Wanda’sWang shifts from real estate to films and charity
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.”