This story appears in the November 2022 issue of Forbes Asia. Subscribe to Forbes Asia
This story is part of Forbes’ coverage of China’s Richest 2022. See the full list here.
Politically sensitive tech companies have had a rough stretch in China in the past year. Bottled water king Zhong Shanshan, however, has survived a tumultuous year for China’s billionaires in relatively good shape. Though his fortune dipped 5% to $62.3 billion from a year ago, Nongfu Spring’s founder and chairman held down the top spot on our annual ranking of China’s richest for the second year in a row.
An elementary school dropout during China’s chaotic cultural revolution, Zhong, 67, tried a few different career paths, with early jobs in construction and journalism. His success at beverages has been more long term. Starting in 1996, Zhong set up predecessor companies—including “Zhejiang Thousand Island Lake Yangshengtang Drinking Water”—that culminated in flagship Nongfu Spring. Today, the Hangzhou-headquartered supplier of bottled water and tea has a market cap worth $59 billion.
Deep distribution in the world’s No. 2 economy and marketing tailored to local culture has helped Nongfu Spring weather China’s “zero-Covid” economic storm in 2022. Net profit in the first half of the year rose by nearly 15% from a year earlier to 4.6 billion yuan ($676 million). Revenue increased by 9% to 16.6 billion yuan. Zhong’s fortune also got a bump following the 2020 IPO by Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy, thanks to a majority stake in the company. Its products include Covid-19 tests.