Saturday, 17 November, 2018

Chinese tycoon dies in freak fall in France

Wang Jian Modal Trigger Wang Jian AFP Getty Images
Nellie Chapman | 05 July, 2018, 07:58

The chairman and co-founder of Chinese conglomerate HNA Group has died following an accident during a business trip in France, the company confirmed on Wednesday.

HNA is now in the process of selling down some of its worldwide assets in a bid to reduce its domestic debt built up during a rapid expansion in recent years.

Wang's death comes just over a month after HNA Group denied rumours that Chen had died.

Wang, 57, is regarded as the architect of an eye-popping $50 billion acquisition spree that saw HNA accumulate assets ranging from a stake in Deutsche Bank AG to high-profile overseas properties.

Shares of jewelry maker Hifood Group Holdings, an indirect unit of HNA Group, fell 11 percent on Thursday to all-time lows, leading the slide in Hong Kong-listed stocks related to HNA whose co-chairman died in an accident two days ago. Wang's death appeared to be accidental lieutenant-colonel Hubert Meriaux at the Vaucluse gendarmerie told Reuters.

The company, which turned its website grey in a gesture of mourning, said it had lost an "exceptionally gifted leader and role model, whose vision and values will continue to be a beacon for all who had the good fortune to know him". The death isn't being viewed as suspicious, the officer said.

"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.

For a co-founder of a regional airline in China, Wang Jian's rise to prominence in global business might come as a surprise to many.

Mr Wang owned about 15 per cent of HNA, according to the group's last update of its ownership structure.

Wang obtained an undergraduate degree in Aviation Management from Civil Aviation University of China in 1983, and a master's degree in business administration from Holland Maastricht School of Management in 1995, according to HNA.

HNA also holds a 19 per cent stake in Virgin Australia Holdings, who operate the popular Virgin Australia airlines. 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.

But HNA came under pressure past year as Beijing cracked down on the risky debt-fuelled financing that enabled its expansion.