Mumbai: Zhong Shanshan, chairman of Chinese bottled-water company Nongfu Spring, has become the sixth wealthiest person in the world, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Zhong beat the likes of Warren Buffett, Google co-founder Larry Page and former Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer to become the sixth wealthiest person. He hit the headlines last week when he toppled Indian billionaire industrialist Mukesh Ambani to become Asia’s richest person.
To be the sixth wealthiest person of the world without being present in any of the sunrise sectors — IT, electric cars, or organised retail — in the 21st Century may sound a bit fanatical, and that too by a first-generation entrepreneur who started his career as a construction worker, then ventured into journalism and mushroom farming, before becoming an entrepreneur.
In the first two trading days of 2021, Nongfu shares jumped 18 per cent, taking the rise to over 200 per cent since it was listed in the stock market in September last year.
The number one in the list is Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos ($188 billion), followed by Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk ($176 billion), Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates ($131 billion), LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault ($113 billion), and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg ($103 billion). Zhong is at sixth with $91.7 billion fortune.
Zhong, 66, who is often described as a man who turned water into gold, saw his fortune swell in 2020 — like most of the uber rich, with the possible exception of Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma. He is one of the fastest accumulators of wealth in history, little known outside China till recently.
Zhong’s wealth surged $13.5 billion this year to $91.7 billion on top of a $7 billion rise last year. He is now close to entering the $100 billion club of individual net worth.
In 2020, his pharmaceutical company — Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise Co — went public, and its shares went up over 2,500 per cent since April last year.
A lone wolf
This was only the second time that a Chinese national was in the top 10 of Bloomberg wealth index, after property tycoon Wang Jianlin was placed at eighth in 2015.
Born in Hangzhou city of China, Zhong dropped out of elementary school during the cultural revolution of China. He is known as a lone wolf as he maintained a distance from politics and had business interests, which are distinctly different from other business tycoons of China.
The water to vaccine-maker has also helped four of his relatives become billionaires. His younger sister and three of his wife’s siblings — all hold 1.3 per cent stake in Nongfu, which is worth $1.3 billion, according to Bloomberg.
Zhong surpassed Mukesh Ambani despite the latter having a good run in 2020 striking multi-billion dollar deals for his flagship company, Reliance Industries Ltd. He has raised Rs 2 lakh crore in 2020 from investors, including Facebook, Silver Lake and General Atlantic.
Jack Ma, who turned Alibaba into China’s largest e-commerce firm, saw his fortune dwindle in 2020, as the Chinese authorities decided to step up scrutiny over his empire.
In November last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping personally decided to pull the plug on Jack Ma’s company Ant Group’s $37 billion initial public offering, according to media reports.
The authorities found major issues with the Ant IPO, which led to its suspension. Jack Ma’s net worth dropped $10 billion since October, who is now placed at 25th in the Bloomberg list of billionaires.