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HONG KONG (Reuters) - China Vanke Co Chairman Wang Shi, one of the best known people in Chinese business, will step down from the board after a years-long power struggle saw the nation's No.2 property developer fall under state control.
The 66-year-old former government official and People’s Liberation Army veteran said it was time to hand over the reins of the company he founded in 1988 and built into a real estate powerhouse that rode on the back of China's economic boom.
The move was widely expected after China Vanke was taken over by the Shenzhen government in March, ending a struggle for boardroom control and raising questions about to what extent the property giant would remain a market-driven company.
"I have decided not to be re-elected as Vanke's director since the beginning of the discussion of a new board," Wang wrote in his blog.
"Today, I'm handing the leadership to (President) Yu Liang. I believe it's the best timing. They are younger but mature enough."
A shareholder meeting to elect new board members will be held on June 30, and the company said it had nominated three senior executives of major shareholder Shenzhen Metro, including its chairman, general manager and chief financial officer, as non-executive directors.
The state-owned subway operator's control over Vanke was affirmed earlier this month after it raised its stake to 29.38 percent, surpassing financial conglomerate Baoneng Group, which had sought to oust Vanke's management.
Wang is an unusually colourful figure in China’s staid boardrooms - an entrepreneur who also rows, climbs mountains and hit gossip headlines when he began dating a much younger actress. He has scaled Everest twice and is the first Chinese man to climb the highest mountains in all seven continents.
He set up Vanke - now valued at $34 billion - from an office equipment company and donated his shares to a charity early in its transformation into a private company.
"Someone who got rich overnight could be in danger, probably even be killed … and I didn’t know what to do with so much money,” he was quoted as telling a seminar.
The leadership crisis began in late 2015 after Baoneng launched its takeover bid and some disgruntled investors stepped up criticism that Wang was spending too much time studying at Harvard and Cambridge and not enough at the company.
The ensuing power tussle saw Wang cede much authority to the Shenzhen government as Vanke lost its title as the country's biggest homebuilder to rival China Evergrande Group.
Wang's departure could be a positive for the company, removing the last element of the boardroom battle and appeasing some investors, analysts said.
"The Wang Shi era has officially come to an end, but he stopped managing the company years ago so his departure will have no impact to the company's operation," CRIC Hong Kong head of research David Hong said.
Shenzhen Metro said in a statement it "respects Mr. Wang Shi's decision" and would continue to support Vanke's mixed ownership.
Vanke shares in Hong Kong and Shenzhen edged up 1.2 percent and 0.7 percent respectively in morning trading. The Hang Seng Index was down 0.6 percent.
Reporting by Clare Jim; Editing by Stephen Coates