The co-founder and chairman of China’s HNA Group — a massive conglomerate with significant stakes in the aviation, hotel and tourism sectors — fell to his death in the Provence region of France on Tuesday.
According to French news site France Bleu, Wang Jian, 57, was touring the small village of Bonnieux with a group of 10 other travelers. He climbed up on a parapet of the local church to get a picture of the town’s panoramic vista when he suddenly fell and died.
Wang started HNA with co-founder Chen Feng in 1993. The company started in China as a small regional airline, Hainan Airlines, which the duo grew into an aviation group of 10 subsidiary airlines worth more than $230 billion. HNA also held a 26.1% stake in Hilton, making them the hotel chain’s largest shareholder. In April, HNA announced that it wanted to sell its Hilton stake, valued at around $6.3 billion, as part of a major liquidation of assets across the company to pay down its large amount of debt built up over the years. HNA has exited Hilton completely, a Hilton spokesperson said. The company also holds stakes in international real estate and financial ventures.
First responders on the scene tried to revive Wang to no avail. French authorities are not treating his death as suspicious.
HNA Group turned its website grey as a sign of grieving. The company also posted a statement from Chen and CEO Adam Tan:
“HNA Group extends deepest condolences to Mr. Wang’s family and many friends,” the statement reads. “Together, we mourn the loss of an exceptionally gifted leader and role model, whose vision and values will continue to be a beacon for all who had the good fortune to know him, as well as for the many others whose lives he touched through his work and philanthropy.”
This story has been amended to indicate that HNA has sold its stake in Hilton and is no longer a shareholder.
Featured image by ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images.