Wang Jianlin (pictured) rose from local bureaucrat to China's richest man by transforming a debt-laden state-owned housebuilder into the sprawling Wanda Group, and the flotation of one of its subsidiaries yesterday may propel him back up a rich list now dominated by Internet moguls.
Wang has penchants for karaoke and collecting, and has an impressive selection of fine art, property projects in top markets around the world, and an ever-expanding portfolio of companies including cinema chain AMC and yachtbuilder Sunseeker.
He topped the Forbes China Rich List in 2013 with an estimated net worth of US$14.1 billion (S$18.7 billion), but was displaced this year by charismatic Internet entrepreneur Jack Ma after he floated his e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba Group in the world's biggest ever initial public offering (IPO). Ma's fortune is now estimated at nearly US$20 billion.
Wang dropped to number four, though his ranking could rebound after Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties, the flagship subsidiary of Wang's Wanda Group, raised US$3.7 billion in an IPO earlier this month by selling a 13.4 per cent stake.
The IPO valued the firm at US$28 billion and Wanda Group's 44 per cent post-flotation share of the subsidiary at US$12.5 billion.
Wang himself owns more than 98 per cent of Wanda Group, with the remaining sliver held by his only son, Wang Sicong. Wang and his wife together own around another 10 per cent of Wanda Commercial.
The company's shares debuted Tuesday in Hong Kong, closing down 2.6 per cent from the offering price at HK$46.75 ($7.96), on a gloomy outlook for China's oversupplied property market.
The parent conglomerate, which has interests in hotels, entertainment and retail, last year saw US$2.06 billion in profits, according to its website.
Wang has sought to downplay speculation on the link between his success and his government ties, saying previously he wanted to build Wanda into a world class company "depending totally on the market, not government resources".
But he is unmistakably close to Beijing, clutching multiple official titles ranging from delegate to the ruling Communist Party congress in 2007 to a senior member of China's top political discussion chamber for five years until 2013.
Wanda Group is a far cry from the near-bankrupt, state-owned property developer in the northeastern port of Dalian when Wang was appointed as general manager in 1988.
Previously a government official in the city's Xigang district, according to Chinese media reports, he dug his first pot of gold from contracts to renovate shanty houses in the area.
As the company turned around, it was renamed Wanda in 1992, and the state's stakes were gradually bought out by Wang directly or through companies associated with him.
Nearly all his senior staff are men and wear black suits, white shirts and dark ties as a rule.
Wanda executives claim the company has "never once had a project come in late or over budget", Fortune magazine said.
Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties says it is the second-largest commercial property owner and operator in the world, with 175 property projects across China.
Wang, 60, turned to culture and tourism as Wanda Group's new growth drivers in 2009, when the global financial crisis dealt China's real estate market a heavy blow.
The company has expanded into film production, theme parks, print media and art investment.
At a red-carpet event last year, global A-listers Nicole Kidman, Leonardo DiCaprio and Catherine Zeta-Jones flew in to showcase Wanda's plan for an US$8 billion studio complex in the eastern city of Qingdao.
Last year, it acquired a 23-floor office building in London for a luxury US$1.1 billion development and bought Edificio Espana, a historic skyscraper in Madrid, for US$330 million this June.
Wanda became a household name across China after Wang, a diehard football fan, bought a Dalian football club in 1994 for six years and transformed it into the strongest team in China.