Wahaha’s Zong Ranked China’s Richest Man by Hurun

Zong Qinghou, chairman of Hangzhou Wahaha Group Ltd
Zong Qinghou, chairman of Hangzhou Wahaha Group Ltd. Photographer: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg

Hangzhou Wahaha Group Co. Chairman Zong Qinghou was named China’s richest man by the Hurun Rich List, overtaking last year’s Wang Chuanfu of BYD Co., with an estimated $12 billion of personal wealth.

Sales at Wahaha, a food and beverage maker, surged 32 percent last year to 43.2 billion yuan ($6.5 billion), according to the company’s website. BYD’s Wang, No. 1 on last year’s Hurun list, saw his estimated wealth drop 10 percent, placing him 12th on this year’s list with $4.6 billion.

Zong, 65, founded Wahaha, which means “laughing child” in Chinese, in 1987. He built the company, formerly the sales department in a school-run business in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, into a nationwide food and beverage maker with 30 billion yuan in assets and 30,000 employees, according to the company’s website.

Shenzhen Hepalink Pharmaceutical Co. Chairman Li Li and his family were ranked the second-richest with $6 billion of wealth, followed by Nine Dragons Paper Holdings Ltd.’s Zhang Yin with $5.6 billion, according to the Hurun report’s website.

Sany Heavy Industry Co.’s Liang Wen’gen and Baidu Inc.’s Robin Li ranked fourth and fifth with $5.4 billion and $5.3 billion, respectively.

Danone Lawsuits

Zong and Wahaha were embroiled in more than 30 lawsuits in at least seven countries against Group Danone SA, the world’s biggest yogurt maker. Danone sold its 51 percent stake in their ventures on Sept. 30, 2009, after two years of legal disputes.

The sale of Danone’s stake in ventures with Wahaha ended an almost 12-year collaboration that collapsed in 2007 amid accusations that Zong unlawfully sold Wahaha-branded juice and tea outside the partnership.

Zong, who started working after graduating from junior high school, was among the Chinese billionaires invited by Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and Microsoft Corp.’s chairman Bill Gates to a charity dinner yesterday in Beijing. Zong didn’t make it to the event because of a scheduling conflict, according to local media.

China has 875,000 millionaires, 6.1 percent more than last year, according to the Shanghai-based Hurun Research Institute.

Capgemini SA and Merrill Lynch & Co. estimated the number of millionaires in the country last year surged 31 percent to 477,000.

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