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A (Big) Fish Called Wanda: Wang Jianlin’s Business Empire

by Li Hui

September 17, 2015

Wang Jianlin, Chairman of the Dalian Wanda Group
Wang Jianlin, Chairman of the Dalian Wanda Group (Photo courtesy: wanda.cn)

Wang Jianlin’s sprawling business conglomerate, the Dalian Wanda Group, has its fingers in many pies: from real estate and retail to sports and entertainment.

In September 2013, the coastal city of Qingdao in China played host to an unlikely set of visitors. Glitterati from Hollywood including the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Travolta, Christoph Waltz, Kate Beckinsale, Ewan McGregor and Harvey Weinstein descended on the city to attend the launch ceremony of the Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis, the Dalian Wanda Group’s RMB 50 billion film and television industry project. (It was later rumored that the Hollywood celebrities were paid “7-figure appearance fees” to attend but that was quickly refuted.)

The star-studded launch event had an immediate rub-off: the Hollywood ambitions of Wanda, which was thus far known as China’s largest real estate developer and also the owner of the AMC cinema chain, came out into the open.

Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin is a household name in China. He was recently crowned China’s richest man with a net worth of $27.3 billion (as of 17th September 2015). According to its website, the group clocked an annual revenue of RMB 242.48 billion in 2014.

But how exactly did he get to the top?

Let’s take a look at Wanda’s history first. The Dalian Wanda Group came into being in 1988 under the leadership of the then 35-year-old land army veteran, Wang Jianlin. At that time, Wanda was mainly a property developer working on renovation projects in local neighborhoods in the coastal city of Dalian in northeastern China. Over time, the company gained a solid foothold in the real estate domain. Wanda is now not just China’s but the world’s largest real estate company measured by gross floor area. But at the turn of the 21st century, Wanda was ready to test new waters.

In 2007, Wanda officially announced its plans to expand into the retail business. Consequently, Wanda malls mushroomed across the country. According to figures from Wanda’s official website, it has opened 99 department stores in 25 regions in China. More recently Wanda announced its intentions to tap into the growing opportunity in O2O (online-to-offline) retail in China. In 2014 it got into a partnership with Tencent and Baidu to launch an $814 million e-commerce company. It is reported that Wanda holds a majority of 70% stake in the newly-found company and the other two each own 15%.

Meanwhile, Wanda has also been making inroads into the entertainment and tourism sectors with films, theme parks and travel businesses. In 2012, Wanda bought AMC Cinemas and became China’s largest cinema operator with 187 cinemas nationwide. Wanda is now also the world’s largest cinema chain. Wang Jianlin’s love for films doesn’t stop at cinema chains. In 2011, Wanda invested $800 million to found the Wanda Culture Industry Group, whose businesses include film-themed parks, film production and distribution as well as a popular Chinese film magazine.

When asked about the future of Wanda’s entertainment and tourism business, Wang Jianlin sounded extremely upbeat: “I’m targeting Disney. I never have blind faith in foreigners. I will prove that a tourism project built by the Chinese can compete with the so-called famous brands from the United States.” He also told the media that Wanda is investing heavily in building theme parks in cities like Wuxi and Guangzhou with the hope of winning visitors over from the nearby Hong Kong and Shanghai Disneyland.

However, Wanda’s appetite is yet to be sated. The real estate and entertainment giant is eyeing new opportunities outside China. It has been involved in real estate deals in Europe, the US and Australia.

Recently Wanda made a big splash in sports. In February 2015, Wanda spent $1.2 billion to acquire Swiss sports marketing group Infront. It owns a 20% stake in Spanish football club Atletico Madrid. In August this year, the group spent $650 million buying the organizer of Ironman Triathlon.

Want to know more about what Wanda’s business empire is made up of? Click on the infographic below.

Wanda-Group
(Click to enlarge)

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