Move over Mukesh Ambani, your two-year reign as the richest person in Asia is over. And no, Jack Ma, you have not claimed that title again. There’s a brand new richest person in Asia for 2021 and it’s China’s bottled water billionaire Zhong Shanshan. His net worth grew by more than $70 billion in 2020 to $77.8 billion. But Ambani shouldn’t worry too much, he’s still the richest person in India with a net worth of $76 billion. And Ma has a few things to worry about besides being the richest in Asia. Mainly, what’s going to happen to his $56 billion net worth now that the Chinese government is targeting him and his empire.
Shanshan has two income streams. The first is Nongfu Spring bottled water which had revenue of $3.5 billion in 2019. The second is Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise, which is in the vaccine and hepatitis testing business, which had revenue of $171 million. Shanshan took both of his companies public in 2020. Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in April. Nongfu Spring made its $1.1 billion IPO in Hong Kong in September. That IPO catapulted Shanshan to the third richest person in China overnight.
Shanshan is referred to as the Lone Wolf, because he stays out of politics and business groups, and rarely speaks to the media or makes public appearances. Zhong Shanshan was born in Hangzhou, China in 1954 during China’s Cultural Revolution. He dropped out of elementary school and attended the Open University of China. He was a newspaper reporter, in construction and as a beverage salesman in the 1980s prior to founding the pharmaceutical company Yangshentang Co. Ltd. He founded Nongfu Spring in 1996 at Qiandai Lake in the Zhanjiang province. That area of China has one of the cleanest and largest water reservoirs in the country. He is the executive chairman of the bottled water company and manages the company’s human resources, sales, and branding.
Nongfu Spring’s well-known ad campaign and the tag line, “Tastes a bit sweet,” have been very popular in China. Nongfu Spring means “Farmer’s Spring” in English. The company promotes its water as having natural minerals, making it different from purified water sold by other companies. Zhong, 65, owns 84% of the company. Nongfu Spring got into flavored water, tea, and juice in 2000. In 2019, it debuted its own line of coffee under the Tanbing brand.
Through growth and the acquisition of other companies, Nongfu Spring has become the largest bottled water producer in China and is in the top three in the bottled juice and tea market. Nongfu Spring has a market value of $48 billion, making it a regional leader. For comparison, the market cap of Coca-Cola is $249 billion and Pepsi has a valuation of $192 billion.
Shanshan’s Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise makes COVID-19 test kits. The company made its IPO in April in Shanghai. He owns 75% of the company, worth around $9.4 billion.