Decades of perseverance and hard work clearly paid off for bottled water and tea magnate Zhong Shanshan, who is now China’s richest person.
With $71.6 billion, the 67-year-old millionaire, who founded China’s largest bottled water company Nongfu Spring, has the highest net worth among Chinese billionaires on Forbes’ wealthy list.
According to the ranking, Zhong is presently the 15th richest person in the world, with Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk topping the list with an estimated net worth of $264.9 billion.
Here’s how the Nongfu Spring chairman gradually amassed his riches over the years.
Zhong, who was born in Hangzhou, came from poor circumstances. During China’s Cultural Revolution, he dropped out of elementary school. Despite his young age, he supported his family for ten years as a bricklayer and carpenter, according to a South China Morning Post report.
Zhong failed the college admission exam twice, but he was eventually admitted to Zhejiang Radio and TV University. Prior to becoming a businessman, he worked as a reporter after graduating from college in the 1980s.
Following the establishment of the Hainan Special Economic Zone in 1988, he resigned and relocated to the island province of Hainan. In the years thereafter, he has started several businesses, including a newspaper, a mushroom business, and, later, a prawn farming firm. However, none of the three ventures were successful.
He got into selling beverages after meeting fellow Hangzhou native Zong Qinghou, CEO of Wahaha, which offered bottled water, juices, and various health items. He founded Nongfu Spring in 1996.
According to Bloomberg, the majority of Zhong’s fortune is earned from his 84% share in Nongfu Spring. In September 2020, the beverage company will go public in Hong Kong.
In addition to the bottled water company, Zhong owns 75% of Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise, according to the outlet. He owns the interest both personally and indirectly through the closely held Yangshengtang.
In April 2020, the medical products company began trading openly on the Shanghai Stock Exchange. According to rumors, Zhong resigned from the Wantai board of directors in January 2021 for personal reasons.
Meanwhile, Zhang Yiming, the founder of ByteDance, which owns the news aggregation site Toutiao and the video-sharing app TikTok, is the second-richest Chinese billionaire today, following Zhong. According to Forbes, he is worth $49.5 billion.
Ma Huateng is the third-richest Chinese on Forbes’ real-time billionaires list. He is the co-founder and CEO of Tencent Holdings, one of the largest Internet corporations in the world. Ma’s net worth is believed to be $33 billion.