China’s HNA Chairman Wang dies in France after falling from a wall

Wang Jian, Co-Chairman of HNA Group attends a meeting marking the 20th anniversary of company's founding in Haikou, Hainan province, China, April 28, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

BEIJING/MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) – Chinese conglomerate HNA Group Co-Chairman Wang Jian died during a business trip in France on July 3 in what local police said appeared to be an accidental fall from a wall while posing for a photograph.

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. Under pressure from Beijing, HNA has since sold off many of those assets to slash debt.

He was in charge of HNA’s strategy and ran day-to-day operations, sources familiar with the matter have said, while his fellow chairman and co-founder Chen Feng was often the public face of the group.

His death complicates the troubled conglomerate’s efforts to restructure and pay off borrowings, and could increase pressure on HNA to reveal more about its oft-criticized opaque ownership.

Wang fell 15 meters off a wall in the village of Bonnieux, near Avignon, a picturesque area popular with tourists, lieutenant-colonel Hubert Meriaux of the Vaucluse gendarmerie force told Reuters.

“He stood on the edge of a sharp drop to get his family to take a picture of him and fell,” he said.

Wang held a 15 percent stake in HNA. The group is controlled by a New York-based foundation and a China-based charity that together hold 52 percent of HNA shares. Chen also holds a 15 percent stake.

Shareholders have promised that in the event of leaving the company or dying they would pass their stakes to the New York charity fund, according to a document seen by Reuters. It was not immediately clear how binding those promises were.

An aviation-to-financial services conglomerate that counts Hainan Airlines Co as its core asset, HNA’s recent sales include holdings in companies such as Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc, Park Hotels & Resorts and Spain’s NH Hotels.

Wang’s death couldn’t have come at a worse time, said Brock Silvers, founder and managing director of Kaiyuan Capital, a Shanghai-based investment advisory firm.

“Deleveraging pressures on HNA continue to be enormous, and all such plans will probably now be revisited as the management team reconstitutes itself,” he said.
General view of stone steps and a wall in Bonnieux, near Avignon, France, July 4, 2018, the day after

More Stories