When Thomas Cook, the storied British travel agency that filed for bankruptcy on Monday, needed financial help in recent years, it turned to the Chinese investment firm Fosun International, Business Insider reported.
Since 2015, the Shanghai-based conglomerate and its chairman, Guo Guangchang, have built up an 18% stake in Thomas Cook.
The stake was worth as much as US$1.5 billion in recent weeks, according to regulatory filings, before the company became officially insolvent.
By August, Fosun and Thomas Cook had managed to agree on a deal that would give Fosun 75% control of Thomas Cook’s tour business and 25% of its airline. However, that deal fell through in September, as new debts piled up.
Initially, it appeared Fosun had taken a big hit on the Thomas Cook collapse, but the Chinese group said later its “carry” – investment losses – were 327 million yuan, or just $45.8 million.
Fosun also owns major stakes in France’s competing tour agency Club Med, Cirque du Soleil, an English football club the Wolverhampton Wanderers, insurance and real-estate companies, and more.
“Fosun is disappointed that Thomas Cook Group has not been able to find a viable solution for its proposed recapitalization with other affiliates, core lending banks, senior noteholders and additional involved parties,” Fosun said in a statement.
“Fosun confirms that its position remained unchanged throughout the process, but unfortunately other factors have changed. We extend our deepest sympathy to all those affected by this outcome.”
The Thomas Cook investment is far from Fosun’s only stake in Western companies as 52-year-old Guangchang seeks to emulate American “oracle” Warren Buffett.
However, Guangchang has a long way to run — Forbes estimates Guangchang’s wealth at US$6.3 billion, making him the 41st-richest person in China.
In comparison, Buffett is worth an estimated 10 times more, roughly $82.5 billion.
The Shanghai-based investment group also said in a statement that it will continue to hike investment and seek further cooperation in the UK, Yicai Global reported.
Thomas Cook, which owns 34 aircraft and had 22,000 staff in 16 countries, struggled amid higher fuel prices and uncertainty over Brexit that hit bookings. Over £1.2 billion in debt in the six months ended March, it is now in administration.
Fosun told Yicai Global that its joint venture, Thomas Cook China, rests on a sound financial basis, is unaffected by the bankruptcy, and is running normally.
Note: This story was updated on Sept 29 to more accurately reflect developments in regard to Fosun and Thomas Cook.