Wang Jianlin is China’s most velociraptor-like investor, so perhaps its fitting that his company, Dalian Wanda is about to take over the Hollywood studio responsible for this year’s blockbuster, Jurassic World.
Wanda is reportedly close to buying a majority stake in Legendary Entertainment, the production firm that created the Dark Knight series of Batman films, and Straight Outta Compton, as well as the sequel to Jurassic Park, in a deal that would value the film and TV company at nearly $4 billion, according to an account in the Wall Street Journal.
Wang who made his fortune developing a portfolio of more than 100 shopping malls across China has been eager in recent years to test his entrepreneurial mettle by expanding into the entertainment industry. Since buying US theatre chain AMC in 2012, the former People’s Liberation Army officer has also branched out into theme parks, bought stakes in sports teams and even acquired the rights to the US Ironman triathalon franchise.
Deal Set to Be Announced Next Week
While the deal is said to be still not yet finalised, sources familiar with the discussions say that it is expected to be announced next week. Wanda is acquiring its majority stake in the company, which was founded in 2000 by Hollywood personality Thomas Tull, by consolidating shares held by Japan’s SoftBank Group and other external shareholders.
Wang, whose Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties raised $3.7 billion when it went public over a year ago in Hong Kong’s biggest IPO of 2014, seems to believe that Wanda has a future in buying up assets globally and quickly getting them listed on stock exchanges where investors stoked up by his string of successes will be ready to buy into the action.
Wanda took AMC public in 2013 after buying the US’ second-largest cinema chain in 2012, and the company is hoping to float shares in its commercial development division on a mainland exchange this year as well. Wanda has also stated its goal of taking public its recently created online finance wing, and its theme park group, as well as a nascent ecommerce division and a domestic Chinese movie production unit.
Wang Leads Charge of Voracious China Real Estate Tycoons
Wanda’s drive to diversify into other industries is part of a trend among Chinese property developers who have seen their investment returns shrink in recent years as the mainland’s real estate industry has slowed down.
While Wang’s movie industry ambitions are currently capturing headlines, the company has also been among China’s most aggressive investors in overseas real estate projects, expanding into India this year after earlier investing in development projects in Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Spain.
The expansion is all part of five year plan that Wang has put together for Wanda. In July of this year the billionaire, who is ranked as China’s richest man by Forbes, explained at a company meeting how Wanda Group will transform itself from a Chinese real estate developer, into a $200 billion dollar global conglomerate covering everything from finance, to ecommerce, to movies and theme parks.
Political Operator Seeking a Global Role
Part of the challenge for Wang in his global expansion is how to translate his mainland Chinese growth model to a global business.
Wang apparently owes his rapid rise on the mainland, where he grew Wanda from a from a little known property developer to China’s biggest builder of malls in just over a decade, to his ability to cultivate connections with leaders at each level of government.
In a speech at Harvard earlier this year, where Wang recently made a generous donation, the tycoon noted that relatives of Chinese president Xi Jinping were early shareholders in Wanda, although Wang pointed out that those individuals had sold their shares just before the company went public. The Harvard admission largely confirmed some of the details of a New York Times story in April which documented the ties between Wang and relatives of senior leaders including Xi and former premier Wen Jiabao.
It’s questionable how well these relationships will travel once Wang begins doing business on a global scale, but his goals may well be to sell shares domestically, or within the region, for companies with recognisable global brands.