No. 3 Zong Qinghou
Company: Wahaha Group
Net worth: US$8.3 billion
At age 42, Zong Qinghou and two other retired teachers took a RMB 140,000 loan (US$21,000) in 1987 and started renting a shop within a school premise to sell soft drinks, popsicles and stationaries. From there, he went on to create a behemoth drinks company Wahaha Group and found its success from Children’s nutritional drinks to bottled waters.
A representative of China’s rags-to-riches stories, he was named China’s richest man in 2010, 2012 and 2013. His fortune today is estimated at US$8.3 billion by Forbes.
Known for his hands-on approach in company management, Zong famously did not appoint any deputies and served as both Chairman and General Manager of the company, lending him sometimes the unflattering nickname of “dictator”. One former employee remembers him approving all company expenses, even including purchase of a broom.
His promised handover to his only daughter Kelly Zong came six years after his 70th birthday when he named her Vice Chairman and General Manager of the group.
Outside of work, Zong says his only hobbies are drinking tea and smoking cigarettes.
By 2013, Wahaha was in expansion mode. Zong quickly expanded into retailing business, clothing and shopping malls. The same year when Wahaha Group’s annual revenue reached RMB 78.3 billion, he made his first move into baijiu industry.
At the time, China’s luxury baijiu market took a heavy hit thanks to the anti-corruption clampdown, Zong invested RMB 15 billion into creating a Lingjiang baijiu brand. Unfortunately, the brand did not take off and was subsequently sold.
In 2022, it again geared for a second try with a luxury baijiu brand called Songshuaijia Jiangjiu that retails for over RMB 1300 (US$194) a bottle.
Today, his only daughter Kelly, who is reportedly a US passport holder, is the heir apparent and has her own drinks brand KellyOne, making juice and sparkling water.