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HNA Chairman to Step Up Role After Death of Top Executive

(Bloomberg)—HNA Group Co. Chairman Chen Feng will step up his role in managing the liquidity challenges at one of China’s most indebted companies after the sudden death of his No. 2 executive this week.

Chen will assume the duties of Wang Jian, the late 57-year-old co-chairman who died while sightseeing in a French village this week, the company said in a statement Friday. Adam Tan will continue to serve as chief executive officer, and the group is committed to the "orderly continuity of the company’s strategy and operations," it said in the statement.

The chairman will face the challenge of normalizing a group that’s trembling under more than $90 billion in debt. HNA has sold more than $16 billion in assets this year in the face of soaring borrowing costs after spending tens of billions of dollars snapping up trophy properties and stakes worldwide.

In regards to the disposal of Wang’s 15 percent stake in the group, HNA said the matter will be addressed in a manner that’s consistent with his pledge to donate them to charity in due course. HNA said last year its top executives pledged that in the event they resign or die, that they would donate all their shares to the Cihang charities that HNA set up. The two Cihang charities, one in China and another in New York, owned 52 percent of HNA as of July last year.

Other Charity

The statement didn’t specify which charity the shares would go to. Wang was also vice president of the China Foundation for Justice and Courage, which is managed by the country’s Ministry of Public Security.

There is no shortage of challenges Chen, 65, and Tan, 51, face. After spending more than $40 billion since the beginning of 2016 on an acquisition spree -- including the purchase of large stakes in Deutsche Bank AG and Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. -- HNA is now in downsizing mode.

Despite its success in selling out of Hilton and disposing of various real estate properties globally, the job isn’t done, according to Warut Promboon, managing partner at Bondcritic Ltd.

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