China’s Second-Richest Man Recovers After Knife Attack

Zong Qinghou, China’s second-richest individual, is recovering after a knife attack by an unemployed man frustrated when he was refused a job.

Tendons and muscles on two of Zong’s fingers were hurt after a 49-year-old suspect attacked him near his home in central Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, on Sept. 13. according to Xinhua News Agency citing police. The suspect was arrested that day, Xinhua said.

The suspect, a native from nearby Jiangsu province, approached Zong seeking a job after seeing TV programs featuring the 67-year-old billionaire helping migrant workers, Xinhua said. He knifed Zong after he got rejected.

Zong, who has already returned to work, described the assault as an accident and said his wound isn’t severe, according to Xinhua. The chairman of soft drink maker Hangzhou Wahaha Group, has a net worth of $12.5 billion and ranks as the 84th richest individual globally, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. In China, he is second in wealth only to Wang Jianlin, owner of the country’s biggest commercial land developer Dalian Wanda Group.

Zong, who didn’t attend high school, lived on a farm commune from 1964 to 1978 during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.

“For a long time, I couldn’t even afford food and clothing,” Zong told Bloomberg News in an interview last year. “I climbed from the very bottom of society.”

First Store

After Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s drive toward a market economy, came to power, Zong took over a grocery store operating in a Hangzhou grade school in 1987 with two retired teachers and a $22,000 loan from relatives. He made his living selling soft drinks and popsicles to schoolchildren. He says he earned about $8 a month -- less than a third of China’s average wage at the time.

The chain-smoking manager approved his first shop’s every expense, down to the purchase of a broom. He often sleeps in a sixth-floor office at Wahaha’s gray headquarters in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province. For lunch, he heads downstairs to the company canteen, furnished with formica tables, where he eats the same food as his workers.

In 2012, Wahaha, which means laughing baby in Mandarin, posted $10.3 billion in sales, which included flavored nutritionally enhanced milk for young children, soda, mineral water and green teas. The company is the third-largest soft drink maker in China behind Coca-Cola Co. and Tingyi (Cayman Islands) Holding Corp.

Zong and his wife, Shi Youzhen, and their daughter Kelly Zong hold an 80 percent stake in closely held Wahaha. He has designated his daughter as his successor.

Wahaha spokesman Shan Qining declined to comment on the attack and referred to the Xinhua report. The media center of the Hangzhou police office didn’t pick up several calls left by Bloomberg News.

— With assistance by Michael Wei

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