Wang Jianlin speaking at The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of the New Champions in 2009
He is a billionaire real estate developer with ties to the entertainment industry. Sound familiar? China’s Wang Jianlin certainly has some similarities to President Donald Trump, whom he cautioned in December to avoid protectionist policy or risk American job loss.
But they have very different origins.
Wang served in the People’s Republic Army for 16 years before becoming an office administrator and eventually the general manager for a development firm in 1989. Three years later, he became the GM for Dalian Wanda Group. He took the helm as CEO in 1993.
With 213 movie theaters, 82 hotels, 99 department stores and 232M SF of investment property under its belt, Dalian Wanda is the world’s largest private property developer and movie theater operator. It has a 90% stake in Magellan Development's $1B Vista Tower project that's under construction. The Jeanne Gang-designed mixed-use tower will be the Chicago's third-tallest building when it is completed in 2020. One-third of the tower's 407 condos have already been sold.
Wang was mainland China’s first person to appear in the Forbes list of the world’s 20 wealthiest people. (He debuted at 20 in 2016 and has since risen to 18th.) He was the wealthiest person in China as recently as May, when Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma and then CK Property Holdings Chairman Li Ka-shing squeaked by.
Real estate is at the heart of Wang’s wealth, but Hollywood has been in his crosshairs. He has made numerous high-profile Tinseltown acquisitions in recent years, including a $2.5B purchase of Legendary Entertainment in 2016. He attempted to acquire Dick Clark Productions in a $1B deal, but China curtailed the acquisition when it cracked down on overseas deals over $1B out of fear they deplete China’s reserve currency.
Dalian Wanda has graced headlines quite a bit this year. In addition to being one of four major Chinese buyers under increased scrutiny from Chinese government regulators regarding their overseas investments, Dalian is also the star attraction in China's second-largest property market deal to date. The company agreed to sell $9.3B worth of hotels and theme park assets to Sunac China Holdings in July. In August, Dalian Wanda got flak for selling stakes in Vista Tower to a privately held company controlled by Wang's family, a reaction to the Chinese government's crackdown.
As for Wang's role in Hollywood, there have been growing concerns due to the influence China has with so much media clout. Richard Gere once complained that China’s increased presence in Hollywood has forced him out of starring roles lately due to his support for Tibet. Eighteen members of Congress questioned in an open letter in fall 2016 whether national security was at risk of a propaganda machine that could arise from so much foreign investment.
Wang has shown concern Trump would impede his American corporation shopping spree and alluded to how his 20,000 U.S. employees could lose their jobs if Trump made it too difficult for foreign capital to enter the country. — Cameron Sperance
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