Business

Inside the low-key life of Asia’s new richest man, who’s known as the ‘lone wolf’ and used to be a journalist

Zhong Shanshan Nongfu Spring Company
Zhong Shanshan at a Nongfu Spring product launch conference in February 2015 in Baishan, China.

Zhong Shanshan has had quite a year.

Last January, he was already a billionaire, worth around $7 billion. But in 2020, the Chinese businessman’s wealth soared by tens of billions, making him one of the richest people in the world in a matter of months.

In September, Zhong made headlines for becoming richer than Alibaba founder Jack Ma and therefore the wealthiest person in China. By the end of December, the 66-year-old’s fortune had swelled by another $17 billion, making him the richest person in all of Asia. Zhong’s net worth peaked at $95 billion in early January and now sits at $84.7 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index. He trails Warren Buffett by just a few billion.

Zhong is the chairman of two companies: bottled water company Nongfu Spring and vaccine maker Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise. In 2020, Zhong took both companies public and grew his fortune by more than $70 billion.

Zhong’s wealth surpassed Asia’s previous richest man, Indian businessman Mukesh Ambani, who runs one of India’s largest conglomerates. Ambani, who’s worth $74.7 billion, and his family are known for their lavish lifestyles. They live in an outrageous $1 billion skyscraper home and rub shoulders with the likes of Hillary Clinton and Beyoncé, who performed at Ambani’s daughter’s wedding in 2018.

Asia’s new richest man, on the other hand, tends to fly under the radar. Zhong is known as the “Lone Wolf” because he’s not involved in politics and he rarely makes public appearances or speaks to the media, according to Bloomberg. And very little is known about his personal life, with no reports of lavish spending habits. 

Here’s what we know about the lifestyle of Zhong Shanshan, the mysterious billionaire who’s now richer than anyone else in Asia. 

Zhong Shanshan is Asia’s new richest person, with an estimated net worth of $84.7 billion.

Zhong Shanshan Nongfu Spring Company
Zhong Shanshan at a Nongfu Spring product launch conference in February 2015 in Baishan, China.

That makes him the seventh-richest person in the world, right after Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and legendary investor Warren Buffett (although he was briefly richer than Buffett), according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index. He’s richer than the cofounders of Google.

Zhong is the chairman of two companies: bottled water company Nongfu Spring and vaccine maker Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise, which makes COVID-19 test kits and is developing a vaccine for the virus. Together, the two companies reported more than $3.6 billion in revenue in 2019. 

In 2020, Zhong took both companies public and made more than $70 billion, according to Bloomberg.

zhong shansan nongfu spring water bottle

Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise — which is in the process of developing a COVID-19 vaccine —went public on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in April. 

And in September, Nongfu Spring’s $1.1 billion initial public offering in Hong Kong made Shanshan China’s third-richest person overnight. His net worth skyrocketed from around $16 billion to more than $50 billion.

Most of Zhong’s wealth comes from his bottled water company, of which he owns an 84% stake, according to Bloomberg. He owns 75% of Beijing Wantai.

In December, Zhong surpassed Indian businessman Mukesh Ambani to become the richest man in Asia.

zhong shanshan mukesh ambani
Zhong and Ambani.

Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, a conglomerate that spans industries from energy to telecom, was Asia’s richest man for about two years. But as of mid-January 2021, Zhong is now worth $10 billion more than Ambani.

With his $74.7 billion net worth, Ambani remains the richest person in India and the 12th-richest in the world.

Zhong’s lifestyle couldn’t appear to be more different from Ambani’s. Just take a look at where the two billionaires choose to live.

mukesh ambani home antilia skyscraper mumbai

Ambani famously lives in a 27-story skyscraper in Mumbai with his family that has three helicopter pads and underground parking for 160 cars and attracted a frenzy of international media attention when he finished building it in 2010.

Jack Ma, who was previously China’s richest man, has also drawn attention for his exorbitant real-estate purchases like a $23 million estate in upstate New York and a rumored $191 million mansion in Hong Kong.

But Zhong, who is now wealthier than both billionaires, has never splashed out on real estate.

hangzhou china
Hangzhou.

He lives in Hangzhou, a city of about 10 million people in eastern China that’s known as a trading hub as well as for its scenic landscape. The city was home to at least 32 billionaires as of 2016 — including Jack Ma — according to CNN Business.

Zhong lives in an apartment in Hangzhou’s Xihu district, which borders the city’s scenic West Lake, according to Nongfu Spring’s public offering prospectus.

west lake hangzhou china
A view of West Lake in Hangzhou in the summer of 2020.

The district is a leafy residential neighborhood about four miles from the skyscrapers of Hangzhou’s central business district, according to Google Maps. The headquarters of Zhong’s bottled water company, Nongfu Spring, is about a seven-minute drive away, and Jack Ma’s Ant Group headquarters are also nearby. 

Zhong’s pharmaceutical company, Wantai Beijing, is much farther from his home, with headquarters in the Changping District of Beijing.

changping district beijing
A view of the Changping District in Beijing.

Changping is “the high-tech and science base of Beijing,” according to Travel China Guide.

Zhong is known in China as the “Lone Wolf” because he’s not involved in politics or business groups, per Bloomberg.

zhong shanshan

He rarely makes public appearances or speaks to the media, according to Chinese publication The Paper.

“I am a solitary person, and I don’t care what my colleagues are doing or thinking,” Zhong once said, according to the Paper.

Ambani, on the other hand, has been photographed at countless events and is known to rub shoulders with Bollywood stars and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He reportedly spent $100 million on his daughter’s extravagant wedding, where Beyoncé gave a private performance.

Perhaps Zhong’s solitary nature has to do with his humble roots.

zhong shanshan

Before he made his fortune, Zhong dropped out of elementary school and spent some time as a construction worker before working as a newspaper reporter in the 1980s, per Bloomberg.

Zhong joined the Zhejiang Daily in 1983, where he covered agriculture. After about five years, he started to attempt varying business ventures: founding a private newspaper, growing mushrooms, and selling curtains, according to French newspaper Le Monde.

He later founded the pharmaceutical company Yangshengtang Co., Ltd, which is today the holding company of Beijing Wantai. And in 1996, Zhong founded Nongfu Spring and today directly manages the company’s sales, branding, and human resources as executive chairman, according to his corporate biography.

Very little else is known about Zhong’s personal life. Nongfu Spring’s public offering prospectus revealed, however, that several of his family members hold stakes in the bottled water company.

nongfu spring zhong shanshan
A Nongfu Spring factory in Baishan, China, in June 2017.

That includes Lu Xiaowei, his wife’s older sister, who owns 1.4% of Nongfu Spring that’s valued at $432 million, according to Bloomberg. Two of his wife’s other siblings own shares worth $428 million each. And Zhong’s sisters, Zhong Xiaoxiao and Zhong Xuanxuan, together own $642 million worth of shares.

Zhong’s son, Zhong Shu Zi, is listed as a non-executive director of the company. The China Daily reports that Zhong has two other children. 

In January 2021, Zhong left the board of his pharmaceutical company Beijing Wantai for “personal reasons,” according to Bloomberg.

Spokespeople for Zhong’s companies did not respond to Insider’s request for comment for this story. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

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