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Chinese Bottled Water CEO Zhong Shanshan Was Briefly The Richest Man In China, Upon His Company’s IPO

There was briefly a shakeup on the list of the richest people in China. Nongfu Spring, the bestselling bottled water in China made its IPO recently and saw its stock rise 85% on its first day of trading. This made its founder Zhong Shanshan the richest man in China, albeit briefly. Once the stock price leveled off, Pony Ma Huateng was once again the richest man in China. The Hangzhou-based company was founded in 1996 at Qiandao Lake in the Zhejiang province. That area of China has one of the largest and cleanest water reservoirs in the country.

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.

Zhong Shanshan, 65, was born in Hangzhou. During the chaos of China’s Cultural Revolution, he dropped out of elementary school. He worked in construction, as a newspaper reporter, and as a beverage salesman before starting his own business.

GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

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.

Zhong Shanshan is cashing in lately in another way too. He is the biggest shareholder of Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise, which 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.

With his combined shares in Nongfu Spring and Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise, Shanshan is worth $50 billion. That makes him one of the top three richest people in China alongside Tencent’s Pony Ma Huateng ($54 billion) and Alibaba’s Jack Ma ($52 billion).

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