HNA GROUP CHAIRMAN Chen Feng will assume the duties of his co-founder of the company, Chairman Wang Jian, who died Tuesday in a fall while sightseeing in France. The company is still determining the disposition of Wang’s stock in the company, though the deceased executive had asked that they go to a charity.
Wang, 57, was on a business trip in Provence, France, when the accident occurred, according to the obituary on the company’s website. According to a New York Times article, he was with his family visiting Bonnieux, a church on a rock outcrop, and was trying to pose for a photo when he fell backward over a 10 or 15 meter cliff. No foul play is suspected.
Seeking an “orderly continuity of the company’s strategy and operations,” the company said in a statement Thursday that Chen would take over Wang’s duties while HNA CEO Adam Tan would continue in that position.
“The disposition of the shares in HNA Group held by Mr. Wang at the time of his death will be addressed in due course, consistent with his pledge to donate them to charity, and in accordance with all applicable legal and regulatory guidelines,” the company said.
In the company’s obituary, Chen and Tan praised Wang as “an exceptionally gifted leader and role model” known for his philanthropy. Radisson Hotel Group, which HNA acquired in 2016, featured a similar statement on Wang’s death in a brief pop up for visitors to its site Thursday. Earlier this week, Radisson announced a new initiative with its fellow HNA Group member Hainan Airlines that would align the two company’s loyalty programs.
“We are deeply saddened by the news of HNA Group’s Co-Chairman Wang Jian’s passing. On behalf of Radisson Hotel Group team members worldwide, our thoughts and prayers are with the family and loved ones of Mr. Wang Jian and our colleagues at HNA Group.”
Wang’s death also comes at a time when, according to press reports including the story in the Times, the company is facing $90 billion in debt following its investment splurge in financial firms, hotels, real estate and other investments around the world. The Times said HNA was looking into selling off at least some of the assets it had acquired.
An article in Bloomberg said Radisson may be one of those assets on the chopping block, but John Kidd, chief executive of Radisson’s operations in the Americas and Asia Pacific, downplayed that possibility. “While it has been widely reported that HNA has recently been exploring the sale of some of its assets, we are in a very strong place with our business and remain committed to our go-forward strategy,” Kidd said in a statement. “Any additional questions about a potential sale would need to be answered by HNA.”
Wang was considered the architect of HNA’s $50 billion acquisition spree, according to Reuters, but Chen will now be tasked with handling the debt from that spree. Sources told Reuters that HNA is likely to continue selling assets to satisfy creditors.
HNA plans to strengthen its balance sheet by refocusing on its core aviation, logistics and financial services businesses. That could include making strategic decisions on the disposition of non-core assets. For example, the company recently sold its stakes in Hilton Worldwide Holdings, Hilton Grand Vacations and Park Hotels & Resorts for $8.5 billion in gross sales, according to sources familiar with the transactions. HNA acquired its Hilton stock for $6.5 billion in 2016.