who previously worked as a Strategic Consultant and Director of Operations Development for multiple SJM properties, expressed to MNA that Ho’s passing is a “tremendous loss not only to his wonderful family but to Macau and to the world”. 

“I had the honour of working for SJM under Dr. Stanley Ho’s leadership from 2006 to 2012. During that time Dr. Ho began to step back from day to day issues, yet, his presence was clearly felt, with his firm grip on the organisation, and his strong and decisive leadership touching every part of the organisation,” Murray stated. 

“Ho had the remarkable ability to keep all key stakeholders within his vast business empire in-sync, moving forward and growing steadily. And his unwavering and genuine paternal care for his very large family and the people of Macau was heart-warming to witness. Ho’s legacy will live on through his life-long contributions, his family, and the memories of so many people whose lives he helped shape.” 

A similar view was reflected by gaming consultant, Ben Lee, who stated to MNA that Ho left a “personal landmark in not only the local landscape but on the global scene as well” 

“He laid foundations for the modern gaming industry in Macau, and he managed to do that against all odds with the entry of the ‘VIP junkets’ into the modern gaming lexicon, a unique market segment that is so vital to gaming all throughout Asia. He has left his mark, and not only just in this corner of the world. Most of the people reading this are here in Macau because of him,” said the Managing Partner IGamiX Management & Consulting  Ltd. 

Ho has long been seen as the hand that brought baccarat and junkets to Macau, a new card game and a new method to attract gamblers to local casinos that helped STDM boosted its profits to unseen heights until the local gaming liberalisation in 2002 forced Ho to share the local business pie with other gaming concessionaires. 

Unsolved business 

The gaming tycoon also left a complicated legacy in financial and gaming assets, by the simple fact that he fathered 17 children – two already deceased – with four wives. 

Ho had been effectively removed from the affairs of SJM Holdings, the gaming concessionaire linked to STDM since 2009, following a head injury and a series of brain surgeries. 

Despite the previous family feuds, Professor Ricardo Siu considered that most of the internal power issues between family relatives should have probably been resolved, considering the long period the gaming mogul has faced serious health problems. 

“Since Stanley Ho’s health problem in 2009 more than a decade has passed. In my observation, the distribution of power and the internal authority arrangements within SJM should have already been resolved. I don’t see a lot of potential conflict within the corporation,” Professor Siu told MNA. 

However, according to analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein, while no changes are expected in SJM following Ho’s death, the group re-shuffle after his previous retirement left many issues unresolved. 

Following his health incident in 2009, Ho was not involved much in company matters and following a family dispute in 2011, his shareholdings were distributed among various family members, with daughter Pansy Ho entering the STDM board and with his fourth spouse, Angela Leong On-kei entering a management role at SJM. 

Ho retained the Chairman title at SJM until 2018 when his retirement from the SJM board led to Pansy – also Chairman and CEO of Shun Tak Holdings – be appointed a Chairman in the gaming operator with Timothy Fok – the son of his late business partner Henry Fok – named Co-Chairman. 

His retirement also saw Angela Leong appointed Co-Chairman, with SJM’s CEO, Ambrose So elevated to Vice-Chairman, while Ina Chan – Ho’s 3rd spouse and a key shareholder of STDM – became a director of SJM. 

Stanley Ho’s sister, Nanette Ho also stepped down from the board. 

SJM’s 10 board seats are know comprised of Pansy Ho, and her sisters Daisy and Maisy, together with Timothy Fok, Eric Fok and Jeremy Fok, Ina Chan, Angela Leong, Patrick Tsang and SJM executive director David Shum. 

‘In our view, instead of using Stanley Ho’s retirement back in 2019 as an impetus to make governance and management changes, the company opted to further entrench the status quo, i.e., dysfunction, while placating various interests,’ the brokerage indicated in a note issued after Ho’s death 

‘A hydra-like three-headed co-chairman group and the elevation of entrenched management was not an indication that any shakeup at the company for the benefit of independent shareholders was forthcoming. The byzantine corporate ownership and governance structure of SJM was not alleviated by this agreement. The current board is comprised of three Co-Chairmen with varying interests’ 

Bernstein considered that six of SJM’s 10 board members were what the brokerage described as the ‘Pansy Ho Alliance’. 

‘While some investors have been optimistic about radical changes in management and governance on the back of the “Pansy Ho alliance” we have remained cautious until we see substantive changes for the better, which we have not seen to date,’ the consultancy company added.