If you saw the real-time list of the 100 richest people in the world six months ago, you could not find the name Zhong Shanshan. A year ago, if you discovered BHK on CelebrityNetworth… or Bloomberg… or Forbes, you might not have even seen him rank as a billionaire. Yet somehow Zhong Shanshan is sitting on a fortune that makes him the sixth richest person in the world. With Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth sinking 10% since Wednesday following poor earnings reports, Zhong is within the greatest distance of Facebook’s CEO, becoming the fifth richest person on the planet. If that happens, he will be left behind only by Bernard Arnault, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Who is Zhong Shanshan? How did he earn his huge fortune … seemingly overnight?
Zhong Shanshan was born on December 1, 1954 in Hangzhou, China. He dropped out of school in sixth grade when his parents were persecuted by local authorities amid the chaos and persecution of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
In his early teens, Zhong did any job to support himself and his family. He worked as a mushroom farmer, and as a door-to-door beverage vendor. He eventually attempted to return to school. He failed the college entrance examination twice before enrolling in Zhejiang Open University.
In the 1980s, he began working as a news reporter for about five years.
In the mid-1980s, sometime, Zhong established a water distribution business on Hainan Island in southern China.
In 1993, he founded a health products company called Yangshengtang.
Following the success of Western brands such as Avian, Poland Spring and Crystal Geyser in 1996, he founded Nongfu Spring (which translates to “farmer spring”). Along with saltwater from Zhejiang Thousand-Island Lake and its signature Lucky Red Label and Tops, Nongfu was one of the first large-scale packaged water bottle companies established in China.
Nongfu marketed several brands, including Farmer Orchard, Scream and Oriental Leaf.
Through a combination of organic growth and acquisitions, Nongfu eventually became the largest water bottle producer in China, and one of the top three producers of packaged juices and teas. Today the company also produces coffee, vitamin drinks, yogurt and rice.
In September 2020, Zhongfu made public through an IPO on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
Zhong Shanshan owns 84% of Nongfu. This is interesting because companies typically have to “float” (offer) at least 25% of their shares in order to qualify for listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Nongfu was given an exception and 14% of its shares were allowed to float. But technically 14% includes a portion of other individual investors and employees, who are prohibited from selling within a year of the IPO date. It is reported that only 4% of Nongfu’s shares are actively available.
This is important because it means stock is scarce. When something is desirable, the price may go up.
Another contributing factor is the popularity of Nongfu with regular mom and a grumbling class of pop investors in mainland China. Historically it has been difficult for mainland Chinese investors to buy stocks on foreign currency. Thanks to a program called Stock Connect, the Hong Kong Exchange is directly connected to exchanges in Shanghai and Shenzhen. According to the Wall Street Journal, about 1% of the company is owned by mom and pop mainland investors.
Nongfu debuted on the Hong Kong Exchange with a price per share equivalent of $ 2.7 USD. Today the company is trading at a par value of $ 8 USD per share. With the increase, the overall market capitalization of the company has increased to approximately $ 88 billion. At today’s level, Nongfu is trading at 83 times its future earnings. For comparison, Apple trades at around 16X future earnings. Facebook and Google trade at around $ 20. So, like Nongfu’s mineral water, the stock is a bit flirtatious.
Remember, Zhong Shanshan owns 84% of Nongfu. Therefore, in today’s valuation of $ 88 billion, its stake is the value of =
$ 74 billion
But wait! there’s more!
Bottled water is not the only source of funds near Zhong Shanshan.
Zhegi is the majority owner and president of a company called Dawaai. He acquired his majority stake in 2001.
Historically Vekai has focused on diagnostic tools for hepatitis E, B and C. Originally the company manufactures hepatitis test kits. They also make vaccines. In 2020 the company developed a nasal spray COVID-19 vaccine, which reportedly has shown some success.
Like Nongfu, Venai went public in 2020. Wenai went public on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in April 2020.
On the day of its IPO, Vanai ended with a par value of 2 USD per share. Today a share of Wakai will cost you $ 40. This is a 2,000% increase in less than a year.
Wakai’s market cap today is $ 18 billion. Zhong Shanshan owns 75%. At that valuation, the value of his stake =
$ 13.5 billion
Along with other assets, cash and investments, we currently estimate the total value of Zhong Shanshan =
$ 92 billion
As of this writing, Zhong Mark is only $ 6 billion away from Zuckerberg’s net worth of $ 98 billion, becoming the 5th richest person on the planet. He has been within the top $ 5 billion mark in recent weeks.
[Also, in the day since we original wrote this article, Larry Page’s net worth surged from $89 billion to $95 billion thanks to a monster Google quarterly earnings report… so technically as I edit this on Thursday night, Feb 4, Zhong is the seventh 7th-richest person in the world]
Despite his overall ranking, Zhong Shanshan is the richest person in China and the richest person in the continent of Asia.
Sixth grade drop-out / two-time college test failure / not a bad result for former news reporter / mushroom farmer / construction worker!