Wanda’sWang shifts from real es­tate to films and char­ity

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By BLOOMBERG in Hong Kong

Re­clin­ing in a beige leather seat in his Gulf­stream G550 pri­vate jet, Wang Jian­lin barks an un­likely or­der as the air­craft de­scends into a re­mote pocket of south­west­ern China.

From Bei­jing to Hol­ly­wood toLon­don and else­where in his ex­pand­ing prop­erty, film and en­ter­tain­ment em­pire, the chair­man of Bei­jing-based Dalian Wanda Group is a stick­ler for for­mal­ity.

He em­pow­ers re­cep­tion­ists to fine em­ploy­ees who fail to meet his dress stan­dards.

To­day, though, China’s se­cond­man is clad in khaki pants and sneak­ers. And as the jet pre­pares to land in China’s poor­est prov­ince, Guizhou, he in­structs his en­tourage to fol­low his ex­am­ple.

“This is a trip to lift poverty,” Wang tells them. “Suits are not ap­pro­pri­ate.” Swiftly, all jack­ets are dis­carded.

Fol­low­ing the De­cem­ber ini­tial public of­fer­ing of one of Dalian Wanda’s listed units and last month’s IPO of an­other, his for­tune al­most dou­bled to $28.6 bil­lion as of Mon­day, ac­cord­ing to the Bloomberg Bil­lion­aires In­dex.

Wang’s em­pire had rev­enue of $40 bil­lion last year. He con­trols the world’s largest chain of movie the­aters, mea­sured by the num­ber of movie screens, and the sec­ond-largest com­mer­cial prop­erty com­pany, mea­sured by leasable floor space.

He has even taken a shot at help­ing to nar­row the wealth gap be­tween China’s ru­ral poor and new rich. Hence his ap­pear­ance at Danzhai, where he trudges through pigsties while talk­ing up the $160 mil­lion worth of planned phil­an­thropic in­vest­ments.

The for­mer Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army sol­dier made his first pot of gold de­vel­op­ing real es­tate in Dalian city. Then he started buy­ing up movie the­aters across China. In 2012, he be­gan pro­duc­ing and dis­tribut­ing lo­cally made films, in­clud­ing Man Of Tai Chi, di­rected by Keanu Reeves.

That same year, he paid $2.6 bil­lion plus debt to ac­quire AMC En­ter­tain­ment Hold­ings, the sec­ond-big­gest US cinema op­er­a­tor. He says he is in talks to buy a ma­jor­ity stake in Li­ons Gate En­ter­tain­ment. And he says he is also keen to in­vest in Metro-Gold­wynMayer.

Last Septem­ber, he paid $1.2 bil­lion for land in Bev­erly Hills, Cal­i­for­nia, on which he says he will build the head­quar­ters of his nascent US movie em­pire.

“Many peo­ple come knock at my door, but Wanda is in­ter­ested only in the big play­ers and we want con­trol,” he says.

Co­cooned in the wood-pan­eled luxury of his Gulf­stream, he de­scribes his Hol­ly­wood strat­egy as key to trans­form­ing DalianWanda from a com­pany heav­ily de­pen­dent on China’s volatile prop­erty mar­ket into a more-di­ver­si­fied global busi­ness em­pire.

“I give­my­self six more years to make Wanda a world-class com­pany in the league of Mi­crosoft andWal-Mart,” he says.

By 2020, he aims to re­duce Wanda’s de­pen­dence on prop­erty rev­enues to 50 per­cent, with much of the rest of his in­come com­ing from the bur­geon­ing Chi­nese film in­dus­try, the world’s sec­ond largest by box of­fice re­ceipts.

Wang pre­dicts China will over­take the US as the world’s big­gest movie mar­ket by 2017. Buy­ing Hol­ly­wood stu­dios, he says, will give him the ex­per­tise, con­tent and dis­tri­bu­tion he needs to con­quer that mar­ket.

He says he will re­tire in six years to de­vote him­self to phi­lan­thropy and help turn China’s na­tional soc­cer team into a glob­ally com­pet­i­tive out­fit.

He says he has not de­cided on a suc­ces­sion plan and will even­tu­ally do­nate most of his hold­ing in Dalian Wanda to char­ity.

“I don’t need money,” he says.

“It’s never about the wealth, but the process of pur­su­ing wealth. As long as the process is thrilling, the num­bers in the end don’t mat­ter.”

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