Zong Qinghou, the chairman and founder of Wahaha. (Photo/CNS)
Zong Qinghou, the chairman and CEO of beverage giant Hangzhou Wahaha Group, made it to the top of another list of China's 500 wealthiest individuals when he was named by Xincaifu magazine to be leading the nation in earnings. The magazine's data showed that all of the top individuals' wealth had substantially increased over the past year.
Zong replaced Wang Jianlin, chairman of conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group, at the top of the list.
The figures the magazine collected this year showed that the total wealth of the billionaires on the list increased by 16.7% from last year to reach 35.7 trillion yuan (US$6 trillion) or an average of 7.16 billion yuan (US$1 billion) each. Both figures were record highs. The number of billionaires on the list also reached a new high and the least wealthy among them was worth 3 billion yuan (US$480 million), a level only 10 people had reached a decade ago.
The Wahaha chairman topped the list owing to the rapid expansion of the 160-odd companies controlled by his family empire. His personal wealth is estimated at 70 billion yuan (US$11.5 billion), higher than Wang's 54 billion yuan (US$9 billion) and Liu's 42 billion yuan (US$7 billion). Zong's ranking also soared significantly after Wahaha revealed that he holds roughly 80% of the firm's stock rather than 29.4% as previously believed.
Since 2007, Zong and his family have set up offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands and American Samoa. The family obtained 29 of the 37 offshore companies after their cooperation with French conglomerate Danone ended. The companies allowed Zong to bypass the rules governing state-owned businesses and accumulate wealth quickly.
Although these billionaires and the macroeconomic data suggest the Chinese economy is continuing on its expansionary track even though its growth has slowed, the general public as well as small and medium companies have struggled. The cause of the disparity comes from a trend during the recent economic slowdown where large companies receive financial support from the government when demand declines. They have then been able to rebound from their losses and obtain the market share from failed small and medium companies that did not receive aid. The government implemented new measures last year to increase financial support and set up small loans for private companies.
Zong Qinghou 宗慶後
Wang Jianlin 王健林
Liu Yonghang 劉永行