Wang Jianlin, chairman of Wanda Group, speaks at a ceremony in Beijing on February 10, 2015 (AFP Photo/Greg Baker)
Beijing (AFP) – China’s richest man saw his fortune balloon by nearly $17 billion — a sum larger than the GDP of Iceland — in the past year, business magazine Forbes said Monday.
Wang Jianlin, founder of real estate and entertainment conglomerate Wanda Group, saw his wealth rocket from $13.2 billion to $30 billion in the publisher’s 2015 China Rich List.
The windfall, which came despite sluggish growth in the world’s second-largest economy, was driven by the flotations of two of his company’s subsidiaries — even though he lost $3.6 billion in a single day during China’s market turmoil this summer.
“It’s good to have money,” Wang said in a brief appearance at the announcement of the ranking.
At his average rate of accumulation last year he would have become more than $200,000 wealthier during his seven minutes on the stage.
The son of a Red Army captain, Wang was himself a soldier before he founded Wanda in the 1980s, building it up with military discipline. Its website says it is Asia’s largest private property owner.
Now 61, he is the 15th richest man on the planet according to Forbes’ real-time billionaires ranking.
“To unabashedly go out and make money, then fairly and equitably distribute that wealth -– this is what rich people should do,” Wang said.
Wang has sought to play down overseas media speculation on the link between his success and government ties, which in China can be crucial to seal land deals with local authorities.
He said Monday that market forces and creative abilities were crucial to building major businesses in China, rather than personal connections.
“If you’ve made money, it’s definitely because you have skills; I believe that the majority of people who’ve made money did so through normal channels,” he said. “The majority of people with money, especially extraordinarily rich people, are good people.”
– ‘New opportunities’ –
Wang is known outside China for a string of overseas acquisitions including the organiser of Ironman extreme endurance contests, Swiss sports marketing group Infront, and a stake in Spanish football club Atletico Madrid.
He burst into the international spotlight in 2012 by buying US cinema chain AMC Entertainment for $2.6 billion and his company owns more than 200 malls, shopping complexes and luxury hotels across China.
Wang leapt from fourth to first in the Forbes list, one of several charting China’s most affluent people.
He unseated Jack Ma, founder of tech giant Alibaba, who dropped to second place on $21.8 billion as his firm’s share price slumped in New York.
The 100 richest people in China were worth $450 billion, Forbes said, up nearly 20 percent in a year — far faster than current GDP growth of 6.9 percent and despite a rout on Chinese stock markets.
Six out of ten of China’s richest were in the technology sector, including Ma Huateng of Internet titan Tencent (third), Lei Jun of Xiaomi (fourth), and Robin Li of Chinese search engine Baidu, who slipped four spots this year from second to sixth.
“China’s economy is going through a period of structural change,” said Forbes senior editor and list compiler Russell Flannery, adding that the richest had found “new opportunities tied to that transition”.