HNA Group operators the flagship Hainan Airlines. Photo: Reuters
HNA Group operators the flagship Hainan Airlines. Photo: Reuters

When it comes to bumpy rides, HNA has been forced to buckle up in the past 18 months. The Chinese group had previously gone on a spending spree with a slew of acquisitions, piling up US$90 billion of debt, enough to fill a jumbo jet.

But now, the company is returning to its roots in the aviation and tourism sectors. Logistics will also continue to be part of its portfolio.

Among its biggest deals, HNA sold part of its interest in Deutsche Bank this year just 12 months after taking a 10% stake for 3.4 billion euros (US$3.9 billion). By the end of April, the conglomerate’s investment had shrunk to 7.9%, according to a filing to regulators, banking more than 400 million euros in the process.

“During the first six months of 2018, the company sold more than 60 billion yuan ($8.8 billion) in assets, accounting for more than 10% of the company’s net assets on the books, HNA reported in a statement,” Caixin, the Chinese media organization, confirmed.

Before trimming away the fat, HNA had become a victim of China’s clampdown on corporate excess after being branded a Gray Rhino, a highly visible but largely ignored threat to the economy.

After moving into financial and insurance services as well as property, the firm scaled back its international profile when the tap of cheap credit dried up to a trickle.

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The assets sale started under co-chairman Wang Jian before his death in a freak accident while touring the Provence region in France on July 3. A further 300 billion yuan will be raised from a second round of retrenching.

On Thursday, the corporation unveiled a management reshuffle in the latest move to calm concerns after Wang’s death.

HNA Group CEO Adam Tan was named as chairman of HNA International, a position previously held by the late co-chairman. “Tan will continue to be the vice-chairman and CEO of the group,” it said in a statement.

Dennis Chen has also taken over as chief investment officer, succeeding James Wang. He will double up by taking on the executive chairman role of HNA International.

“These changes will help us meet our commitment to refocus around our core aviation, tourism and logistics businesses,” Chen Feng, the HNA Group chairman, said in a statement.

Indeed, he will be hoping that ‘going back to the future’ will again turn this Gray Rhino into one of China’s corporate dragons.