You have Carlos Slim in Latin America and Wang Jianlin in China in terms of being the richest person in their region or country, respectively. Read about Wang Jianlin in this in-depth article, that I copied and pasted from the NY Times, and his connection to powerful people. Visit the source for more images and the chart that I wasn’t able to copy over.
Wang Jianlin, a Billionaire at the Intersection of Business and Power in China
By MICHAEL FORSYTHEAPRIL 28, 2015
HONG KONG — He controls thousands of movie screens around the world, serving more filmgoers than any other cinema chain. He has invested billions of dollars in real estate projects across four continents. He is building skyscrapers that will redraw the skylines of London and Chicago. He is shopping for a Hollywood studio.
There are as many as 430 billionaires in China, more than in any country besides the United States. But Wang Jianlin stands out, and not just because he is the richest person in Asia, with a fortune estimated at more than $35 billion.
As his real estate and entertainment empire expands overseas, Mr. Wang, 60, has emerged as the rare private-sector tycoon in a position to advance Beijing’s interests abroad, with clout in industries and communities around the world.
Prime ministers send him thank-you notes, and Hollywood’s biggest stars fly to China when he summons them. In March, at an event to woo foreign investors, he was one of only a dozen businessmen to meet President Obama.
How the son of a foot soldier in Mao Zedong’s Communist Revolution catapulted into the top tier of the global elite is an archetypal story of China’s transition to capitalism and the outsize opportunities it presents those with talent or connections — or, in Mr. Wang’s case, both. His story, though, is also singular: He built one of the world’s most valuable real estate portfolios in a nation where the state retains ownership of all land.
A yearlong examination of his success by The New York Times casts a light on the murky intersection of business and power at the heights of the Chinese economy, where market competition is often warped by the whims of Communist Party leaders.
Entrepreneurs have powered rapid growth in China for more than three decades. But even the most successful businessmen here must still reach some accommodation with the party, which only a generation ago operated a socialist planned economy.
Mr. Wang says he has prospered by delivering what ambitious party officials crave: choice real estate developments that propel economic growth and bolster their careers. In return, he says, the officials sell him the rights to develop choice parcels of land at prices far below what his competitors pay.
His conglomerate, Wanda Group, is best known in China for its signature Wanda Plazas, massive shopping complexes with cinemas, office towers, hotels and apartments. Since building the first one in the northeastern city of Changchun in 2002, he has opened more than 100 of them in at least 70 other Chinese cities, generating the revenue that now finances his ambitions abroad.
But there is an aspect of his relationship with the authorities that Mr. Wang never raises in interviews and that has gone unreported in the many accounts of his success published in China and abroad: Relatives of some of the nation’s most powerful politicians and their business associates own significant stakes in his company.
An extensive review of corporate records filed with the government identified several such investments made from 2007 to 2011, when Wanda was privately held and rarely sold shares to outsiders.
Among those given an early chance to buy a stake in his company was Qi Qiaoqiao, an active investor who is the elder sister of China’s current president, Xi Jinping. (She sold or transferred her shares in the company in October 2013 to a longtime business associate.)
Other early investors included a business partner of the daughter of former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, and relatives of two other members of the ruling Politburo at the time, Jia Qinglin and Wang Zhaoguo, according to the records and interviews with family members and business associates.
Together, their stakes in Wang Jianlin’s real estate division, Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties, were valued at $1.1 billion when it held an initial public offering in Hong Kong in December. Their shares in Mr. Wang’s cinema subsidiary were valued at $17.2 million when it listed separately in January. Their holdings in both companies are worth more than $1.5 billion now.
There is no indication that any of the politicians whose relatives and business associates owned shares in Wanda intervened on the company’s behalf in any of its dealings with the government. Nor is there evidence that any of the politicians personally benefited from the windfall that these investors reaped. The investors and officials did not respond to written questions or could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Wang declined an interview request and did not respond to written questions submitted to Wanda. But in public remarks, he often uses the same phrase to describe how he manages his relationship with the authorities: “Stay close to the government and distant from politics.”
“It’s a fact that China’s economy is government-led, and the real estate industry depends on approvals, so if you say you can ignore the government in this business, I’d say that’s impossible,” Mr. Wang told state television in a February interview. “I’d say it’s hypocritical and fake to say that. … But at the same time, for example, we don’t pay bribes.”
A Remarkable Winning Streak
It was September 2012, and students at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard were spellbound by an unusual lecturer, a short, plain-talking man with close-set eyes and a prominent widow’s peak.
“In China, it’s not easy for a company, especially a private company, to be successful and grow,” he said through an interpreter. “The hardships they face are many times greater than in the United States.”
It would not have been a particularly incisive observation from a member of the faculty. But the speaker that afternoon was Mr. Wang, and despite the hardships that he described, he was on a remarkable winning streak.
Months earlier, Mr. Wang had purchased AMC Entertainment Holdings, the second-largest theater chain in the United States. By year’s end, his empire in China would include 66 Wanda Plazas, 38 five-star hotels, 980 cinema screens and 57 department stores, not to mention 63 karaoke saloons. Within a year, he would break ground on an $8 billion movie studio and theme park in the coastal city of Qingdao, flying in stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman and John Travolta to celebrate.
With success came the familiar trappings of the megarich. Mr. Wang bought a Picasso painting at auction for $28.2 million. His wife socialized with Prince Albert of Monaco. His son hired a top Korean pop group to perform at his 27th birthday party.
Not content with just owning a yacht, Mr. Wang bought the British company that makes the luxury boats seen in James Bond films. In January, his company announced it was buying a stake in a Spanish soccer club.
“He is a force of nature,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg, the chief executive of DreamWorks Animation, who has known Mr. Wang for three years. “He is a very, very strong personality, and he is extremely confident about what he is doing.”
Mr. Wang’s father was a veteran of the Communist Party’s Long March, the arduous and deadly trek across China in the 1930s by the Communists that hardened a generation of revolutionaries, and Mr. Wang himself, the eldest of five brothers, followed him into the army as a teenager. In a 2013 appearance on state television, he recalled marching hundreds of miles through knee-deep snow in training exercises during Mao’s fanatical Cultural Revolution.
“Many people couldn’t make it,” Mr. Wang said, but he did. He then spent the next 16 years rising through the officer ranks, an experience that colleagues say informs his management style. Even his most senior Wanda executives are required to punch in and out, for example, and tardiness is not tolerated, former employees say.
After leaving the military, Mr. Wang took a government job in the northeastern port city of Dalian. His big break there came in 1988, when he was transferred to a failing state-owned builder of residential apartment blocks. By his own account, he secured a loan with the help of an old army buddy and returned the company to profitability.
In 1992, the firm was restructured as one of China’s first shareholding companies, and over the next decade, Mr. Wang oversaw its privatization, emerging as its majority owner.
The mayor of Dalian for much of that time was Bo Xilai, a politician who was the son of an influential party elder and who would rise to the Politburo before falling from power in a stunning corruption and murder scandal in 2012.
Mr. Wang was an extraordinary benefactor to Dalian during Mr. Bo’s tenure, buying the city’s soccer team, which helped make it a national champion, and donating tens of millions of dollars to build schools.
Since Mr. Bo’s fall, Mr. Wang has sought to distance himself from him. In a recent interview, he said he struggled during those years because he refused to pay bribes and did not get along with Mr. Bo. That limited his access to land, he said, which Mr. Bo’s administration would not sell him.
“We still made money, but it wasn’t a pleasant time,” Mr. Wang told Bloomberg Markets magazine.
Because the state retains formal ownership of all land in China, those who want to build on it must have the state’s blessing. Local governments have depended for years on the sale of long-term rights to develop land to finance their operations. But who gets which parcels, and at what price, is as much a political decision as an economic one.
Mr. Wang says his company is so good at delivering benefits to the cities where it builds that local governments now compete for his business and he turns down more than two out of every three proposals.
“We thus can take the initiative, and we have the bargaining power,” he told the students at Harvard. That means he acquires land at less than half the cost to his competitors, he added.
Even as property prices set records in China, the price that Dalian Wanda paid for access to land fell by more than 40 percent from 2011 to 2014, according to its I.P.O. prospectus.
Wang Yongping, vice chairman of the China Commercial Real Estate Association, said local officials were eager to work with Wanda because of the tax revenue its projects bring them and because it has a reputation for getting things done fast. The company can finish a Wanda Plaza at what it calls Wanda Speed, or within 18 months.
“Chinese government officials love to have achievements when they are in office,” Wang Yongping said. “Eighteen months might determine whether they can become a district chief or a provincial party secretary.”
But some in power have other reasons to root for Wang Jianlin.
A Paper Trail to the Elite
In July 2007, Mr. Wang had built only a handful of Wanda Plazas. He had yet to make his first billion dollars, and few outside China had heard of him or his company. The Hurun Rich List, which tracks the net worth of the wealthiest people in China, ranked him 148th.
But late that month, a newly formed firm in Beijing, Minghao Holdings, acquired a 2.5 percent stake in Mr. Wang’s flagship company, Wanda Group, becoming its largest external shareholder, according to corporate records. There was only one other outside shareholder at the time, a local real estate company in Dalian run by a friend.
Then, two months later, another newly established firm in Beijing, Wugufeng Investment Consulting, took a 1.53 percent stake in the main company that Mr. Wang used to hold his shares in Wanda Group, becoming its fifth shareholder, the records show.
The documents do not indicate why the two Beijing firms were invited to become early investors in Mr. Wang’s business. But the paper trail from the companies leads to relatives of two men sitting at the time on the Communist Party’s ruling Politburo: Jia Qinglin, a longtime party boss of the Beijing municipality who ranked fourth in the party leadership, and Wang Zhaoguo, a senior legislator who was the leading force behind a landmark law providing legal protections for private property.
Wang Zhaoguo’s son, Wang Xinyu, was the controlling shareholder of the first firm, which later transferred its stake in Wanda to a young woman named Yang Xin, the records show. Ms. Yang is the Politburo member’s niece, according to Wang Zhao’an, a cousin who serves as party chief in the family’s home village in Hebei Province.
The owner of the second firm is listed in the records as Pan Yongbin, 63, who shares a business address, staff and phone numbers with a Beijing investment firm run by Mr. Jia’s son-in-law, Li Botan. Mr. Pan is also listed as a board member of several firms owned by Mr. Li, including his main investment company.
As Wanda prospered in the years that followed, the value of these early stakes skyrocketed.
The firm controlled by Wang Zhaoguo’s son paid less than $500,000 for its stake, according to Wanda’s filings with the government, though the firm’s own records do not show the transaction. The documents are more complete for the second firm, showing a payment of less than $200,000 for its stake. Those two stakes are now worth more than $640 million and $250 million.
Neither Politburo member was in a position to directly set the price or approve the sale of land-use rights to Wanda. But party institutions under the two men have showered Wang Jianlin with public recognition.
In March 2008, Mr. Wang was one of only three mainland billionaires named to the standing committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress, a national advisory body, led by Mr. Jia, that is made up of people whom the party leadership deems influential. The appointment amounted to a seal of approval by top party leaders, said one Chinese businessman who serves on a similar body and spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his position.
In June 2007, Mr. Wang was also named an outstanding private entrepreneur by a party-run industry association, the first of five awards bestowed upon him over the next four years from groups led by or associated with Wang Zhaoguo.
Honors like these can signal to local officials and potential business partners that their recipients are well connected. “At least within China, people will be much more willing to do business with you, and much less likely to offend you,” said Victor Shih, a scholar at the University of California, San Diego.
After the global financial crisis in late 2008, China’s property market took a nose dive. Real estate stocks in Shanghai ended the year down 65 percent.
But Wanda had a banner year, breaking ground on seven new Wanda Plaza complexes — setting a record — and propelling Wang Jianlin to 20th on the Hurun list of China’s richest people, with a fortune estimated at $2.3 billion.
The next year, Wanda distributed shares to outsiders again, privately selling an 8.5 percent stake in the company.
Among the eight new investors was a Beijing firm owned through a network of holding companies by Qi Qiaoqiao, the sister of Xi Jinping, and her husband, Deng Jiagui.
Ms. Qi and Mr. Xi are members of a privileged elite consisting of the offspring of senior party officials. Their now deceased father, Xi Zhongxun, was a military comrade of Mao and later became a vice premier and a pioneer of economic reform.
Ms. Qi worked in a variety of political and military posts during her career before becoming a businesswoman. During that time, her younger brother, Mr. Xi, was working his way up through the ranks in provincial government posts.
It is not known why Ms. Qi and her husband were offered the chance to invest in Wanda. By 2009, she was already a wealthy investor with business relationships across the country. Meanwhile, her brother had become China’s vice president and was the consensus candidate to become the party’s next leader.
Ms. Qi and Mr. Deng did not respond to a request for comment. But records show the couple began selling off or transferring hundreds of millions of dollars in investments in 2012 as President Xi embarked on a high-profile crackdown on official corruption. The motivation behind this sell-off is unclear but it had the effect of reducing her brother’s political vulnerability as his campaign targeted thousands of officials.
In many cases, the couple sold their investments to individuals with no clear connection to them.
But the shares in Wanda — valued at $240 million now, up from the $28.6 million the couple paid for them in 2009 — were transferred to a longtime business associate on Oct. 8, 2013. The records give no indication of the price paid by the business associate, who has served the couple in various corporate posts for more than a decade.
Another new shareholder in Wanda was an investment fund owned in part and managed by a subsidiary of Tsinghua Holdings, the investment arm of Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University. At the time, the top official at Tsinghua Holdings was Hu Haifeng, the son of Hu Jintao, then China’s president. There is no indication Hu Haifeng personally benefited from or held any shares in Wanda himself.
Some of the individuals given an early chance to invest in Wanda are difficult to identify. One of them, Jin Yi, acquired a stake in 2009 that is now worth about $250 million. But the address on her identity card is incomplete, and her name is not included on the official registry of residents in the neighborhood listed.
Corporate records indicate, however, that Ms. Jin is a business associate ofWen Ruchun, the daughter of Wen Jiabao, the prime minister from 2003 to 2013. Ms. Jin is listed as one of three partners in a Beijing real estate firm alongside Lily Chang, an alias used by Ms. Wen.
Promoting Chinese Culture
Seated between Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, and Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister of Britain, Wang Jianlin had little to say through much of a panel discussion last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the annual gathering of the wealthy and powerful. But when a speaker suggested that China’s focus on territorial disputes diminished its influence in Asia, the billionaire bristled.
“This is a discussion on economics today and shouldn’t delve into politics,” Mr. Wang snapped. “You are publicly saying bad things about China — at the very least, I don’t think this is very polite.”
As his fortune has climbed and his investments have stretched overseas, Mr. Wang has emerged as an outspoken advocate for his homeland. In interviews and speeches, he tends to present himself as the pragmatic face of big business in China, delivering a soothing message of opportunity to foreign audiences anxious about the country’s rise.
“Wang Jianlin is a perfect instrument for that from the party’s point of view,” said Joseph Nye, the Harvard professor who coined the term “soft power” and was the panelist scolded by Mr. Wang at Davos.
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Mr. Wang is effective in part because he is no longer simply a Chinese real estate developer. As Beijing sought to cool its property sector in recent years, he diversified by shifting investments abroad and into the culture and entertainment sector, including his network of movie theaters, which became the world’s largest in 2012 with the purchase of AMC’s 4,000-plus screens in the United States.
The strategy coincided with a policy push by the Chinese leadership to expand the nation’s cultural influence both overseas and at home, where younger generations have increasingly turned to Western music, television and films.
A communiqué issued by the party’s Central Committee in October 2011 cited an “urgency for China to strengthen its cultural soft power and global cultural influence.”
“After this document, Wanda started to put a lot of effort into developing the cultural industry,” said Zhang Lihua, a scholar at the Tsinghua-Carnegie Center for Global Policy in Beijing.
Investors connected to senior party leaders were able to get in early on Wanda’s move. In December 2010, the investment firm of Mr. Jia’s son-in-law acquired a $9 million stake in Wanda’s cinema subsidiary, records show. As of Monday, the stake was worth $131 million.
The records also show another early investment that same month by an investment fund run by New Horizon, a private equity firm co-founded by Mr. Wen’s son, Winston Wen. On Monday, that stake was valued at $526 million.
The Central Committee’s decision resulted in new policies that benefited real estate companies such as Wanda.
Local governments, for example, were told to prioritize the sale of land-use rights to companies that built projects that promote Chinese culture. And state-owned banks were told to offer loans for cultural undertakings at home and abroad. The state export-import bank agreed to help finance Wanda’s overseas investments, backing its acquisition of AMC.
In addition to investing in the movie industry, Wanda has opened a series of amusement parks that promote Chinese culture, including one that features a building in the shape of a Chinese teapot. Mr. Wang says it will compete with a Disneyland under construction in Shanghai.
“No matter how good Disney is, it is still American culture,” he said after the groundbreaking ceremony last year. “We hope to use Chinese culture.”
Xu Han, a scholar at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied the company, said Wanda’s overseas expansion was driven in part by Beijing’s desire to see the nation’s premier companies build a presence abroad. But he said the firm was more interested in profit than in directly influencing public opinion about China.
“The central government’s objective is very clear,” he said. “To have a very successful Chinese company is good for China.”
When Mr. Wang bought AMC, he retained the American management team and emphasized that his company would not dictate what films were shown in American theaters.
But with China forecast to surpass North America in box office revenue by 2018, Hollywood is already focused on serving Chinese filmgoers and satisfying the censors who determine what foreign films can be shown in Chinese theaters.
Mr. Wang often notes that the Chinese market will be twice the size of the North American market by 2023.
Foreigners need to heed this new reality, he warned when he hosted Mr. DiCaprio and Ms. Kidman for the 2013 groundbreaking of his Qingdao studio.
“Those in the world film industry who realize this first and are among the first to cooperate with China,” he said, “will be the first to reap the benefits.”
Interested in another biography in an article? Read about Xi Jinping.