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At 12, he dropped out of school. Now he’s China’s richest man

Anastasia Santoreneos
·2-min read
Zhong Shanshan is China's richest man now, surpassing Alibaba's Jack Ma. Source: CNN/Getty
Zhong Shanshan is China's richest man now, surpassing Alibaba's Jack Ma. Source: CNN/Getty

Alibaba founder Jack Ma is worth a whopping US$50.4 billion (AU$71.4 billion), but he’s lost the title of China’s richest man to a new player.

65-year-old Zhong Shanshan founded a bottled water company called Nongfu Spring, and after going public in Hong Kong earlier this month, Shanshan’s net worth surged to a whopping US$55 billion, surpassing Ma.

Shanshan’s networth even puts him above the founder of Tencent, Pony Ma. What’s more, he’s now the second-richest man in Asia behind India’s Mukesh Ambani.

Wow! But who is Zhong Shanshan?

Shanshan was born in Hangzhou in China, but dropped out of primary school when he was 12 during the nation’s Cultural Revolution, after his parents were persecuted by authorities.

He went on to work in construction, as a newspaper reporter and as a beverage sales agent before he started Nongfu Spring in 1996.

Shanshan’s also the head of vaccine maker, Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy, and he’s been nicknamed the ‘lone wolf’ because he’s rarely in the press, doesn’t get involved with politics and his interests aren’t entwined with other rich listers, according to The Print.

What’s Nongfu Spring?

Tap water in China isn’t considered safe to drink, and there’s been growing demand for bottled water. In fact, China’s bottled water market is one of the biggest in the world, according to Daxue Consulting.

Cue Shanshan’s bottled water business: Nongfu Spring.

The company’s slogan is ‘Nongfu Spring tastes a bit sweet’, and it ranked at the top of China’s packaged water market last year with a 21 percent market share. Now, its product base includes coffee and tea, fruit products, yoghurt and rice.

Its IPO price started at US$2.77, and surged to US$5.14 on the day. Shares have since surged 80 per cent, and Shanshan, who is the Chairman of the company, has an 80 per cent stake in the company.

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