An Insight, An Idea with Wang Jianlin

by Alec Ash
Founder and Chairman of Dalian Wanda Group, Wang Jianlin is a titan of the Chinese business world. Since 2015, the trim former People’s Liberation Army soldier has been the wealthiest person in China, with interests in real estate, sport and entertainment. In conversation with John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, he talked about investments, ambitions and business trends.

One of Wang’s growing investments is in cinema, as the world’s largest movie theatre operator. China has the largest number of screens in the world, and 15,000 more were added last year, mostly in shopping malls, with a 30% year-on-year growth. Wanda is also involved in producing films, especially the trend of co-productions between foreign and Chinese films, such as The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon, which has already made $200 million in China. “China has something special” to give to cinema, he said, with more of an emotional element. His company bought Legendary Entertainment last year, and is open to the prospect of acquiring other film studios. Hollywood blockbusters and artistic films from abroad can be screened in China in limited numbers, but there are no restrictions on co-productions.

Wang sees his investments in entertainment and sports as a key addition to his real estate portfolio: “Entertainment makes you happy, sport makes you healthy.” Last March, he bought a 20% stake in the Spanish football club Atlético Madrid, which will train young Chinese footballers. “Clubs don’t make money, they burn money,” he said, but there are other ways to make a profit from sport, and he has a personal love for football. Asked when China might win the world cup, he replied: “There’s a joke in China: ask God when China will win, and God cries.”

In a newly protectionist political climate in the US, foreign investment may come under closer scrutiny and control, although that is currently related to manufacturing rather than entertainment. Wang is optimistic that global business and trade will continue to prevail and be mutually beneficial. “If the US government were to control investment,” he warned, “that would be a bad thing.” Speaking of partnerships between the entertainment industry in the US and China, he said “If China were to retaliate, it would be bad for both parties.”

There are two new areas where his company is getting involved. The first is the Internet of Things, where physical objects, brick-and-mortar, are linking up with the internet. The second is investing in a chain of hospitals and healthcare centres in China. He commented, “In China healthcare has been a monopoly of the government, but a year ago the market was opened up to the private sector.” With a large number of commercial centres in its portfolio that would be good locations for hospitals, Dalian Wanda is considering entering the field.

Wang Jianlin has been instrumental in bringing the Annual Meeting of the New Champions (sometimes called the “summer Davos”) to China. The 2017 meeting, in Dalian, is from 27 to 29 June.

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