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Lee Kum Kee staff and reporters at the Lee Kum Kee tower in Shanghai. Photo: Courtesy of Lee Kum Kee



At the newly furnished headquarters at a high-rise building in Shanghai, Hong Kong-based sauce enterprise Lee Kum Kee is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's formal return to China.

The book Family Spirit, which traces the company's past from a teahouse selling oyster sauce in a small town in Guangdong Province to a sauce kingdom that provides over 200 choices of sauces and condiments to countries around the world, was published recently as a way to understand the Lee family's striving over almost 130 years.

The leap after 1997

One of the fascinating stories highlighted in the book is the company's prominent growth after 1997 when China regained sovereignty over Hong Kong. The past two decades have witnessed the company's strong performance thanks to the great market demand for quality food in the catering industry in Chinese mainland.

"It's also over the past 20 years that Lee Kum Kee has achieved world recognition," said Chen Shu, the corporate affairs director.

The company made an entry into the Chinese mainland market in the late 1980s. While some Hong Kong people chose to leave the islands or immigrated to other countries due to their uncertainty as 1997 approached, the Lee family was firmly determined to stay, believing in a promising future of Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.

In 1993, the Huangpu production inaugurated the full operation of three other production bases in Xinhui, Guangdong Province, Malaysia and Los Angeles in the US, which greatly increased the production capacity. In 2008, Lee Kum Kee was appointed as an official sauce provider of the Beijing Olympic Games. In the following years, the company provided sauces for food made for astronauts in Shenzhou-9, Shenzhou-10 and Shenzhou-11 manned spacecrafts in 2012, 2013 and 2016 respectively.

At the 2016 G20 summit in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, 42 products of Lee Kum Kee including oyster and XO sauces and soy sauces were used at hotels that accommodated global leaders.

Century-long efforts

The book Family Spirit was written by Ning Xiangdong, a professor at Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management.

It's an in-depth case study into the Lee family's history and development, which sheds light on understanding a family-based enterprise, said Ning, who spent two years completing the work after intensive research and discussion with the company's senior management-level personnel.

The decision to reveal the ups and downs of the family was made by Li Man Tat, the chairman of Lee Kum Kee Group and a third-generation Lee, who has been integral in expanding the brand both locally and internationally, making Lee Kum Kee a household name among Chinese people around the world.

"To some extent, it's also a book for everyone, which gives us a lot of enlightenment [in family issues] despite the fact that we are not running a family business," said Ning.  

Substantiating as a core value

In December 2016, the group unveiled Lee Kum Kee Tower in Xuhui district in Shanghai as its new headquarters in the Chinese market. Inside the skyscraper is the group's research and development department, offices and the brand experiencing center.

A calligraphy depicting the core value of the century-old ethnic enterprise hangs over the wall in lobby of the tower - "Si Li Ji Ren," which literally means considering others' interests in every aspect of its business operations.

"The brand experiencing corridor exhibits the milestone events of the company's development since it was established in 1888, a reminder of the shared memories of the company and its partners around the world," said Hung Kwan Doh, the executive vice president of corporate affairs.