Wang Jian, a co-founder of the company, suffered "severe injuries" in a fall in Provence in southern France and died Tuesday at age 57, said an HNA Group statement.
Witnesses described him falling from a small wall while travelling in the hilltop village of Bonnieux in Provence, according to Financial Times. Police said they were not treating his death as suspicious.
HNA went on a major buying spree in recent years, snapping up big chunks of major U.S. and European companies - including Deutsche Bank (DB) and Hilton (HLT).
Wang fell 15 metres off a wall in the village of Bonnieux, near Avignon, a picturesque area popular with tourists, lieutenant-colonel Hubert Meriaux of the Vaucluse gendarmerie force told Reuters.
Wang Jian, chairman of Chinese conglomerate HNA dies in accident during French business trip. "But the long-term impact on the group will be limited".
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Wang owned about 15 per cent of the Chinese group, making him one of the group's biggest shareholders, Bloomberg reported. The other is Chen Feng.
Wang had a degree in airline management from the Civil Aviation University of China and an MBA from the Maastricht School of Management in the Netherlands. In 1990, he helped establish Hainan Provincial Airlines Co. and was one of the founders of the group.
"HNA Group extends deepest condolences to Mr Wang's family and many friends", HNA's board and management team said in a statement. Since 2015, HNA had been on a massive shopping spree, forking out around $40 billion on a 25 per cent stake in the Hilton hotel group, shares in Deutsche Bank, several golf courses and other foreign property. The conglomerate now has more than 10 airlines among its affiliated companies. A financial report in April revealed that HNA's debts have reached $94 billion. In November, HNA sold China's most expensive short-term dollar bond, and a month later China Citic Bank Corp. said a unit of the group had repayment difficulties. In January, as the volume of news about HNA's liquidity issues peaked, it suspended six of its listed stocks from trading.
The firm's US$230 billion in assets includes a diverse global empire of businesses operating in aviation, tourism, and finance, and includes Hilton hotels and other marquee companies in the US, Europe and Australia.