Mr. Wang played a key role in the company’s rise from a regional, state-controlled company to a vast conglomerate, and he helped mastermind its overseas deal-making. His brother, Wang Wei, also played a major role, although much of it was behind the scenes.
But HNA’s spending spree left it $90 billion in debt at a difficult time. Last year, officials in Beijing began to cast a skeptical eye on Chinese companies that were buying billions in global assets with marquee names but little strategic value. In China, HNA was commonly lumped in with companies that the official news media called gray rhinos — large and visible problems that nevertheless go unnoticed until they begin moving too fast to stop.
After a lightning-quick rise in both size and influence — it struck 123 deals in just three years — HNA is now shedding properties and interests in foreign companies at an even faster clip. Since the start of this year, HNA has announced deals to sell billions of dollars in assets.
It has been shopping around some of the dozens of properties that it scooped up in recent years, according to two people with direct knowledge of HNA’s deals. It has sold its stake in Hilton Worldwide Holdings and is selling down its position in Deutsche Bank, the German banking giant in which HNA once had the biggest single stake.
Even as it sheds some of its liabilities, it continues to show signs of financial strain. Just this week, an Australian company said the proposed sale of its refrigerated logistics business to HNA had fallen through, in part because of the Chinese company’s cash problems.
This year, HNA’s attempts to buy the hedge fund business of Anthony Scaramucci, a former White House communications director, were thwarted after close scrutiny by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an intergovernmental panel that reviews overseas acquisitions of American companies.
HNA is also facing pressure at home in China. Seven publicly listed companies owned by HNA have had their shares suspended for months, pending what the parent group said was a restructuring. HNA then said the companies would resume trading after an announcement on June 9. But the group has yet to outline any major changes to its business, and the shares are still suspended.