Saturday, 22 September, 2018

Chairman of Giant Chinese Conglomerate Dies in Fall

Wang Jian Modal Trigger Wang Jian AFP Getty Images
Laurie Berry | 05 July, 2018, 07:59

HNA Group co-chairman Wang Jian, 57, was regarded as the architect of an eye-popping $US50 billion acquisition spree that saw HNA accumulate assets ranging from a stake in Deutsche Bank to high-profile overseas properties.

Wang fell 15m off a wall in the village of Bonnieux, near Avignon, a picturesque area popular with tourists, local police said.

Mr Wang died on July 3 after a serious injury caused by a fall, the group said in a statement on Wednesday. China's top leaders agreed to help HNA, people familiar with the matter said last month, providing much-needed relief for a company that couldn't generate enough profits previous year to pay interest expenses. The company, which once symbolized China's insatiable appetite for global assets, has since reversed course by selling more than US$14 billion of buildings and shares this year, including its multibillion-dollar stake in Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc.

"Wang's passing will mark the end of an era of aggressive expansion by HNA", Corrine Png, chief executive at the Singapore-based research firm Crucial Perspective, told the Bloomberg financial news agency. "He fell over the top and dropped 10 metres".

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Authorities in France have confirmed Mr Wang's death is not being treated as suspicious. "But the long-term impact on the group will be limited".

The HNA group is the owner of Hainan Airlines, China's fourth-largest airline and the largest private airline in China.

Wang graduated from the Civil Aviation University of China with a degree in airline management and held an MBA from the Maastricht School of Management in the Netherlands. He and his co-founder Chen Feng transformed HNA (Hainan Airlines) into one of China's most acquisitive companies, with more than $230bn (£175bn) in assets and a huge amount of debt.

HNA reported a 36% leap in its debt pile at the end of 2017 of nearly $95bn compared to a year earlier while the Financial Times reported in January that HNA was offering high returns for short-term loans. HNA's latest annual report showed the group had more than $90 billion in debt. In November, HNA sold China's most expensive short-term dollar bond, and a month later China Citic Bank Corp. said a unit of the group had repayment difficulties.

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