Zhong Shanshan: Businesses That Helped Him Topple Mukesh Ambani As Asia's Richest

The Chinese businessman is the sixth richest person in the world without a presence in any of the sunrise sectors: IT, electric cars or organized sales

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By Shivang Saxena

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Zhong Shanshan, chairman of China's bottled water company Nongfu Spring, has become the sixth richest man in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Zhong beat people like Warren Buffett, Google founder Larry Page, and former Microsoft Corp.'s Steve Ballmer to be at the sixth spot. He made headlines last week when he overthrew an Indian businessman and formerly known as the richest Asian Mukesh Ambani to become the richest man in Asia.

Being the richest sixth person in the world without a presence in any of the sunrise sectors—IT, electric cars, or organized sales—in the 21st century may seem like an overstatement, and that too by a first-century businessman who started his career as a construction worker, and then entered journalism, and also did mushroom farming, before becoming an entrepreneur.

In the first two trading days of 2021, Nongfu shares rose by 18 per cent, up more than 200 per cent since September last year.

In terms of the richest, first is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos ($188 billion), followed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk ($176 billion), Microsoft founder Bill Gates ($131 billion), and LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault ($113 billion), and Facebook's Zuckerberg's Mark ($103 billion). Zhong is sixth with $91.7 billion.

Zhong, 66, who is often described as a man who turned water into gold, realized that his fortune had swelled by 2020, like many wealthy uber, with the exception of Alibaba founder Jack Ma. He is one of the fastest-growing names in history, little known outside of China until recently.

Zhong's fortune raised $13.5 billion this year to $91.7 billion; more than the $7 billion increase last year. He is now set to join the club for a $100-billion person.

In 2020, his pharmaceutical company, Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise Co, went public, with its shares rising by more than 2,500 per cent since April last year.

The Lone Wolf

This is only the second time that a Chinese man has been in the top ten of Bloomberg's economy after local wealthy Wang Jianlin was ranked eighth in 2015.

Born in the city of Hangzhou in China, he quit elementary school during the cultural revolution in China. He is known as a lone wolf as he distanced himself from politics and was interested in business, very different from other Chinese businessmen.

Water created a vaccine and helped his four relatives become millionaires. His younger sister and three of his wife's siblings—all of whom have a 1.3 per cent shareholding in Nongfu—are worth $1.3 billion, according to Bloomberg.

Zhong has surpassed Ambani despite his successful career in 2020 striking billions of rupees in his flagship company, Reliance Industries Ltd.

Jack Ma, who turned Alibaba into China's largest commerce company, saw his fortunes decline in 2020, as Chinese authorities decided to put his empire under scrutiny.

In November last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping himself decided to pull the plug on Jack Ma's company's first $37 billion public offerings, according to media reports.

Authorities encountered serious problems with the Ant IPO, which led to its suspension. Jack Ma's worth has dropped by $10 billion since October and is now ranked 25th on Bloomberg's billionaire list.

Zhong, 66, is known to be neutral politically and his company is not affiliated with other rich families such as the wealthy Chinese, which is why he has earned the name of "Lone Wolf", locally.

Ambani also had deals to transform his company Reliance Industries into a technology and e-commerce titan and saw his fortune rise from $18.3 billion to $76.9 billion.

While Ambani was once one of the richest people in the world, his Reliance shares stagnated as they came under pressure to bring about the promised digital revolution.

Meanwhile, Nongfu's stock hit a high this week after analysts at Citigroup Inc. said the company has strengthened its dominance in the market and enjoys adequate cash flow. Another Zhong company, Wantai, is among those making the COVID-19 vaccine.

Zhong also climbed the ranks as Chinese technology companies have collapsed amid rising government surveys. Jack Ma, the richest man in Asia before Ambani took over last year, now has a net worth of $51.2 billion, down from $61.7 billion in October.

The irony is that even though we live in a very technologically advanced world, only four countries have their richest people in the industry, seven if you include telecom. Or that number should drop by itself if you take out Jeff Bezos as his business is listed as technology whereas sales will be a fair division of Amazon.

However, Jack Ma recently witnessed his fortune drop from a staggering figure of $ 61.7bn in October to a low of $ 51.2bn as his Alibaba regime faces increasing scrutiny of Chinese authorities.

Shivang Saxena

Freelance writer

Shivang Saxena is a New Delhi-based writer-entrepreneur. Reading, writing & entrepreneur-ing always. He's the founder of The Words Vibe. A platform for newbie writers to hone their skills. He's also working with his first book called, "Too Many Thoughts, Too Many People" which is due to get published by end of 2021. 

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