Lessons from China’s richest man

LAST week was a relatively tough but gratifying week for my family, as we were practically living in a suitcase for six nights while traversing Osaka, Manila and Hong Kong. My family business coaching work in Japan and a speaking engagement in Hong Kong to celebrate Julie’s Bakeshop’s 35th Anniversary were the highlights of the twin overseas trips. While in Hong Kong, which is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, I decided to research on the success lessons of Wang Jianlin, China’s newly minted richest billionaire with a fortune of $40.7 billion. Wang is almost four times richer than our local taipan, mall king Henry Sy.

In a Business Insider report, Wang Jianlin, a former People’s Liberation Army soldier who is now a real estate mogul and the world’s largest cinema chain operator, is the richest person in China and he’s caught in a riches race with Hong Kong business magnate Li-KaShing to become the wealthiest man in Asia.

Wang, born in Sichuan Province in 1954 just after the Communist revolution, spent the first few decades of his life in anything but luxury. In 1970, Wang entered the military, where he remained until 1986 when he took a city government job in the city of Dalian in Liaoning Province. Wang became chairman of Wanda in 1989 at age 35.

His fortune more than doubled following successful public offerings of his real estate firm Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties, which has 125 shopping plazas and 68 five-star hotels, and Wanda Cinema Line, one of China’s largest movie theater chains.

According to a Forbes Magazine report, Wang bought 20 percent of Spanish soccer team Atletico Madrid and purchased the US organizer of Ironman Triathlons for $650 million. Wang’s Dalian Wanda Group purchased US movie theater chain AMC Entertainment Holdings for $2.6 billion in 2012 and took it public in December 2013.

His Wanda Group teamed up with the Auchan Group to invest 3 billion euros, or $3.3 billion, in a business and entertainment center in Paris. The project will be the largest ever in France by a China company, and will include an indoor and outdoor theme park, stage show, hotels, and business and conference centers.

The French investment is part of an aggressive push by 60-year-old Wang to move Wanda beyond its roots in China’s real estate business. The company has in recent years expanded into entertainment, particularly film and sports, and committed billions of dollars to overseas investments. The project in France will be located next to the Charles de Gaulle Airport, about 10 kilometers from downtown Paris. Some 14,000 jobs will be created once the facility begins operation.

Wang’s recent book, a compilation of public speeches entitled “The Wanda Way,” claims to give an inside look into his managerial philosophy and the values that turned his company into a giant conglomerate with big global ambitions.

Here are some nuggets of advice from Wang as detailed by Sophia Yan in a CNN report:

  1. Get tough in the army.

Wang joined the Chinese military as a teenager in 1970. His gruelling training involved epic marches that took the soldiers through “knee-deep stretches of snow.” He recalls, “We were deprived of everything. In the snow, we had to dig our own hole to spend the night. Anyone who faltered could forget about being chosen to move up that year, or earning your Exemplary Fighter award.” This experience built his “teeth-gritting spirit and a desire to fight until the end,” he says.

Wang suggests there’s a direct relationship between a military background and success, pointing out that many top Chinese entrepreneurs previously served in the military.

  1. Differentiate and innovate, like Starbucks.

“The first key is to understand how you can differentiate yourself from others and be innovative,” Wang said. “For instance, everyone knows how to sell coffee, but Starbucks redesigned the coffee-making process, innovated the business model and became a successful chain business.”

Wang disputes the idea that only high-tech companies can lead the way forward — “No matter whether you are in a traditional or an emerging industry, as long as you’re capable of innovating the existing business model, you can reap super profits.”

Part 2 will continue next week.

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