Very few art collectors are extremely public about the exact nature and size of their art collections—discretion is the name of the game, for both security and financial reasons. But when it comes to discretion, Hong Kong tycoon Thomas Lau ranks on the more extreme end of that scale. Though he is a familiar face in the pages of Hong Kong Tatler, he has kept largely silent about what he owns, and the breadth of his holdings is only whispered about by industry players. Having said that, reliable sources close to ARTnews consistently name him as a private powerhouse on the international scene.
What is the foundation of his fortune, which Forbes marked at $1.2 billion in 2019? That, at least, is fairly well documented. Lau is the longtime chairman and CEO of shopping-mall company Lifestyle, whose network of businesses includes the Sogo department stores in Hong Kong. His rise has not been without bumps in the road, though. Lau has been put on trial twice for insider trading. In 1999 he was cleared of all charges, but things did not go so well the second time: in 2006 he was forced to pay $3.9 million to the Chinese government and step down as chairman of the board of Chinese Estates Holdings, his older brother Joseph’s real-estate company. (Joseph, who is also a billionaire, is likewise on the ARTnews Top 200, though his art holdings are at least a little less opaque.) Among Lau’s non-art and non-business pursuits is sitting on the board of Shanghai Jiao Tong University.