Known for keeping a low profile, it must be a task for Zhong Shanshan to keep away from the public eye as he strengthens his position as China's richest man. He is the third richest man, after Reliance Industries' chief Mukesh Ambani and Adani Group head Gautam Adani. With a net worth of $63.6 billion, Shanshan is right after Ambani with $76.5 billion and Adani with $66.5 billion. Globally, he is the 14th richest individual.
As much as he tries to stay away from the limelight, Shanshan's story is one to grab the eyeballs. His is a rags to riches story. Lone before he became China's richest man, Shanshan who chairs bottled water company Nongfu Spring and controls Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy, had menial jobs.
According to Chinese media, the 66 year-old worked as a bricklayer and carpenter in his initial days. He also worked as a news reporter in Zhejiang Daily in 1983 covering agriculture and was a beverage sales agent. Born in Hangzhou, Shanshan had dropped out of school at the age of 12 during the political upheaval of China's 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.
Before he started his business of bottled water, Shanshan reportedly tried his hand in various ventures including growing mushroom, founding a private newspaper and selling curtains.
Shanshan then founded Nongfu Spring in 1996 and still owns 84 per cent stake in the company. A few family members own stakes too, including Lu Xiaowei, wife's older sister who owns 1.4 per cent valued at $432 million. Two of his wife's other siblings too own shares worth $428 million. Zhong's sisters, Zhong Xiaoxiao and Zhong Xuanxuan, also own $642 million worth of shares together. His son Zhong Shu Zi is a non-executive director of the company.
The bottled water company holds more than a quarter of the bottled water market in China. Chinese people are known to avoid tap water over health concerns.
According to Nongfu's public offering prospectus, Shanshan lives in an apartment in Hangzhou's Xihu district, bordering the city's West Lake. This is a marked distinction from other billionaires who are known to spend generously in real estate.
Even though Nongfu is the leader in the market, few had heard of the man who steered the company. He became Asia's richest man last year after stock listings of Nongfu and Wantai Biological that has managed to tap into the high demand of COVID-19 kits. According to Bloomberg, Zhong has achieved one of the fastest accumulations of wealth in history.
He is called a 'lone wolf' by Chinese media for his rare appearances and staying away from interviews. "I don't have the habit of flattery in my personality," he had once said in an interview, adding that he does not like to deal with people.
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