An entrepreneur who has worked hard to build up a successful business since he arrived with his family from China 20 years ago, will make a $10 million donation to cancer research in Auckland.
The donation by Mr Liangren Li is for cancer research at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences. The Li Family Fund will be set up as an endowment fund that will provide annual interest for investing in cancer research.
“This gift to the University is extraordinarily generous not only in its scale, but also in the multigenerational commitment that the Li family has made to support an ongoing programme of research. It will have a profound impact on our ability to develop new treatments for cancer,” says University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon.
Dean of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, Professor John Fraser, says “We are delighted that Mr Li has chosen the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences to receive such a generous donation, the largest single donation in our 50 year history.”
“The fund provides a very substantial boost to our world-class cancer research programme and will for example, provide much needed long-term support for our brilliant young research fellows who we are trying to retain in New Zealand,” he says.
“By establishing a trust with the University, Mr Li will ensure that his name will live on in cancer research in New Zealand for many years to come and may just be responsible for the breakthroughs that I know will come with continued research. This is a wonderful legacy and a tribute to his generosity,” says Professor Fraser.
Mr Li was diagnosed with lung cancer in February this year – despite never smoking, living a healthy lifestyle, and having none of the risk factors for lung cancer.
“I think it was quite bad luck to get the tumour,” he says.
He decided to give the donation to the University of Auckland “because it is the best University in New Zealand with an excellent cancer research programme.”
“Before I had the lung tumour diagnosis I was thinking about setting up a charity fund, but I was not sure what for,” says Mr Li. “When I made the decision to put the money into cancer study, by that time the prognosis with the lung tumour was not very positive and I thought I only had a couple of months to live. Now already it is looking much more positive thanks to the medicine I am taking and I am able to live longer.”
His wife, Jenny Han, says, “For the first couple of months we struggled to believe the diagnosis, because it seemed so unlikely. He doesn’t smoke and his family back in China is very healthy and long-lived.”
Mr Li is now very happy to be on an anti-cancer drug prescribed by Auckland oncologist, Dr Richard Sullivan – a recently developed drug shown to be particularly effective against Mr Li’s type of lung cancer.
His son, Dr Zeyin Li (28) who is a medical doctor left his position as house surgeon with Hawkes Bay Hospital last year, to help run his father’s family businesses. His daughter, Chloe (11) attends school in Auckland.
Mr Li was born in Shandong China, and moved to Harbin, a city in northern China near the border with Russia, where he gained a degree in Civil Engineering from Northeast Forestry University.
He worked in an office job before starting up his own business, trading in commodities with Russia. At the time, China had just opened up foreign trade and all trade was done by barter, so he would for example exchange textiles, sugar and food from China, for steel from Russia. “That was a very popular way of doing business at the time,” he says.
Early in 1995, Mr Li met a businessman working for a New Zealand company who encouraged him to have a look at New Zealand as a place to work. He later invited Mr Li to New Zealand.
“I had a visitor visa and was able to have a look at developing business opportunities in New Zealand, and saw that they were good,” he says.
He was accepted for immigration to New Zealand in 1996 and arrived with Jenny, and Zeyin who was just nine years old. They landed and settled in Christchurch, but moved north to Auckland for better business opportunities.
“At first the business was very small and we started the business from our garage in Christchurch and later from our basement garage in Howick,” says Mr Li. “Six months later we were able to move the business into a commercial warehouse in Greenmount Drive in East Tamaki.”
The business then was called L & L International Ltd that imported plumbing supplies from China to sell in New Zealand. Now in addition to distributing plumbing supplies, they also have businesses involved in forestry and real estate.
It is very much a family business with his wife Jenny looking after the financial side of the business and the importing logistics.
Mr Li says “For a business person, I have always thought that the biggest contribution you can make is through philanthropy.”
“It is important to contribute to the community, but also setting an example and creating a model for my children to aspire to.”
“I hope this gift will not be my last if I am doing well,” he says. The family is closely involved with how the money will be spent and are part of an advisory board to the fund.