Ironman sold to Dalian Wanda

It's official, the Chinese giant Dalian Wanda has completed its purchase of Ironman Corporation from private equity firm Providence Equity Partners.

The purchase price was reported by Ironman at $650 million. The listed price did not include Ironman's debt, which Dalian Wanda is assuming. Fourteen months ago PEP extracted $220 million from Ironman, leveraging it with a bullet loan accompanied by a $20 million revolver. Nothing was returned in consideration. In essence, PEP gave its investors something between a $220mm and $240mm down payment on the eventual sale of the company.

This makes the real sale price, in a way any real person would figure it, more like $870mm to $890mm, and one source close to the deal quoted Slowtwitch a sale price of $888 million.

A prospectus from a year-and-a-half ago listed PEP's equity invested over the term of its Ironman ownership at $216 million. That seemed high at the time, but with today's announcement (assuming that $216mm figure was accurate), PEP will have reaped a better-than-fourfold return on its money in the 7 years it's owned Ironman.

What will this mean for the management and operations of Ironman? Dalian Wanda required key employees to agree to 5-year employment agreements as a condition of the deal, and the office is not moving from Tampa, Florida. It seems to want stability and continuity.

The deal occurred none too soon for PEP. As the world has watched the Chinese stock market's recent steep decline, with China's currency devalued numerous times, Dalian Wanda's founder and chairman has been the biggest loser. Wang Jianlin has reportedly lost about US $13 billion in recent weeks, $3.6 billion this past Monday alone. Fortunately Asia's richest man still has about $30 billion to fall back on.

Dalian Wanda has operations split into two divisions: Real Estate, and The Cultural Industry Group. Real Estate has been the engine of Dalian Wanda's growth. It owns more than 100 shopping malls in 100 Chinese cities, and owns over 70 hotels. To make it easier to score, in the world of hotels and real estate development somewhere between four and six Donald Trumps equal one Wang Jianlin.

Under the Cultural Industry Group are 6,600 movie screens, making Dalian Wanda the largest theater owner in the world. This includes the largest theater chains in China, Australia, and New Zealand, and the AMC Theaters in the U.S. Also under Cultural Industry are British luxury yacht maker Sunseeker and Swiss sports marketing firm Infront.

Infront was aquired in February of this year and its CEO, Philippe Blatter, is an avid triathlete. He's raced 15 Ironmans including this year's Ironman Switzerland. Infront has been Ironman's marketing and media firm in most of Europe and Africa since 2011. Did Infront bring Dalian Wanda to Ironman? Unknown.

Cultural Industry is headed by Lincoln Zhang. Under him is film and entertainment industry veteran Jack Q Gao. He would likely be the man to whom Andrew Messick would report.

What kind of man is Mr. Gao? What is he interested in? What about Ironman motivates him?

Mr. Gao holds a PhD, earned at UCLA, and most of his higher education has been in the U.S. He is ethnic Chinese but also holds U.S. citizenship. He's got a son living in Los Angeles.

His training is in engineering, but his rise has been in business. He's big in both entertainment and high tech. He's a former film financier and the recent head in China of both Microsoft and News Corp.

Judging from recent interviews Mr. Gao seems to want to bring the indigenous film, leisure and entertainment industries to a higher level of excellence, with the Chinese population the intended consumer. Dalian Wanda, besides owning movie screens, is building a movie studio. It not only owns hotels, it owns and is building theme parks. It's doing all of this in China.

One can see where Ironman might fit in, as Dalian Wanda doubles down on its wager on China's growing consumption class. Asia and Latin America have been Ironman's biggest growth regions. While Ironman's attention to its core business anchors North America and Europe will remain its focus, expect the growth of the Ironman brand in Asia (China in particular) to maintain or accelerate.