Schwarzman Blesses China's Dealmaking HNA Group at a Purim Ball

  • HNA’s Wang Jian honored at Jewish Museum fete in Manhattan
  • Hamentaschen for dessert as financiers mingle at holiday party

When John Paulson, Dan Och and JPMorgan’s Carlos Hernandez sat down to dinner with HNA Group Chairman Wang Jian, they found masks in the shape of Wang’s head at their place settings.

Before the fig and rosemary glazed chicken was served, Wang was called to the stage Wednesday in front of 700 guests to receive a gift -- a crystal bowl with gold roosters -- “one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen,” Blackstone Group co-founder and CEO Steve Schwarzman said before carefully placing it in Wang’s hands.

HNA Group Chairman Wang Jian and Blackstone Group CEO Steve Schwarzman

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

It was quite the coming-out party for HNA Group at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan -- except the airline and tourism operator wasn’t hosting. The occasion was the Jewish Museum’s 31st annual Purim Ball (hence the masks, a feature of celebrating the holiday). Wang was the global corporate honoree.

A Purim mask featuring the honoree.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Jacques Brand, Jon Gray and Dan Och

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

How the paths of a Jewish museum and a Chinese company converged is in some ways a familiar tale: the mix of business and culture is a pillar of philanthropic fundraising. In this case, Jacques Brand, a board member of the Jewish Museum and partner at investment bank PJT Partners had the idea and helped bring aboard people who have been doing business with HNA like Schwarzman. The event had the frisson of a deal in play.

Last week, a unit of HNA Group purchased a stake in Deutsche Bank, making it the fourth-biggest investor in the German lender. In October, HNA purchased about a 25 percent stake in Hilton Worldwide Holdings from Blackstone Group, at a 15 percent premium, with Jon Gray remaining chairman. (Brand and Gray had once worked together on Hilton’s initial public offering). HNA in April purchased a controlling stake in Tysan Holdings Ltd. from an arm of Blackstone.

Schwarzman and Paulson, who have both served as advisers to Donald Trump, were feting HNA a little over a month after HNA and another investment firm agreed to purchase SkyBridge Capital from Anthony Scaramucci, a Trump adviser who was in line for a prominent White House role. Scaramucci was taken out of consideration for that role on Feb. 1, the same day that the New York Times ran a front-page article about HNA’s opaque ownership structure and ties to the Chinese government.

Mingling, Huddling

The party was a tableau of financiers, dealmakers and lobbyists mingling and huddling, sipping wine and breaking bread. Guests included Paul Taubman of PJT Partners and William Cohen, founder and CEO of Cohen Group.

A puppet on parade

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

As for Purim decor -- noise makers and the pastry hamentaschen were on hand, and a parade of larger-than-life puppets danced through the crowd -- a zebra, a rose garden, a cat, which all created a sense of a raucous holiday befitting Purim and the Chinese New Year.

At the podium, Schwarzman said HNA Group and Wang were honored “not just for their remarkable business accomplishments across a variety of sectors –- including aviation, real estate, financial services, and tourism -– but because that success has been driven by a quiet and humble yet unwavering commitment to philanthropy and good corporate citizenship."

‘God of Fortune’

Hospitals aiding the blind in China and Africa, and a commitment to fly Schwarzman Scholars around China so they can get to know the country better, were two specific philanthropic projects Schwarzman cited.

Wang called Schwarzman “a god of fortune" and said “Steve has the key to opening up the chest of treasures." They have a chemistry that benefited them both on the Hilton deal, and Wang made it clear to the room that he’s looking for more sparks.

“I’m looking forward to more friends working with us together and investing in opportunities with us together," Wang said through an English translator.

Then he announced he was pledging to the Jewish Museum about 10,000 tickets for air travel, which he later said was worth about $1 million. It was a Purim-worthy surprise for museum director Claudia Gould, who said she’d be happy to make a trip to China.