Wang Jianlin, chairman of China’s largest commercial property developer Dalian Wanda Group — along with several rapidly expanding entertainment subsidiaries — is now China’s richest person, according to the latest Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Wang’s net worth is estimated to be $14.2 billion, which places him $3.2 billion wealthier than China’s second-richest individual, Zong Qinghou, founder of Hangzhou Wahaha Group, China’s third biggest beverage maker.
Last year, Wang’s Dalian Wanda acquired North American cinema chain AMC Entertainment for $2.6 billion, making the company the largest movie exhibitor in the world. Apart from the AMC theaters, Wanda’s entertainment subsidiary has more than 500 cinemas with 6,000 screens in China, plus 68 karaoke bars, live performance venues, theme parks and an increasingly active film production and distribution business. The company’s latest film, the Qing Dynasty love story, Under the Hawthorn Tree, opened in China last Tuesday. The company’s other recent production credits include Keanu Reeves‘ directorial debut and Chinese co-production, Man of Tai Chi, which Radius opens in North America this fall.
Wang’s and Wanda’s entertainment holdings amount to just $1.3 billion of the tycoon’s net worth. The vast majority of his wealth sits in Wanda’s vast real estate empire, which has 148 million square feet of commercial property under management, worth $7.4 billion. The conglomerate’s department store subsidiary, meanwhile, is valued at $5.6 billion. Through direct ownership, various shell companies and investment vehicles, Wang and his family own 100 percent of Dalian Wanda Group.
Wang’s personal biography is one of the great rags to mind-boggling riches stories of contemporary China. Born to a military family in the country’s Sichuan province near Tibet, the 58-year-old tycoon endured the depravations and food shortages of the cultural revolution era as a child. Following his father, who fought against the Imperial Japanese, he left school as a teenager and entered the military and served for 16 years. In the early 1990s he was honorably discharged and started work for a struggling real estate developer in the country’s north east, which he soon took over and branded Dalian Wanda. Perfectly timed to China’s historic economic boom, the company’s expansion has been relentless.
Now at the pinnacle of the Chinese business world, Wang’s ambitions remain aggressive. In June he acquired British mega-yacht maker Sunseeker – whose luxury watercraft are featured in the James Bond movies – for $1.6 billion. He now owns 40 five-star hotels and plans to double that number by 2015. He has also said he intends to increase his commercial property under management by 68 percent by the end of 2014.
Part of the ongoing commercial real estate expansion includes steady construction of more cinemas. Last month, the company’s exhibition unit, Wanda Cinema Line Corp. partnered with Imax, ordering up to 120 new giant screen theaters for the expansion of its shopping mall network and commercial centers across China, making it Wanda’s largest international exhibition partner. Wanda has also previously expressed interest in purchasing a European cinema chain.