Who Is Zhong Shanshan: The Richest Billionaire In China?
Zhong Shanshan, chairman of Nongfu Spring and owner of Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise, currently holds the title of China’s richest man. The 66-year-old holds a fortune worth US$68.9 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index, and was briefly even Asia’s richest person – dethroning India’s Mukesh Ambani earlier this year.
Zhong Shanshan: Overview
NET WORTH: $68.9 BILLION
SOURCE OF WEALTH: BEVERAGES
The September 2020 IPO of his bottled-water firm, Nongfu Spring, drove up his fortune by 3,345%, making him the year’s biggest percentage gainer and China’s new richest person. Zhong also chairs Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy, which went public on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in April 2020, Forbes noted.
Zhong Shanshan: Early Life & Education
Born in 1954 in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang province, Mr Zhong grew up during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution, a sociopolitical movement that lasted from 1966 to 1976. He dropped out of elementary school and became an odd-job labourer, moving from city to city for work, according to media reports.
After the end of the Cultural Revolution, Mr Zhong enrolled in a university and joined a Zhejiang daily as a business reporter before he ventured into business, according to Straitstimes.
Zhong Shanshan: Career Path
In 1988, Zhong moved to Hainan island off the coast of southern China to start a business growing first mushrooms, then prawns and finally turtles – also eaten in China. In between, he also worked as a sales agent for Wahaha drinks company, before founding Nongfu Spring in 1996.
In 1996, Zhong turned his entrepreneurial pursuits to water. (He had previously worked as a salesman for another bottled water company.) He launched Nongfu Spring in his hometown of Hangzhou by selling water bottled from a nearby reservoir to local vendors.
Zhong's business capitalized on the fact that China's tap water was—and remains—mostly undrinkable. In 2016, China's own Ministry of Water Resources said that more than 80% of the country’s groundwater was unsafe for consumption.
At the same time, China's bottled water market has skyrocketed alongside the country's economic boom. The International Bottled Water Association estimates that in 2013 China consumed 39.5 billion liters of bottled water, compared to 2.8 billion liters in 1997.
Zhong's success can also be attributed to his ability to convince Chinese consumers that Nongfu's water is of higher quality than its competitors’. He boasted that Nongfu sold only natural water, and his company's slogan, "Nongfu tastes a bit sweet," became known in households across China.
"Chinese consumers believed sweet water is better water," Chinese state media wrote in 2016.
But Nongfu's claims of having better water came under scrutiny in 2013, when China's top regulator accused the company of having safety standards for its bottled water that were less stringent than those of the nation's tap water. In response, Zhong accused his competitors of cooking up the scandal.
Later that year, the government deemed Nongfu's water safe after conducting tests at its factories, and Nongfu's sales continued to climb. In 2018, Nongfu was China's top bottled water seller, controlling a 26% share of the country's bottled water market. Zhong added other products, like energy drinks and vitamin waters, to the company's portfolio, and in September 2020 brought the bottled water behemoth to the public market.
Nongfu Spring debuted on the Hong Kong stock exchange at a market valuation of $48 billion. Nongfu's current market capitalization is now roughly $95 billion.
Nongfu's success this year can be attributed in part to investors seeing it as a safe bet amid a turbulent economic climate. “Its businesses are immune to any global economic shock and U.S.-China tensions,” Vincent Wen, investment manager at KCG Securities Asia, told the Wall Street Journal in September.
Zhong's other investments also have paid off. In April 2020, Zhong took public Beijing Wantai Biological, a vaccine maker he founded in 1993 as part of a nutritional supplements business. Beijing Wantai now has a market capitalization of roughly $17 billion on the Shanghai stock exchange, Fortune cited.
Zhong Shanshan: The "Lone Wolf" Of Asia
|Zhong has long been nicknamed a "lone wolf" by Chinese media for his reluctance to speak to press or socialize in elite circles. So far, his newfound status as one of the 10 richest people on earth hasn't changed his low-profile persona. "I don't like making friends with businesspeople," Zhong told China Daily in 2016. "In the business world, I want it to be just business."|
Zhong Shanshan: Private Life
Very little else is known about Zhong's personal life. Nongfu Spring's public offering prospectus revealed, however, that several of his family members hold stakes in the bottled water company.
That includes Lu Xiaowei, his wife's older sister, who owns 1.4% of Nongfu Spring that's valued at $432 million, according to Bloomberg. Two of his wife's other siblings own shares worth $428 million each. And Zhong's sisters, Zhong Xiaoxiao and Zhong Xuanxuan, together own $642 million worth of shares.
Zhong's son, Zhong Shu Zi, is listed as a non-executive director of the company. The China Daily reports that Zhong has two other children.
In January 2021, Zhong left the board of his pharmaceutical company Beijing Wantai for "personal reasons," according to Bloomberg.
Spokespeople for Zhong's companies did not respond to Insider's request for comment for this story, Businessinsider reported.
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