Comment: Stanley Ho and how not to run a family business

By David Bain

Stanley Ho, the Hong Kong and Macau-based casino king, has often been a controversial figure during his long career as one of East Asia's better-known entrepreneurs.

According to some sources, the casino and property entrepreneur has allegedly been linked to the Chinese organised crime group, the Triads, and allegedly collaborated with the Japanese during World War II.

Not the sort of background – it might be felt – you would want hung out for wider scrutiny.

Or maybe not. Ho – now 89 – has managed to gain more than a modicum of respectability over the years. In 2010, he received the highest award under the Hong Kong honours system and also gained an OBE from Margaret Thatcher's government in 1989 for his philanthropic efforts.

As a fair few billionaires would secretly admit, the act of giving away some, or all, of your fortune is often a good way to ensure respectability, regardless of your past.
Ho might have gained the honours over the years, but his legacy will probably be more tied up with how he's managed the handover of his vast casino and property interests to the next generation. So far, there's not much to recommend the tycoon on his handling of this issue.
To be fair to Ho, it was never going to be easy to handle succession when you've had four marriages and at least 16 children. But recent events suggest he might have been advised to deal with the issue a bit better than what has so far emerged.
In the past week, a full-scale battle has emerged in the public arena among family members for the control of Ho's casino empire.
To add to the turmoil, a lawyer acting for Stanley Ho has recently been cited as saying an alleged transfer of shares in SJM Holdings, Ho's casino flagship, was "robbery" and that family members had seized effective control of his casino empire without his consent and knowledge.
Claims and counter claims are being made by all sides of the family in the dispute – and no doubt will continue to be made for sometime. Meanwhile, shares in SJM have suffered as a result – analysts say the stock is trading at a 10% discount to its peers.
Ho, who has suffered from ill health for sometime, will likely die – indeed may need to die – before the succession dispute can be resolved.
But whatever the outcome, the blame for the current fiasco must lie with Stanley Ho for failing to opt for a definitive family heir to run the business at a much earlier stage. 
For this reason alone, all family businesses should study the Ho case with particular interest – and make sure they avoid the same pitfalls.