Wang Jian 王健, the chairman of HNA (formerly Hainan Airlines), one of China’s largest conglomerates, died while on a tourist excursion during a business trip to France on July 3, CGTN reports. According to a statement from HNA, the 57-year-old sustained a serious injury from falling off a 15-meter-tall wall, and did not recover after receiving medical attention.
The company that he leaves behind was already in a tough place, and the tragedy only adds to the sense of uncertainty about its future.
- HNA is one of China’s “gray rhinos,” called out by state media a year ago as the government cracked down on the country’s most heavily indebted companies. The meaning of the phrase is large and obvious – “dangers we ignore” until they start running too fast.
- Wang had led his company through a dealmaking streak of jaw-dropping proportions. By the New York Times’s count (paywall), HNA had clinched 123 deals in just three years, landing the company more than $90 billion in debt.
- Shares of HNA subsidiaries sunk upon news of Wang’s death, Caixin reports, with “three mainland-listed units that are still trading lost between 1% and 4.3% during the day.” Many other subsidiaries have suspended trading for months during HNA’s debt-restructuring process.
- A third of the company’s debt is due this year, and the conglomerate has been scrambling to sell off assets to make ends meet, going so far as to announce it was exiting its $6.3 billion stake in Hilton in April.
- The sell-offs this year have neared $15 billion, according to Bloomberg (paywall), which reported that the People’s Bank of China offered in June to help pitch in and “support HNA’s future bond issues.”