Bottled Water Tycoon Dethrones Jack Ma as China’s Richest Person

This photo taken on July 12, 2018 shows polluted water that has been collected in mineral water bottles at a roving exhibition created by Chinese performance artist Nut Brother, known for his advocacy work on environmental and social issues, in Beijing. - At first glance, it may seem like just …
GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

Zhong Shanshan, a bottled water and vaccine tycoon, became China’s richest person on Wednesday when his net worth reached $58.7 billion.

Zhong’s wealth now surpasses that of China’s former richest person, Alibaba founder Jack Ma, by $2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. By dethroning Ma on Wednesday, Zhong became Asia’s second-richest person, behind India’s Mukesh Ambani, and the 17th wealthiest person in the world.

Zhong’s fortune has increased by $51.9 billion so far in 2020, “more than anyone else in the world except Amazon.com Inc.’s Jeff Bezos and Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk,” according to Bloomberg. The boost followed two initial public offerings (IPO’s).

The IPO of Zhong’s bottled water company, Nongfu Spring Co., pushed the tycoon this month into the rankings of China’s top three wealthiest people. The beverage brand is reportedly the most popular among Hong Kong retail investors.

Vaccine manufacturer Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise Co., which Zhong controls as chairman, went public on the Shanghai Stock exchange in April, adding $20 billion to the tycoon’s net worth by early August.

Zhong, 65, was born in Hangzhou, capital of China’s eastern Zhejiang province. According to Forbes, Zhong dropped out of primary school “during China’s chaotic Cultural Revolution [1966-76].” He went on to work as “a construction worker, a newspaper reporter, and a beverage sales agent before starting his own business,” the American business magazine reported.

Zhong has earned the nickname “Lone Wolf” within the Chinese business world “for his eschewing of politics and clubby business groups,” according to Bloomberg. He stands out as leading a wealth ranking within China normally reserved for tech tycoons.

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