Foreword: Wang Jianlin’s Biography – The Wanda Way

Wang Jianlin’s

Building up a company from scratch to become China’s and Asia’s richest man took Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin just 27 years. As a first generation entrepreneur of China’s reform and opening-up, Wang Jianlin seized the great opportunities created by the country’s economic takeoff. With his keen and rich vision, adeptness in innovation and strong will power, he persevered with his principles and exhibited the flexibility to go through many changes. Now, he’s a giant – a modern day J.P. Morgan or Rockefeller commanding a pivotal role and respect in the business world.

I. Early Career and Pioneering Days

Wang Jianlin, the eldest son in his family, was born in Sichuan province on 24 October 1954. His father was a member of the Red Army and took part in the Long March. When he was 15, Wang Jianlin entered the military and became a soldier in a northern China border garrison. Wang Jianlin, of a competitive nature, always remembered how his mother impressed upon him the need to be a good soldier. He persevered with the 1,000-kilometer march and upon arriving at the Snowy Forest with the troops, he became one of only a small number of soldiers to complete this arduous task. Before he was 30, Wang Jianlin became a regiment officer. He was the youngest officer among hundreds of thousands of troops. The 17-year military career had a profound impact on Wang Jianlin’s life. After his military career, Wanda was often likened to the military because of its invincibility in battle and execution in business.

In 1986, shortly after China’s reform and opening-up began, Wang Jianlin realized that China’s future would shift, with economic construction moving to the fore, so he decided to give up the dream of becoming a general and change jobs. He went to the Xigang district of Dalian and became an official. Because of his outstanding performance he was promoted quickly and became the office director. A promising future beckoned. In the 1980s, reform-minded government officials formed businesses in waves. These people became China’s first generation of entrepreneurs. Wang Jianlin was deeply affected by this and was no longer satisfied working in a quiet office. He was eager for more challenges and for a better life. In 1988, an opportunity that changed Wang Jianlin’s life presented itself. A newly established Xigang district real estate company was on the verge of bankruptcy due to poor management. In order to save the company, the district government looked to the community to recruit someone. Wang Jianlin volunteered; he resigned from his government position and became the general manager of the company. This company was the predecessor of today’s Wanda Group.

To keep the company alive, Wang Jianlin looked everywhere he could for development projects, but at that time policy restrictions made it very difficult to find a good project. In 1989 Wang Jianlin decided to accept the government-recommended “Dalian Beijing Street Urban Renewal Project.” Because this project was not expected to be profitable, other powerful enterprises refused to take it, but Wang Jianlin decided to take the gamble. He shattered the existing housing construction conventions and designed bigger and better units, using aluminum windows instead of the traditional wooden ones and installing security doors on each household. These innovations enabled the sale of more than 800 units within two months. The prices created a record in Dalian, and Wang Jianlin dug into the first pot of gold. This single transaction gave Wang Jianlin a taste of the sweetness of innovation, and he saw the opportunities in urban renewal. Since then, he has been unstoppable.

Deeply influenced by Confucian ideology, Wang Jianlin attaches great importance to integrity. He often quotes the Confucian saying, “If people have no faith in a person, there is no standing for that person.” He believes that in the business world, integrity is “eating a small loss for a big deal.” Early in his real estate career the Chinese real estate market was completely chaotic, fraud was commonplace, and housing quality was inferior. Wang Jianlin was resolute in not following the bad examples of others. In his company he presented the saying, “conduct oneself honestly and handle matters astutely.” He required that all residences constructed by Wanda met the country’s first-rate engineering standards and made his famous three commitments: Wanda houses bought by consumers are refundable and exchangeable, and should a leakage or square footage shortage occur, generous compensation would be granted. Wang Jianlin’s efforts paid off, and Wanda earned the reputation as a supplier of good houses. Wanda flourished in Dalian and occupied almost one quarter of the local real estate market.

II. Innovation and Transformation

Among various factors that led to Wang’s success, innovation and transformation were the most important ones.

The first transformation made Wanda, originally a local company, into a nationwide enterprise. Obtaining success in one city was not enough to satisfy Wang Jianlin. He wanted Wanda to become a famous national enterprise. In 1992 Deng Xiaoping delivered his famous speech while touring southern China, ushering in a new round of entrepreneurialism. Wanda then expanded out of Dalian and went to Guangzhou, the most economically developed city in China, for development projects. This made Wanda China’s first real estate company to develop cross-regionally. Although the project was not very profitable, it gave Wang Jianlina lot of confidence. Years later, Wanda rapidly expanded throughout the entire country.

At this time Wang Jianlin established China’s first professional football club; the team is a testament to Wang Jianlin’s great ambitions. In five years the team won the League Championship four times with a record of 55 consecutive unbeaten games, a record no team has been able to break. The success has made Wang Jianlin and Wanda well known nationwide and paved the way for advancement into the sports industry.

The second transformation was that from residential properties to commercial properties. Despite the company’s success, Wang Jianlin still had a very strong sense of crisis. This feeling was caused by the Chinese real estate market’s extreme fluctuations and the commitment he felt to his employees. He wanted to give the entrepreneurial comrades who were following him a sense of security and access to medical services. Wang Jianlin looked for an industry with a stable long-term cash flow.

In May 2000, Wanda held the “Zunyi Conference,” which would become decisive in shaping the development of the company. Against all objections, Wang Jianlin announced that Wanda would make the transition from residential to commercial real estate. However, a lack of experience made it difficult for Wanda. Media criticism, litigation from investors, and internal skepticism ensued. Under tremendous pressure, Wang Jianlin went through 222 lawsuits, of which one project had to be demolished and reconstructed, as it could not be saved due to design reasons. With a loss of 1.5 billion yuan, this affair went down in history as a representative of Chinese corporate integrity. Wang Jianlin gritted his teeth and persevered for five years, until developing a comprehensive city business model for the Chinese economy. In 2006, within a period of 12 months, Wanda successfully opened Ningbo’s Yinzhou, Shanghai’s Wujiaochang, Beijing’s CBD and three other Wanda Plazas, obtaining the leading position in China’s real estate field. In 2008, Wang Jianlin moved his corporate headquarters from Dalian to the nation’s capital of Beijing, where it now occupies a prominent position in Beijing’s Central Business District. In the following few years, Wanda opened more than 20 large Wanda Plazas per year and each year saw an annual increase of several million square meters of commercial area. This pace of growth came to be known as “Wanda speed.” In 2015 Wanda officially became the world’s largest scale real estate company. In retrospect, Wang Jianlin summarized the keys to this as innovation and perseverance.

Real estate development brought about more business opportunities for Wang Jianlin. He started the third transformation by heavily investing in the cultural tourism industry. Because Wanda Plazas needed cinemas, Wanda entered the cinematic world, and luckily enough benefited from the explosion of the Chinese film market. Within five years it became China’s biggest cinematic chain. The unexpected success allowed Wang Jianlin to see the potential of China’s cultural industry. In his words, it is an industry “with no ceilings.”

In 2008, Wanda developed the first integrated culture-based business and integrated tourism project – the Wuhan Central Cultural Zone, the total investment for which reached 50 billion yuan. Two projects that make Wang Jianlin very proud happen to be the world’s leading cultural projects – the Han Show and Cinema Park. Wang Jianlin, an adept innovator, has integrated culture, business and tourism to launch a massive Wanda Cultural Tourism City. This ambitious project utilizes an indoor cultural entertainment project that can be played in throughout the year as well as a large-scale outdoor theme park, a group of resorts and much more. The investments for each project surpass 20 billion yuan, and ten have already been started. Wang Jianlin plans to spread them globally, keep up with Disney and allow a Chinese cultural brand to triumph internationally.

Early in 2012, a high-spirited Wang Jianlin turned his gaze towards the whole world. That same year he took over AMC and became the world’s largest cinema-chain operator. Later he took over Australia’s HOYTS Cinema to further expand his cinema network. Wanda took over the United Kingdom’s famous Sunseeker Yachts business and is starting construction on Wanda Hotels in the central districts of London, Madrid, Los Angeles, Chicago, Sydney and the Gold Coast.

In the sports field, Wang Jianlin has taken over Switzerland’s In-front Sports and Media Group, purchased 20% of the Atletico Madrid football club and acquired America’s World Triathlon Corporation. In just one year it became the world’s largest whole-industry chain-sports management company. Large-scale mergers and acquisitions have allowed Wang Jianlin to become a world famous entrepreneur. More and more American, European, and Asian politicians and entrepreneurs are going to his office in Beijing recommending projects and lobbying for investments.

III. Social Responsibility through Charity

In China, Wang Jianlin is known widely as a philanthropist. He made “creating wealth together, sharing with society” a corporate mission and is the first in China to have proposed pursuing a social enterprise. He believes development of enterprise is not only for one’s self, but more for its social contribution. He strives for the creation of wealth to ultimately return it to society. Because he adheres to this philosophy, Wang Jianlin has contributed more than four billion yuan to poverty alleviation, education, disaster relief and other areas. He is one of the largest contributing entrepreneurs in China, and is honored because of this. Wang Jianlin is Vice-Chairman of Harvard University’s Global Advisory Board and is the Honorary President of the China Charity Federation. He and his company have already won the country’s highest philanthropic honour, the China Charity Award, seven times. The award is for outstanding contributions in the field of poverty alleviation. The China State Council named him the “National Advanced Individual for Poverty Alleviation.” Wang Jianlin’s contributions to society are recognized at the political level. He served as a representative on the 17th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress, is a member of the standing committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee, and is the Vice-Chairman of the All China Federation of Industry and Commerce.

In the early days, Wang Jianlin displayed a strong concern for social welfare, and in 1990, under less than affluent circumstances, Wang Jianlin for the first time donated one million yuan to build a kindergarten. In Dalian, he donated the city Plaza, stadiums, schools and more. He was devoted to helping a poverty-stricken village in Dalian, and provided assistance until the village overcame poverty completely.

When society encounters a difficult situation, Wang Jianlin is always the first to contribute and drive other entrepreneurs to participate in relief. He was the first to donate in the Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008, and his contribution amounted to 350 million yuan; immediately after the 2010 Qinghai earthquake in Yushu County, he donated 100 million yuan.

Education is the focus of Wang Jianlin’s charity events. It has become customary at Wanda to contribute to the construction of a local school at the beginning of each property development. Now hundreds of Hope primary and secondary schools have been built across the country. In 1994, Wanda invested 500 million yuan towards the building of Dalian University, which covers an area of 1.06 million square meters and constitutes an area of 300,000 square meters of building. In 2010, Wanda contributed 200 million yuan to the construction of a senior high school in Chengdu; in 2014 Wanda contributed 100 million yuan to the construction of Sichuan Guang yuan Wanda Middle School.

To help revitalize weak Chinese football, Wang Jianlin invested 600 million yuan. His investment went to hiring a high-level international coach for the national football team, providing funds for the women’s league, organizing the youth football league and so on. Among these, the most important is the annual selection of 30 outstanding Chinese youth football players to study abroad in Spain’s three best youth training clubs, allowing Chinese football to develop talent.

Wang Jianlin’s long-term desire is the eradication of poverty, and many of his contributions are to help poor farmers. In 2015, Wang Jianlin implemented a massive poverty alleviation project. He pledged to help Danzhai county in Guizhou province to wholly overcome poverty. The county has more than 50,000 farmers living below the poverty line. Wang Jianlin created a five-year plan to invest 1 billion yuan, through which a local tea-processing industry and an occupational college will be constructed, among other measures. This plan will help these people to completely overcome poverty within five years.

In order to help Chinese university students in entrepreneurship and train the next generation of Chinese entrepreneurs, Wang Jianlin has implemented a decade-long Collegiate Business Plan, which provides financial aid to 100 university students each year. The shops with the best locations in Wanda Plazas are these students’ entrepreneurial bases, and arrangements are made for professionals to give business counseling.

Under Wang Jianlin’s leadership, charity has become part of Wanda’s corporate culture. Wanda has a special system, in which all Wanda companies have established volunteer stations, and all Wanda employees have become volunteers and must volunteer at least once a year. Wang Jianlin hopes that through this method, each employee will have the right attitude.

IV. Following the Dream and Daring to Persevere

Wang Jianlin is now China’s most successful entrepreneur. The success he has achieved has already far surpassed what he originally imagined. Wanda is the world’s largest real estate company, the world’s largest five-star hotel owner, and has the world’s largest chain cinema company. Wanda Sports is the world’s largest sports industry company. He’s still not content. His dream now is to create a great enterprise that can continue in greatness after he has left the company, thus changing the world’s perception of Chinese companies – and all for the honor of China.

In 2015, Wang Jianlin began Wanda’s fourth transformation. As far as Wanda is concerned, this will be comprehensive and profound. His goal is to establish a business empire built on four services – retail, culture, finance and e-commerce – which will all be global leaders. At the same time, he aims to complete a comprehensive restructuring of his business from real estate to a service-oriented business. He wants to move beyond being a real estate tycoon and become a global business leader. His target objectives are all global industry giants, but the goal is to subvert the old pattern. He wants to open 1,000 Wanda Plazas in China, allowing Wanda to enter each Chinese city with a population of 300,000 or more to cover nearly 1 billion people. This will be the world’s largest business platform. In the film and television industry, his objective is to create a global film supply chain and break Hollywood’s monopoly in the film industry, allowing the global spread of Chinese culture. In sports, he will bulk purchase core resources to change the world’s professional sports industry and become an important force in the rules of the game. In tourism, Wang Jianlin not only wants to become the world’s largest, but also wants to spread Wanda’s cultural tourism cities globally and keep up with Disney. He wants Wanda to become a world-renowned hotel brand. In the area of e-commerce, he is creating the largest global integrated online to offline e-commerce platform. By 2020, Wanda’s enterprise market value and assets are required to reach US$200 billion with revenue of US$100 billion and a net profit of US$10 billion. The contribution of overseas revenue will be 30%, allowing Wanda to become a first-rate world multinational corporation. To achieve this, 61-year-old Wang Jianlin knows no rest. Just as in the Dalian venture, provided he is not travelling for business, each day he is on time in the office at 7 a.m. to begin a busy day’s work. However, due to the worldwide nature of business, he must now spend more time on flights and cope with jet lag. In order to stay in good shape, he is cultivating jogging as a new hobby and has actually lost weight.

Wang Jianlin once summarized the keys to his success as innovation and perseverance: “I believe that with good innovative ideas, a good innovative approach, and a lot of perseverance, success is a certainty.” Now he talks more about dreams; he says in life you must give yourself an ambitious goal and work hard. The stage will be as large as the amount of heart you have. Nobody knows where his limit lies, but everyone believes he will have a great influence on his times.