Wang Jianlin turns real estate giant into conglomerate with big ambitions

By Wang Cong Source:Global Times Published: 2017/1/18 18:23:39

Wanda’s global goal


Wang Jianlin started Dalian Wanda Group in 1988, and has since turned it into one of the largest real estate developers in the world. Now, Wang has taken on a new mission to diversify his company's business to focus on services and expand its reach across the globe. Making money no longer seems enough for China's richest man. He has a bigger goal: to make Chinese standards the international ones.

Customers shop at a Wanda plaza in Lianyungang, East China's Jiangsu Province, on January 1. Photo: CFP

Customers shop at a Wanda plaza in Lianyungang, East China's Jiangsu Province, on January 1. Photo: CFP

  

Making 100 million yuan ($14.51 million) in profit on less than 1 million yuan in operating capital is a "small" goal. Stopping Disney from profiting on its first Disneyland park on the Chinese mainland for the next two decades is a goal that "doesn't take much waiting."

Wang Jianlin, the outspoken boss of one of the largest real estate developers in the world, Dalian Wanda Group, is known on Chinese social media for setting "small, achievable" goals.

But now China's richest man, according to Forbes, has got a big ambition - one that has prevented him from retiring, one that his company has been pursuing and, according to Wang, one that has already made progress.

His goal is to make Wanda an international conglomerate that expands Chinese influence on the global stage, More specifically, he wants to make Chinese standards the world's ones.

"Originally, I wanted to retire, but I have again set a new life goal. The new life goal is that [I] must do a few things … that make foreign [competitors] feel that if the Chinese say this is OK, then it's OK," Wang said in a Phoenix TV interview back in September 2016.

Under such a goal, Wanda has been trying to transform its business from real estate to services, diversifying into entertainment, tourism and sports.

Globally, Wanda has been on a shopping spree, purchasing everything from cinemas and movie studios in the US to sports clubs in Europe; domestically, it has been mainly focused on building amusement parks and luxury resorts, among other projects.

Diversification

Wanda's transformation has been "basically successful," Wang declared at the group's annual meeting on December 14, 2016.

"Not only is Wanda Group no longer a real estate company, but Wanda Commercial is also no longer a real estate firm," he said.

Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties Co, the group's subsidiary for commercial real estate developments, stands at the center of the transformation. Although real estate revenues are still larger than those from other areas, leasing and other services-based revenue are on the rise, Wang said.

In 2016, Wanda's revenue from services exceeded that from real estate for the first time in the company's history, with services revenue accounting for 55 percent of the total, according to a financial report released on December 14, 2016. Wanda's total revenue grew by 3.4 percent year-on-year to 254.98 billion yuan.

Furthermore, Wanda's real estate revenue declined by 13.9 percent year-on-year in 2016 due mainly to the company's "voluntary" efforts to reduce it as part of the company's transformation, according to the report.

"With the real estate market heating up in 2016, [Wanda]'s goal to boldly reduce real estate revenues by 60 billion yuan and implement the company's transformation in China is something no other firm but Wanda could do," Wang said at the annual meeting held in Hefei, capital of East China's Anhui Province. The company recently opened a theme park in Hefei.

While real estate revenue was in decline, the company's revenue in cultural and other sectors increased. In 2016, Wanda Cultural Industry Group's revenue grew by 25 percent year-on-year to 64.11 billion yuan, with the revenue of its film business up 31.4 percent, tourism up 37.1 percent, sports up 9 percent and children entertainment up 137.8 percent.

Wanda's revenue generated from other businesses, including the Internet, financial and department stores reached 47.85 billion yuan, the company said, without disclosing the rate of growth.

Wanda's determination to transform itself into a services company is driven by both internal and external pressures, said Zhang Jiayuan, an analyst at China Investment Consulting Co.

"As a real estate developer, Wanda has grown so fast and so big, and at this scale, it needs to diversify its business to achieve long-term growth," Zhang told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Although real estate prices are still rising fast in some parts of the country, the trend will not persist. "There won't be another period of skyrocketing prices in the Chinese real estate market," Zhang said.

Globalization

Part of Wanda's ambition is to become an international corporation. 2016 was Wanda's most aggressive year for overseas mergers and acquisitions. It made about a dozen deals, including new tourism and cultural projects in India and Paris, according to Wanda.

The company also secured two deals to build Wanda City theme parks overseas, the first ever export of a Chinese cultural product on such a scale, the company said.

Wanda has developed a number of the Wanda City theme parks in Chinese cities such as Hefei, Harbin, capital of Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, and Wuxi, East China's Jiangsu Province. Wang has claimed that facing competition from Wanda theme parks, Disneyland in Shanghai won't be able to turn a profit for the next two decades.

Wanda also acquired other overseas assets in 2016, including the Hollywood film studio Legendary Entertainment, which Wanda bought for $3.5 billion. 

"Some would say all Wanda does is buy, buy, buy; I say [that's] not a simple thing … not only do we buy [assets] but we manage them well," Wang said at the annual meeting, pointing to its cinema assets of AMC Entertainment in the US and Hoyts Cinema in Australia.

The share price of AMC, which runs 343 theatres with 4,950 screens in the US, doubled in 2016, Wang said, without disclosing further information, citing market regulations. For Hoyts, which owns 52 cinemas with 424 screens, its net profit exceeded initial targets by 30 percent.

And making a profit is no longer enough for Wang.

"Wanda will not only make commercial gains, but will focus on building the [Chinese] enterprise brand," he said at the annual meeting.

Although Wanda is well positioned to achieve its ambitions, there will be obstacles, Zhang said, pointing to increased scrutiny from foreign governments over Chinese firms' overseas expansion.

Foreign government officials, including members of the US Congress, have expressed concerns over merger and acquisition deals involve Chinese firms, citing national security concerns.

The Chinese government has also tightened regulations on Chinese firms' overseas investments, amid its crackdown on speculative investments leaving the country, according to Li Junjie, deputy director of the Institute of International Acquisition and Investment at Renmin University of China

"The overall environment for Chinese firms to 'go global' is tightening," Li told the Global Times on Tuesday.   


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