Chinese water tycoon becomes Asia´s richest

BEIJING: Until recently, few people had even heard of the Chinese billionaire with a gruff reputation who built a fortune on China´s seemingly unquenchable demand for his ubiquitous red-capped bottled water.

But reclusive Zhong Shanshan has become Asia´s richest man following the stock listings last year of his Nongfu Spring mineral water and separate pharma company Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise, which has tapped into massive demand for Covid-19 test kits.

Zhong´s net worth has surged to $85 billion and made him the seventh-richest person on the planet, Hurun Report, a China-based compiler of “rich lists”, said last week.

Called a “lone wolf” by Chinese media for his rare public appearances and aversion to interviews, Zhong has achieved one of the fastest accumulations of wealth in history, according to Bloomberg.

He became the first Chinese entrepreneur to enter Hurun´s top-ten global rich list this year, leaping out of nowhere to put him hot on the heels of Facebook´s Mark Zuckerberg and American investor Warren Buffett.

Not bad for someone who dropped out of school at the age of 12 during the political upheaval of China´s 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, and whose later jobs included bricklayer, carpenter and news reporter, according to Chinese media.

Zhong founded Nongfu Spring in 1996 and still owns an 84 percent stake in the company which, according to market research firm Mintel, holds more than a quarter of the bottled water market in China, where many people avoid tap water over health concerns.

In contrast to charismatic Alibaba founder Jack Ma — who Zhong dethroned as China´s richest man — little is known about Nongfu´s billionaire boss aside from his gruff image.

“I don´t have the habit of flattery in my personality,” he once told Chinese media in a rare interview.
“I don´t like to deal with people and have to drink,” he added, referring to a Chinese business culture that encourages excessive wining and dining to cement deals.

His fortunes have risen just as those of Chinese tech companies have slid.